Virginia Woolf, Art, Life and Vision – reviews of exhibition

Jul 16, 2014

'Glorious' National Portrait Gallery show distils brilliant, tragic life of Bloomsbury writer

Copyright: Estate of Vanessa Bell, courtesy Henrietta Garnett. Photo credit: © National Trust / Charles Thomas
What you need to know

A new exhibition about the life of great 20th century novelist Virginia Woolf has opened at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision, features portraits of Woolf by her Bloomsbury Group contemporaries, curated by biographer and art historian Frances Spalding.

The show includes paintings by Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry, photographs by George Charles Beresford and Man Ray, and a selection of personal objects including letters, diaries and books. Runs until 26 October.  

What the critics like

This exhibition "eloquently tells the story of one of the 20th century's brightest creative flames", says Nancy Durrant in The Times. There is much in this compact but hugely enjoyable show for both newcomers and established fans, as it weaves through her Victorian childhood, to wonderful portraits by the likes of Fry, Grant and Bell.

The NPG is a fitting venue for this exhibition, which amounts to "a sketched portrait, a visual guide across four rooms to a well-trodden life and career", says Ben Luke in the Evening Standard. It leaves you leave with a thirst for her writing which is invigorating.

"This glorious exhibition distils and communicates a triumphant and tragic character" and brilliant writer, says Marina Vaizey on the Arts Desk. It forms a surprisingly satisfying and illuminating, even profound, examination of a life, its personal influence and its consequences. 

What they don't like

"The paintings are of greater biographical interest than artistic merit," says Ben Luke in the Evening Standard. Bell is inconsistent, and Fry can be wretched, but the archival material - correspondence, diaries and photographs - keeps the exhibition compelling.

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