Saturday, 11 March 2017

Self-portrait, c1915
I'd been holding out for a sunny day to see the Vanessa Bell exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, because it's not just the art, it's a green, leafy saunter from the station, and tea in the garden, and sunshine through the stained glass in the mausoleum ...
So it didn't really matter that I'm a lukewarm Bloomsbury-ite. I can get quite swept away with lifestyle envy at Charleston. But I'm not convinced that any of it translates well into an art gallery setting. If they hadn't lived in squares and loved in triangles - what a brilliant marketing ploy - would we remember any of them, except for Virginia? I can't see that Vanessa had an original thought ... it's a bit of Matisse here, a bit of Cézanne there, and it all looks so much better on the walls at home.
Still, it made a pleasant afternoon out, though I whizzed around in half-an-hour because - well, there just isn't very much to it, is there? (Okay, I admit, I'd really like one of her rugs.)
I was lucky because I'd been expecting hordes of Bloomsbury-genuflectors but there was hardly anyone there. (Got chatting with a couple of gallery attendants who were definitely not worshippers at the shrine and they clearly would have given Vanessa a C-minus for trying.)
But I do like the fabrics and that sense of painting happening in the middle of a domestic life. (Okay, I know that nanny features in the paintings!)
I liked the texture of the canvas coming though Vanessa's loose-weave grey dress in the self-portrait.

Virginia Woolf, c1912
'My God! what clothes you are responsible for!' wrote Virginia, cattily describing an outfit worn by their sister-in-law. 'Karin's clothes wrenched my eyes from the sockets - a skirt barred with reds and yellows of the violent kind, a pea-green blouse on top with a gaudy handkerchief on her head, supposed to be the very boldest taste. I shall retire into dove colour and old lavender, with a lace collar and lawn wristlets.' I wonder what she would have made of the wispy slips of silk - for anorexic Barbie dolls - selling for £195 in the gallery shop. An impulse buy along with a Charleston fridge magnet? You'd need a fridge lock first.

View of the Pond at Charleston, c1919

Many years ago I remember having a lovely picnic here beside the pond. It wasn't quite the same wandering down to Dulwich village for a deliciously greasy sausage roll from Gail's Bakery. (No wonder I don't fit into little Charleston dresses.)

The Other Room, Late 1930s
This one belongs to Bryan Ferry. And it's probably cheaper than a Matisse.

Interior with the Artists' Daughter, 1935-6

And this is just armchair envy ...


Gina said...

I totally agree with what you say about Bell's talent but there something appealing about the domesticity of the paintings. And I love the tag line "lived in squares, loved in triangles"!

Mary said...

I know, GIna - there's definitely charm, and I suppose the inflated reputation isn't her fault. KInd of jars coming out into the gallery and seeing a Gainsborough!

Lucille said...

We could have whizzed through together! I moaned elsewhere about the chatting attendants who made it impossible to read the captions or think an independent thought. But in the end I felt much the same as you and derived far greater pleasure from my brunch at Gail's and a saunter through the park.
By the way if you want to see a shockingly, hilariously un-proof read set of captions, head over to the Fashion and Textile Museum for the Svensk Tenn exhibition. Some of them rendered incomprehensible because of spell check I suppose. 'Resent' for 'recent'?

Sarah said...

Oh I think you are a little harsh on Vanessa. She was after all the first female British abstract painter and surely the fact that you covet her rug is testament to the longevity of her design work. I find her work soothing and love the way she juxtaposes colour. It was a lovely surprise to come across two of her flower paintings at the Otter Gallery on the University of Chichester campus the other day. They looked perfectly at home in a small space and hanging next to a botanical painting by Elizabeth Blackadder. We stopped at Gail's for a coffee and a shared pastry which was so filling we didn't need lunch or tea. I do understand about the jarring; I felt the same coming out of the Hockney and had to have a calming down session at Fenton House with Peter Barkworth's excellently curated legacy - the crocuses in the orchard in the sunshine were a wonderful bonus and better than the Hockney video installation of the seasons unfurling. I missed the sunshine in the mausoleum so will return to DPG one day in the week. Unfortunately on the freezing Saturday we visited the main gallery space was too crowded to enjoy the art.

Lucille said...

Fatal to criticise proof reading as I have left a 't' off Svenskt.

Mary said...

I wouldn't have noticed, Lucille! So agree about museum captions. It's so distracting when you're mentally harrumphing about their apostrophes. But, apart from that, how was the exhibition? It looks rather fab on the website.

I think that's what I mean, Sarah - she looks more at home in a small space. Didn't you enjoy the Hockney? I was quite enthralled by that video, though I'd seen it before at the RA - though I guess real crocuses are better! I even liked the little i-pad sketches at the end. But it makes so much difference if you're jostling in a crowd.
I had a lovely visit to Fenton House before Christmas, now you're tempting me to go back.