‘Virginia Woolf: A Woman of Fashion? ‘ Exploring the issue as part of ‘Virginia Woolf. Art Life and Vision’, a National Portrait Gallery exhibition

“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.”
~ Virginia Woolf, Orlando~

Virginia Woolf photographed by Man Ray on the cover of Time (12 April 1937)
Virginia Woolf photographed by Man Ray on the cover of Time (12 April 1937)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
‘My love of clothes interests me profoundly: only it is not love; and what it is I must discover.’
~Virginia Woolf(Diary vol.3).~

The National Portrait Gallery is the place to visit for artistic along with biographical research on personalities that made their mark in modern culture and society.The institution’s new exhibition is based on the ambiguous yet alluring personality of writer Virginia Woolf and,as the title indicates,to both her Life and artistic Vision.According to the exhibition introduction: ‘‘Virginia Woolf was one of the most important and celebrated writers of the twentieth century. This extensive exhibition of portraits and rare archival material will explore her life and achievements as a novelist, intellectual, campaigner and public figure.” 

What is interesting though is that the exhibition explores one of Woolf’s least known but not less influential characteristic,her relationship with fashion and apparel.Was she a woman in fashion? Dr. Claire Nicholson, who has extensively worked on the field (having published articles on various aspects of Woolf’s connections with clothing and fashion) is about to explore just that connection,showcasing Virginia Woolf’s perception of apparel both as a means of expression and a source of awkwardness in a lecture that will take place in Ondaatje Wing Theatre .As Dr Nicholson clearly states: ”Virginia Woolf made extensive use of clothing imagery in her fiction to express character and to evoke modernist tensions of appearance and reality, but her own relationship to dress is usually described as one of awkwardness, anxiety and even despair. Some of her contemporaries thought her unkempt and slovenly; her diary records how she often resorted to pinning together her underwear with a brooch. However, this lecture will explore how Woolf can be seen as a sophisticated observer of fashion, familiar with the pleasures of sartorial elegance and sometimes happy to indulge in them.”

So,Virginia Woolf,an aesthete,a fashion pioneer or a compulsive dresser?Or,perhaps, all three?After all,we are talking about the woman who wrote the novel ”Orlando”..

Virginia Woolf: detail from her final session with a professional photographer, Gisèle Freund Photo: Gisèle Freund/IMEC/Fonds MCC
Virginia Woolf: detail from her final session with a professional photographer, Gisèle Freund Photo: Gisèle Freund/IMEC/Fonds MCC

(The sitting for the session above with Gisele Freund was nothing but easy,with Woolf describing it later in her diary as: ”‘No getting out of it, with Okampo [sic] on the sofa, & Freund there in the flesh. So my afternoon is gone in the way to me most detestable and upsetting of all.’)

Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry in Greece.
Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry in Greece.
photo by George Charles Beresford in 1902
photo by George Charles Beresford in 1902

 

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