“Virginia Woolf. Art, Life and Vision” by Frances Spalding

This book became one of my favourite even before I read it. “Virginia Woolf. Art, Life and Vision” was first experienced by me in the form of an exhibition since its author, Francis Spalding, is the curator of the latest exposition on Virginia Woolf in the National Portrait Gallery.


This July I was lucky enough to see it and be amazed by it. As an established admirer of art, life and vision of Virginia Woolf, I appreciated the informative scrupulousness with which the exhibition was prepared. I was absolutely moved seeing the very same walking stick she left on the shore before her last, tragic journey. However, the most important thing that this exhibition along with the book do, is making us realize that Virginia Woolf was actually a real person. Off course, both the exhibition and the book contain Wool’s portraits, those really well known by her sister Vanessa and those less popular by Roger Fry, but the real treasure here are the photographs. We see Virginia as a little girl with her parents or playing with her sister, we see her with Leonard and their dog, we see her photographed by Man Ray and we see her in 1938 – three years before her death. And suddenly she stops being a “ghost” behind the initials V.W. and behind the pages of novels or diaries – she becomes a person with flesh, who not only wrote books but actually lived. What is more, thanks to Spalding’s book we have this life at our fingerprints. It is like reading illustrated version of Woolf’s diaries. We learn about the author’s childhood, mental breakdowns, her work as a writer and as a social figure, the origins of Bloomsbury group, postimpressionism and Vanessa Bell’s art, the impact of war; and all this is accompanied by numerous photographs, paintings, letters, book covers, personal notes which, I believe, were not published before, definitely not in a form of a book. Importantly, Woolf’s life and work is put in a historical and cultural context what makes the work much more accessible for non-fans. However, regardless of your knowledge about Woolf and her writing, after reading Spalding’s work you will get to know Virginia but more as a person than as a writer; and exactly that’s why watch out for the last pages of this enthralling story. I am not saying anything more …. just watch out…

The exhibition available here.


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