Coming Home: Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell

14 September 2019 – 19 January 2020

Past Exhibition |14 September 2019 – 19 January 2020

Portrait of Virginia Woolf by her Vanessa Bell

Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell, 1912 © National Portrait Gallery, London / The Estate of Vanessa Bell, DACS 2020.















Artist Vanessa Bell’s portrait of her sister, the writer Virginia Woolf, was on display at Charleston for the first time as part of COMING HOME, a major National Portrait Gallery project.

COMING HOME sees 50 portraits of iconic individuals from the national collection travelling to the towns and cities most closely associated with their subjects.

The portrait of Virginia Woolf, one of the twentieth century’s most important novelists and a central figure in the Bloomsbury group, was painted by her elder sister Vanessa Bell at Asheham; the Sussex home the two sisters took in 1912. It is only a short distance from Charleston, the house that Bell would take with her friend and lover Duncan Grant in 1916, and Monk’s house, the marital home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf from 1919.

Asheham was a place of experimentation, where Bell could try out new colour schemes and decorations away from the publicity of London. In 1912, while Bell was painting this portrait of her sister, plans were already being made to take the Bloomsbury group’s interest in Post-Impressionist art into the home. Woolf is depicted in an armchair knitting, her facial features are blurred, abstracted through the use of bold areas of colour inspired the Post-Impressionists. This blurring serves the portrait with a sense of intimacy and highlights the painter’s proximity to the sitter.

COMING HOME was made possible by support from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, generous contributions from The Thompson Family Charitable Trust and funds raised at the Gallery’s Portrait Gala in 2017.

Visit to find out more about COMING HOME.



Banner image: Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell, 1912 © National Portrait Gallery, London / The Estate of Vanessa Bell, DACS 2020.

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