Virginia Woolf on Life and Art

“The trees wave, the clouds pass”


An illustrated lecture-recital by


from Woolf’s letters, diaries and novels

“Where to begin? That was the question….one line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks…as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by steep gulfs and foaming crests….still the risks must be run, the mark made….In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) and was struck into stability.”

The above, from Woolf’s novel TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, belongs to her vivid description of her feelings of a young woman artist, faced by a blank canvas.

Virginia Woolf never painted or drew. But her closeness to her sister Vanessa Bell, the artist (“Do you think we have the same pair of eyes, only different spectacles?”) and to Roger Fry and others would stimulate her passionate curiosity. In letters to him and to the French artist Jaques Raverat she tries to compare writing and painting. Perhaps, in a way, we can think of Woolf’s writings as a bridge between the worlds of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and the literary Anglo-Saxon world.

Woolf felt that what she did best as a writer was to recreate visual scenes. She retained joyful memories of childhood summers in St. Ives, Cornwall. “….of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and seeing a splash of water over the beach, and hearing it breaking behind a yellow blind. …It is of lying and hearing this splash and seeing this light, and feeling…. the purest ecstasy I can conceive.

Elsewhere, Woolf’s entertainingly frank confessions (“I have buying clothes. In particular, I hate buying suspenders…”) offer refreshing insights into the tribulations of smart London life in the 1920’s.

With paintings by the Camden Group of Artists, the Bloomsbury Group and with scenes of Woolf’s beloved St. Ives, Cornwall by artists of the Newlyn School.

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please contact: Karin Fernald directly from this page