A Late Visit to the Autumn Exhibition at the Virago Art Gallery

Here is another celebration of the art that adorns the covers of some of my favourite books.

Because the covers are lovely, but the paintings really come alive when they are released from their green frames. Sometimes just a detail has been chosen, or the painting has been cropped because it wasn’t book-shaped. That may be the best way to make a good cover for a book, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see the art-work.

Autumn has flown, but there is still time to look around the exhibits before this exhibition closes and the exhibits for the Christmas show are hung.

The colours of this season’s paintings really seem to sing when they are released from their green frames.

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What a difference when you see the whole painting!

Donna Sol Balcone by Ubaldo Oppi


‘The Diviners’ by Margaret Laurence (#323)

‘Morag Dunn, now in her mid-forties, lives in a riverside farmhouse in Eastern Ontario. Through a series of flashbacks she looks at the painful and exhilarating moments of her earlier life: her childhood on the social margins of the small prairie town of Manawaka; her relationship with Jules Tonnerre which grows out of their shared alienation; her demeaning marriage and her escape from it into writing fiction, and her travels to England and Scotland and, finally, back to rural Canada, where she faces a different challenge – the necessity to understand, and let go of, the daughter she loves.’

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Why Virago turned this painting black and white I shall never understand

‘Portrait of a Midinette’ by Herbert James Gunn


‘Good Daughters’ by Mary Hocking (#340)

‘Mary Hocking brings good humour and sympathy to her depiction of the Fairley sisters growing up in their close-knit West London neighbourhood before, during and after the war. Here, in the first novel of a trilogy, the girls are sheltered in a world whose traditions of hard work and frugality are upheld in their Methodist father, Stanley, and their strong quiet mother, Judith. But as love comes to Louise and adventures tempt Alice and her friend, unease lurks and terrible rumours travel from Germany – auguries of the catastrophe to come.’

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An intriguing match of book and artwork

‘Hector and Andromache’ by Giorgio di Chirico


‘Life Before Man’ by Margaret Atwood (#68)

‘Life Before Man chronicles with ironic precision, in masterful prose, the tragicomedy we call love between the sexes. Elizabeth – monstrous yet pitiable, Nate her husband – a patchwork man, gentle, disillusioned, and Leslie his lover, a young woman prehistoric in her simplicity, form a sexual triangle whose encounter illuminate profound truths about contemporary experience.’

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The author and the artist were worlds apart

‘Room in Brooklyn’ by Edward Hopper


‘None Turn Back’ by Storm Jameson (#132)

‘It is 6th May, the third day of the General Strike … This is the story of that harrowing week seen through the eyes of the women and men of London as they move through that unreal city. We meet those who gave their all for the strike -and a vision of a better world. We meet, too, those who fought to break it with every weapon they had: power, politics, money – or brute force. There are masters and workmen, fascists and communists, politicians and trade unionists, wives and mistresses, artists, writers and scientists, all caught up in the web of each other’s lives. But above all we follow the thread of Hervey Russell’s life as she is swept up by the political ferment around her, by the difficulties of a new marriage, and by her hopes and fears for the future… ‘

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I wish the book was as famous as the artist

‘Regina Cordium’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


‘Red Pottage’ by Mary Cholmondeley (#187)

‘Rachel West and Hester Gresley have been friends since nursery days. Rachel, calm and practical, inherits a fortune after years of poverty in the East End of London but falls in love with a philanderer. Hester, imaginative and excitable, has published a successful novel, but her aunt’s death forces her to live in the stifling atmosphere of her clergyman brother’s house. This absorbing novel, first published in 1899, explores the ways in which two very different women search for fulfilment in a society bound by convention.’

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Such a different impression when you see the whole painting

‘Interior’ by Duncan Grant


‘Rhapsody’ by Dorothy Edwards (#204)

‘Set in the leisurely world of country houses, rambling walks, afternoon teas and piano duets, these deceptively simple tales are of women and men who come together, sometimes ludicrously, often sadly – if at all. They tell of unrequited love and jealousy, of the separateness of one human being from another, all enacted beneath the smooth veneer of English life at its most civilized. The theme of music weaves in and out of this volume of enchanting stories, first published in 1927. Reminiscent of Katherine Mansfield in mood and texture, they are nevertheless the work of an absolutely individual talent.’

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I’m reading another book by this author and I’d love to find a copy of this one

‘At the Window’ by Patricia O’Brien


‘Nobody’s Business’ by Penelope Gilliatt (#334)

‘An elderly writer of popular comedies and her liberal husband, a judge, are accosted in mid-swim by three crass archivists. In distracting their inquisitors, the couple show the greatest mannerliness while treading water. A famous cellist develops an unruly attachment to his bed. His accompanist suggests an analyst, but takes the sessions himself, lending a fond angle to the transference. A quiet, wise man watches his blustering City stepson take over his house and his being and has not the heart to see his usurping heir’s action as the pattern of push and shove. With assurance, acuity and her lucid wit, Penelope Gilliatt lays bare the non-utterances that are the crucial ellipses of the human temperament. Candid, resonant and always compassionate, these are unforgettable tales from a genius of the short story.’

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That’s the last painting in this collection, but there will be a winter exhibition opening early next year, and a spring show after that ….

And in the meantime, do tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any suggestions for future exhibitions.

8 thoughts on “A Late Visit to the Autumn Exhibition at the Virago Art Gallery

  1. Wonderful post, Jane – I love it when you feature the Virago images, so striking, and as you point out, what a difference it makes when the pictures are cropped or the colour changed. I do so wish Virago still did these covers… 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such an interesting mix! I love the colors, particularly in the Rossetti and the O’Brian (which I don’t remember seeing before).

    And I agree with you about Red Pottage, such a fascinating book.


  3. Lovely! This idea of the “whole” painting when only a snippet is reproduced on the cover fascinates me. Although, admittedly, I balk at the idea of anything with hills adorning Margaret Laurence’s Manawaka series. Christie’s Scottish heritage is important – and not so flat – to the story, but Morag’s life is so flat in the beginning anyway!


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