A Walk around 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.

Because art is one of the best things I have found to distract me from everything going on in the outside world.

And because even after three years of seasonal exhibitions, there are still a great many artworks waiting to be shown off.

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The Cover Suggests that this Book is not set in the Author’s Usual Milieu

‘Studio Lunch’ by Henry Siddons Mowbray

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‘The Fruit of the Tree’ by Edith Wharton (#145)

John Amherst, clever, idealistic and poor, is assistant manager of a cotton mill and has the makings of a working-class leader. While visiting a worker in hospital he encounters a young nurse, Justine, compassionate and principled, a woman who shares his aims and dreams. But Amherst is fatally distracted when he meets Bessy. A widow of great wealth, Bessy is charming, beautiful – and the new owner of the mill. The lives of all three become strangely interwoven as Amherst is forced to choose between sense and sentiment, between his care for the working classes and his infatuation with Bessy – a woman made for passion, but not for its aftermath.

* * * * * * *

A Rare Cover Portrait of a Man

‘Der Schieber’ (The Profiteer) by Heinrich Maria Davringhausen

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‘A Little Tea, a Little Chat’ by Christina Stead (#59)

It is 1941 and war is imminent. Robert Grant is a man in his fifties, living on the seamier side of New York. Life is a game and he makes his own rules, whether trading in cotton, writing a best seller, or pursuing his only hobby – seduction (and betrayal). He searches for easy women – the cheaper the better, the more the merrier: always on the lookout for a new face, a new phone number, ‘a little tea, a little chat’. Enjoying his intrigues, he receives little pleasure – and gives none, until he encounters Barbara, the ‘blondine’ a big, handsome, sluttish woman of thirty-two. In Barbara, he meets his match.

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A Book that has been Published by Both Virago and Persephone

‘The Birdcage’ by Henry Tonks

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‘The Squire’ by Enid Bagnold (#246)

At the Manor House on the village green, the household waits in restless suspense. The master is in Bombay, the mistress, its temporary squire, is heavy with child and languorous. Her four young children distract her with their demands, her friend Caroline tells the squire of her latest lover, her restless adventuring a sharp contrast to the squire’s own mood. And watching and waiting for the birth, the squire contemplates the woman she was, “strutting about life for spoil” and the woman she is now, another being, “occupied with her knot of human lives”.

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The Cover says Spring and the Book says Summer!

‘Spring Day at Boscastle’ by Charles Ginner

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‘One Fine Day’ by Mollie Panter-Downes (#195)

It’s a summer’s day in 1946. The English village of Wealding is no longer troubled by distant sirens, yet the rustling coils of barbed wire are a reminder that something, some quality of life, has evaporated. Together again after years of separation, Laura and Stephen Marshall and their daughter Victoria are forced to manage without “those anonymous caps and aprons who lived out of sight and pulled the strings.” Their rambling garden refuses to be tamed, the house seems perceptibly to crumble. But alone on a hillside, as evening falls, Laura comes to see what it would have meant if the war had been lost, and looks to the future with a new hope and optimism.

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A Painting from One Side of the Atlantic and a Story from the Other

‘Dorelia McNeill in the Garden at Alderney Manor’ by Augustus John

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‘Barren Ground’ by Ellen Glasgow (#219)

Set in 1925, this is the story of Dorinda Oakley. As a young woman she works in a general store whilst her parents eke out their existence on the starved Virginian land. To Dorinda, Jason Greylock seems to offer an escape from this monotony and she falls in love with him. But Jason seduces and then abandons her. For years Dorinda strives to quieten the bitterness of rejection. Turning back to the land, she works the soil with the intensity of feeling she offered Jason and, as a middle-aged woman, emerges, triumphant, self-possessed. Described by Ellen Glasgow as a work by which she would like to be judged as a novelist, this is a strong and deterministic work. “For once in Southern fiction” she wrote, “the betrayed woman would become the victor instead of the victim.”

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There are Four Figures in the Painting but Only Two on the Cover

‘A Portrait Group’ by James Cowie

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‘Another Time Another Place’ by Jessie Kesson (#379)

In 1944 Italian prisoners of war are billeted in a tiny village in the far northeast of Scotland. Janie, who works the land and is married to a farm labourer fifteen years older than herself, is to look after three of them. While her neighbours regard the Italians with a mixture of resentment and indifference, Janie is intrigued by this glimpse of another, more romantic world – with almost inevitable consequences. Much more than a simple love story, Another Time, Another Place is also a vibrant portrait of a rural community enveloped by an untamed landscape.

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The New Edition of the Book is Lovely, but I Still Love my Old, Green Copy

‘Gillian’ by Leslie Brockleburst

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‘South Riding’ by Winifred Holtby (#273)

This, Winifred Holtby’s greatest work, is a rich and memorable evocation of the characters of the South Riding, their lives, loves and sorrow.  There is Sarah Burton, fiery young headmistress, inspired by educational ideas; Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall, a conservative councillor, tormented by his disastrous marriage; Jo Astell, a socialist fighting poverty and his own tuberculosis; Alf Huggins, haulage contractor and lay preacher of ‘too, too solid flesh’; Mrs. Beddows, the first woman Alderman of the district, and the obsequious Snaith.  These are the people who work together – and against one another – in council chambers and backroom caucuses.  Alongside them are the men, women and children affected by their decisions: Tom Sawdon, landlord of the Nag’s Head; the flamboyant Madame Hubbard of the local dancing school; young Lydia Holly, the scholarship girl from the shacks, is the most brilliant student Sarah has ever taught, and many more.

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That’s the last painting in this exhibition.

Please tell me if you have any particular favourite cover artwork, or any suggestions for future exhibitions.

13 thoughts on “A Walk around the Virago Art Gallery

  1. A beautiful selection as ever, Jane. I do enjoy your Virago art posts. Funnily enough, I read South Riding fairly recently – a rich, life-affirming novel, full of brilliant characters and progressive ideas. A truly wonderful book.

    Like

  2. This was lovely! My own blog pairs Literature and art, details of art often, so I ate this up like hot cakes. An art historian I once heard on a podcast said that details aren’t how the Artist intended the work to be seen, but they do teach you to see. I agree. I wonder, what does the cover of ‘another time another place’ look like? I haven’t found it on google.

    Like

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