Vogue, November 1924: ‘Modern English Decoration’
One of the first exhibits in ‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’, which opened at the National Portrait Gallery last month is an article in the November 1924 edition of Vogue, titled ‘Modern English Decoration’. Virginia Woolf had commissioned Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to design decorative wall panels for her third-floor sitting-room at 52 Tavistock Square. The success of the scheme and Woolf’s pride in the commission is suggested by it being illustrated in Vogue. The Vogue article rhapsodises about the artists’ decorative work, and pays heed to how Grant and Bell sought to combine beauty with usefulness:
‘There is at present in this country an artistic activity which is producing work more interesting and more vital than anything that has made its appearance here during the last hundred years. Moreover, many of the leading artists in this modern movement… have turned their attention to decorative work. Among these are Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, who… produced a great many charming things in the way of furniture, stuffs, and pottery, practical as well as beautiful.’
The panels in 52 Tavistock Square include paintings of books, writing implements, and musical instruments, and these motifs suggest Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard’s activities in their sitting room. Whilst the literary lives of Virginia and Leonard Woolf are well documented, their love of music – implicit in Bell and Grant’s decorative scheme in the recurrent image of a mandolin – is not as widely known.
The panels are no longer extant as the house was hit by a bomb in October 1940 during the Second World War. However, there are sketches of similar subjects in the Angelica Garnett Gift. In particular, drawings which incorporate a mandolin appear numerously, an example of which is shown below.
 ‘Modern English Decoration’ article in Vogue, early November 1924