The Literary Edge of London Art Week

Written by Silke Lohmann | 12 July 2021

As we are all waiting for book and art fairs to open again, I report from London Art Week (with my other hat on). The event, taking place in galleries around town, has the advantage over fairs that it offers a more Covid secure environment.

This summer LAW runs from 2nd to 16th July and several dealers are showing works with a literary theme, in particular works of literary women. Whether you are in LA or London, these highlights are easily accessible as LAW is both a live and a digital event.

Ben Elwes Fine Art has dedicated a special exhibition to Literary Women: Writers and Revolutionaries.  Among them is a self-portrait by Dame Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010) with her three children in bed. Although better known as a novelist, she was also a prolific painter with several exhibitions to her name. The Bed was painted in 1965. A Carrara marble of the activist Jessie White Mario (1832-1906) was born in Hampshire, but spent years fighting for Italian unification, women's rights and the abolishment of slavery.  The bust was made in c. 1867-70 and is now attributed to American sculptor Margaret Foley.

Margaret Foley, attr. (1827 - 1877)
Jessie White Mario (1832 - 1906), c. 1867-70
Ben Elwes Fine Art
Dame Beryl Bainbridge (1932-2010)
The Bed, 1965
Ben Elwes Fine Art

Colnaghi is showing the first portrait of Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz (1648 - 1695) painted on copper in New Spain (Mexico) by an anonymous artist in 1673. The nun was a Mexican writer, philosopher, composer and poet of the Baroque period. Known for her outspoken opinions she wrote poetry and prose dealing with such topics as love, feminism, and religion. She turned her nun's quarters into a salon, visited by the city's intellectual elite. Her criticism of misogyny and the hypocrisy of men led to her condemnation by the Bishop of Puebla, and in 1694 she was forced to sell her considerable collection of books and focus on charity towards the poor. She died the following year, having caught the plague while treating her sisters.

Philip Mould and Company highlights a portrait of the poet Iris Beerbohm Tree, a perfect example of the independent new women of the 1920s, who also designed her own clothes which she wore when she sat for the equally eccentric Augustus Edwin John (1878 - 1961) in around 1920.

Augustus Edwin John (1878 - 1961)
Iris Beerbohm Tree, c. 1920
Philip Mould & Company

Several works at Elliott Fine Art have literary connections, among them Lady Strauss drawn by Karl Parsons in 1933. She wrote two books on the Labour Party, and was also a journalist, and a War Correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune. She became director of the Tribune, a socialist democratic periodical founded by her husband and Stafford Cripps. And finally, as an ardent feminist, she wrote a story called 'The Lady is an Engineer', published in Vogue. Another interesting work is by Gerhardt Wilhelm von Reutern (1794 - 1865), who was a close correspondent of Goethe and was encouraged by him to become an artist, even though he had lost his right arm in the battle of Leipzig in 1813 against Napoleonic forces, and subsequently learned to paint and draw with his left hand!

Gerhardt Wilhelm von Reutern (1794 - 1865)
The Platzburschen Wilhelm Völcker and Ludwig Dörr, c. 1825 - 28
Elliott Fine Art

Last but not least Bowman Sculpture, has included Désespoir de la Porte (Despair, from the Gates of Hell) by Auguste Rodin, conceived for the sculptor's revolutionary monumental work, The Gates of Hell. Inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy, it is both an homage to the 14th-century writer and a visually confronting representation of the powerful themes and motifs throughout the Divine Comedy.

If you are in London though, you can turn it into an art and book tour as many of London's prestigious rare book dealers happen to be in the vicinity. Visit Heywood Hill and Maggs Bros and see some ancient work at Kallos Gallery around the corner, see a newly discovered Tintoretto at Benappi Fine Art and pop into Peter Harrington's down the road. Shapero Rare Books shows some porcelain by Raccanello Leprince just a few doors down from Bonhams, and Beddington Fine Art specialising in Italian views is only a short stroll from Sotherans. There are several galleries based around Duke St, St James's and Mason's Yard, with Karen Taylor Fine Art even based at Benjamin Spademan and Thomas Heneage, Sims Reed and Daniel Crouch Rare Books just around the corner. Last but not least, Abbot & Holder is a stone throw away from Jarndyce.

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