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Art & Life: The Paintings of Beryl Bainbridge

Thursday 22 May – Sunday 19 October 2014
Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, Strand Campus

bainbridge-gennAll too often artists with talent in several fields become recognized for just one. This is the starting point for a journey through the creative life and oeuvre of Beryl Bainbridge, who was best known as a writer, but was also a highly accomplished visual artist. This exhibition shows a selection of Bainbridge's paintings, etchings and drawings, contextualised by material from her novels, and offers the rare opportunity to see a range of her first editions and archival material from the British Library. Screenings of documentary ‘Beryl's Last Year’ and an extract from the BBC's ‘According to Beryl’, as well as objects from her legendary and eccentric home provide an insight into the life of this fascinating creative figure.

Bainbridge often depicted on canvas those who featured in her novels. She focused in particular on figures from ‘real life’: her children, herself, objects from her home, historical figures, her lovers and historical events. As a result, Bainbridge's work often blurs the boundaries between past and present, fact and fiction. Events from her own life are reimagined and fictionalised; historical figures such as Samuel Johnson and Napoleon are depicted with Beryl in her own home.

As a multi-faceted artist, Bainbridge worked across art forms, merging personal events, history and the resonance of mythical figures as her raw material to produce both extraordinary fiction and powerful paintings.

An exhibition curated by Susie Christensen and supported by the university's Culture team. With thanks to Psiche Hughes, the family and estate of Beryl Bainbridge and the King’s Department of English. Featuring loans in partnership with the British Library.


The programme

A series of events in the Inigo Rooms and nearby venues accompany our Art & Life: The Paintings of Beryl Bainbridge exhibition:


Twin Practices: Writing and Painting

Saturday 24 May 2014, 10.00 – 17.30, followed by a reception
Anatomy Museum, King's Building, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS


To listen to podcasts from the day, please click here


Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, 1912. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Scheduled to coincide with the opening of the exhibition Art & Life: The Paintings of Beryl Bainbridge, this symposium will explore the work of figures who - like Bainbridge - cross disciplines. Jane Thomas will begin the day by reflecting on the connections between Bainbridge's novels and paintings. The event will then consider some remarkable modern precedents: the creative relationship of Virginia Woolf and her artist-sister Vanessa Bell - the subject of Maggie Humm's talk - and the little-known canvases of D. H. Lawrence, introduced by Geoff Dyer. Bringing us up to the present, the writers and painters Frieda Hughes and Roma Tearne will describe in their own words what it means to have 'twin practices'.


10.00 - 10.30 Registration
10.30 - 11.30 Jane Thomas: "Beryl Bainbridge: the stories that pictures can tell"
11.30 - 12.30 Maggie Humm: 'Virginia Woolf writer. Vanessa Bell artist: "the same pair of eyes only different spectacles"'
12.30 - 13.30 Lunch (not provided)
13.30 - 14.30 Roma Tearne: 'The Articulate Eye'
14.30 - 15.30 Frieda Hughes: "Painting and Poetry as Dual Disciplines"
15.30 - 16.00 Coffee (provided)
16.00 - 17.00 Geoff Dyer: 'Costing the Soul Far Less: D. H. Lawrence'
17.00 - 17.30 Round table, chaired by Tom Overton
17.30 - 18.30 Wine or soft drinks (provided) and exhibition view

Boarding the Titanic, 1992 © the Estate of Beryl Bainbridge


Jane Thomas
Jane Thomas is Reader in Victorian and Early Twentieth-Century Literature at the University of Hull. She has written two critical monographs and several articles on Thomas Hardy. She also publishes on contemporary women’s literature and is particularly interested in the creative interplay between word and image. She is currently working on the connections between literature and sculpture in the later Victorian period. She has an additional research interest in contemporary women’s writing, in particular the novels of Beryl Bainbridge.

Maggie Humm
Professor Maggie Humm is an Emeritus Professor in the School of Arts and Digital Industries, University of East London. Her recent publications on Woolf include Snapshots of Bloomsbury: The Private Lives of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell (Rutgers UP and Tate, 2006), The Edinburgh Companion to Virginia Woolf and the Arts (Edinburgh and Columbia UP, 2010) and chapters in Cambridge Companions, Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury and Contradictory Woolf. She has written about the Polish artist Joanna Rajkowska, and is researching the connections between Maï Zetterling, Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf.

Roma Tearne
Roma Tearne is a Sri Lankan-born artist and writer living and working in Britain. She arrived with her parents in this country at the age of ten. She trained as a painter, completing her MA at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford. For nearly twenty years her work as a painter, installation artist and filmmaker has dealt with the traces of history and memory within public and private spaces.

In 1998 the Royal Academy of Arts, London, highlighted one of her paintings, 'Watching the Procession', for its Summer Exhibition. As a result her work became more widely known and was included in the South Asian Arts Festival at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, in 1992. She is also a successful novelist. Her first novel Mosquito (2007) was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award first novel prize.

Frieda Hughes
Born in London in 1960, Frieda Hughes is both a painter and a writer. As a painter, she exhibits regularly in London and Wales. As a writer, having published several children’s books, Frieda’s first book of poetry, Wooroloo, was published in the US by Harper Collins in 1998 and in the UK by Bloodaxe Books in 1999, when it received a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. Four subsequent collections have followed to date: StonepickerWaxworksForty-Five and The Book of Mirrors. Frieda’s next collection, Inventory, is due for publication with Bloodaxe in 2015. From 2006 to 2008 Frieda wrote the weekly Times poetry column.

Having long ago decided that she no longer wished to paint portraits, Frieda records her observations of people in her poems: their relationships with one another, their strengths and weaknesses, their curious and sometimes demanding personalities, and their personal conflicts. Conversely, although she is a figurative artist who paints landscapes, Frieda finds that she is more easily able to record her emotional landscape in paint than in poems – albeit as abstract images. In her talk Frieda will discuss the journey that has defined – and then combined – the two disciplines that govern her life.

Geoff Dyer
Geoff Dyer’s new book Another Great Day at Sea, about his time on an American aircraft carrier, is published in May 2014. His awards include the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Lannan Literary Fellowship and, most recently, a National Book Critics Circle Award for the essay collection Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he is currently living in Venice Beach, California. His books have been translated into 24 languages.

Tom Overton
Tom Overton catalogued John Berger’s archive at the British Library as part of an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Centre for Life-writing Research, King’s College London, and is the author of an ongoing history of the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 1938–present. He has curated exhibitions for the Whitechapel Gallery and the at King's College London, and in 2012 he organised a series of events including an exhibition, free school and conference to mark the 40th Anniversary of Berger’s Ways of Seeing and G. Tom is currently working on a book based on the Berger archive as a Henry Moore Institute Research Fellow 2014–15.

With thanks to the Literature and Visual Cultures Research Seminar Series, Royal Holloway.


Brendan King in Conversation

Tuesday 3 June 2014, 18.00 – 19.30
Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, London WC2R 2LS

brendan-gennBrendan King is a freelance translator, editor and reviewer, with a special interest in nineteenth-century French literature. Between 1987 and 2010 he worked for Beryl Bainbridge, helping her to prepare a number of novels she wrote during this period for publication. These include The Birthday Boys (1991), Every Man for Himself (1996), Master Georgie (1998) and According to Queeney (2001). He also prepared the edition of the novel she was working on at the time of her death, The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress, from his copy of the working manuscript. He is currently working on a full-length biography of Bainbridge, which is forthcoming in 2016.

In this talk King will address his working life with Bainbridge, his work for the biography, and will offer detailed insights into one particular painting from the exhibition: 'Did you think I would leave you dying when there's room on my horse for two...'. This painting depicts an incident in which Bainbridge's mother-in-law tried to shoot her, an event which is also fictionalised in Bainbridge's novel The Bottle Factory Outing (1974).

Photo of Brendan and Beryl sitting working at a table (mid 1990s)



Psiche Hughes in Conversation

Wednesday 25 June and Wednesday 24 September, 18.00 – 19.30
Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, London WC2R 2LS

psiche-gennPsiche Hughes, Beryl Bainbridge's closest friend, has been instrumental in the development of the exhibition Art & Life: The Paintings of Beryl Bainbridge. Her book Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend (Thames & Hudson, 2012) introduces the reader to Bainbridge's drawings and paintings, setting them in the context of their creator's life. Hughes first met Bainbridge in 1963 when they were neighbours. They remained extremely close until Bainbridge's death in 2010. In 2003 Beryl told the Guardian: 'In 1965 having left my home town of Liverpool, and living in a top-floor Hampstead flat, I gave birth to a daughter, expelled in a thunder storm but with nothing suitable in which to wash her, until Philip and Psiche Hughes in the ground floor flat came up trumps and loaned their chicken casserole dish.'

After talking about her book and sharing her extensive knowledge of Bainbridge's life and work, Hughes will be available to chat and offer further insights whilst guests look around the exhibition.

Psiche Hughes is a former lecturer in Latin American and comparative literature at the University of London. She has published several translations of prose and poetry.



Representing History: A Panel Discussion

Thursday 25 September, 18.30 - 20.30
Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS

Bainbridge's later work often focuses on the representation of historical events and figures. The sinking of the Titanic, Captain Scott’s failed mission to Antarctica and Dr Samuel Johnson are among the people and moments from the past that populate her pages and canvases. Bainbridge’s work invites us to ask: what is at stake in a fictional representation of history? A panel of Sarah Dunant, Louisa Young, Diana Wallace, Huw Marsh and Katharine Harris will consider the question.

Sarah Dunant
Sarah Dunant is the author of a number of bestselling historical novels about Renaissance Italy. Her most recent novel Blood and Beauty (2013) focuses on the fifteenth century Borgia family. Sarah also teaches renaissance studies at Washington University in St Louis. She lives in London and Florence.

Louisa Young
Louisa Young's novel My Dear I Wanted to Tell You (2011), a historical novel set during the First World War, has been chosen as the London Cityread for 2014. Louisa studied history at Cambridge. Her published work includes short-stories, history, biography and historical fiction. Her book A Great Task of Happiness (1995) is a biography of her grandmother Kathleen Scott (wife of Captain Scott and the subject of one of Bainbridge's paintings).

Professor Diana Wallace
Professor Diana Wallace 's research focuses mainly on women’s writing, with a special interest in historical fiction. She is the author of The Woman's Historical Novel: British Women Writers, 1900-2000 (2005) which includes explorations of Bainbridge's historical works.

Katharine Harris
Katharine Harris is currently researching historical fiction at the University of Sussex. Her research focuses on the marginalisation of certain social groups from canonical historical narrative and the response to this in twenty-first century historical fiction.

Dr Huw Marsh
Dr Huw Marsh is Lecturer in Modernist and Contemporary Literature at Queen Mary University of London and is the author of Beryl Bainbridge (2014) in the Northcote House series Writers and their Work. His research focuses mainly on post-war and contemporary fiction, with particular interests in the historical novel, gender, comedy, and the construction of the contemporary canon. He is currently working on a study of comedy in the contemporary British novel.


Beryl Bainbridge, Dr Johnson with his Cat Hodge in Albert Street, 2000 © the Estate of Beryl Bainbridge


'Beryl's Last Year' screening and Q&A with director Charlie Russell

Wednesday 8 October 2014, 18.30 – 20.30
Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS

Charlie Russell is a BAFTA and Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker whose credits include Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die (BBC2, 2011), and Granny Escorts (Channel 4, 2014). Beryl's Last Year was Charlie's first film.

Charlie is also Beryl Bainbridge's grandson. He made the documentary Beryl's Last Year (which was shown on BBC4) because Bainbridge was (wrongly) convinced that she would die when she was 71. To document this 'last year' Charlie filmed Beryl over the course of twelve months, documenting her at work and play. Together they talk candidly and visit important places relating to Bainbridge's life and work.

After the film screening Charlie will give a short talk and will be in conversation with the exhibition's curator, Susie Christensen.

berylslastyear-gennStill from film showing Charlie and Beryl © Charlie Russell

With thanks to Charlie Russell for his permission to show the film.

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