Decades Before Judy Chicago’s ‘The Dinner Party,’ Virginia Woolf’s Sister Made a Set of Dinner Plates Celebrating 50 Historic Women
A long-lost, groundbreaking work of feminist art by British artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, members of the famously bohemian Bloomsbury Group, is being shown publicly for the first time at Piano Nobile gallery in London.
The Famous Women Dinner Service is a 50-piece ceramic dish set featuring portraits of famous women from history, completed between 1932 and 1934. The subjects range from Hollywood star Greta Garbo to the Queen of Sheba to Marian Bergeron, who in 1933 became the youngest-ever Miss America at age 15.
“It’s a major proto-feminist work,” Matthew Travers, a director at London’s Piano Nobile gallery, told artnet News. “All of the women they depicted did something interesting and powerful, and often were quite scandalous—the Bloomsburys might have said ‘liberated’—in the way they lived their private lives, and often did not conform to the patriarchies they were living in.”
A Dinner Party Before the Dinner Party
Even though it predates Judy Chicago’s iconic The Dinner Party—a triangular table with 39 place settings recognizing the achievements of women throughout history—by more than 40 years, there’s a reason you haven’t heard of The Famous Women Dinner Service. A private commission, it was never publicly displayed, and for decades, art historians believed it was lost. Indeed, Chicago conceived her magnum opus without knowledge of its British counterpart.