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This Dark Country: Women Artists, Still Life and Intimacy in the Early Twentieth Century

UK Publisher: Bloomsbury

For women artists in the early twentieth century, including Ethel Sands, Nina Hamnett, Vanessa Bell and Gwen John, who lived in and around the Bloomsbury Group, this art form was a conduit for their lives, their rebellions, their quiet loves for men and women. Gluck, who challenged the framing of her gender and her art, painted flowers arranged by the woman she loved; Dora Carrington, a Slade School graduate, recorded eggs on a table at Tidmarsh Mill, where she built a richly fulfilling if delicate life with Lytton Strachey.

But for every artist we remember, there is one we have forgotten; who leaves only elusive traces; whose art was replaced by being a mother or wife; whose remaining artworks lie dusty in archives or attics.

In this boldly original blend of group biography and art criticism, Rebecca Birrell brings these shadowy figures into the light and conducts a dazzling investigation into the structures of intimacy that make – and dismantle – our worlds.


‘This Dark Country is a wonderfully rich, deeply researched page-turner about six women artists from the early 20th century and their relationship to creativity and intimacy. Rebecca Birrell’s prose is sumptuous, precise and bewitching – she responds to works of art and the lives of the people who created them with an equivalent imaginative flourish. I can’t recommend it enough.’ — Jennifer Higgie

‘As seductive as it is scholarly … Riveting’ — Financial Times

‘Unusual and refreshing … Brilliant’ — Leanne Shapton

‘[A] wonderful book. I am impressed and fascinated. It is beautifully written’ — Celia Paul