Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf’s statue? New riverside artwork divides opinion

By Molly Pavord

A new statue of literary legend Virginia Woolf on banks of the River Thames has caused controversy among people in the area the writer once lived.

Sculptor Laury Dizengremel has unveiled her new Virginia Woolf statue as part of a five-year £50,000 funding campaign and a nationwide movement to bring gender equality to London’s culture scene.

The statue overlooks the River Thames in Richmond, where Woolf lived and worked for a decade with her husband Leonard.

They lived a happy life, as depicted in her diaries which were documented in Peter Fullagar’s Virginia in Richmond.

According to an Art UK audit, more than 20 per cent of London’s monuments are dedicated to named men, while only four per cent are of women.

City Hall pledged a funding programme of £1m to improve diversity in the city’s public places last year, but there is still a long way to go to bring about equality in the London arts sphere.

Ms Dizengremel said: “Virginia Woolf is an iconic writer, so she is hugely inspiring.

“There are very few statuary tributes to women of achievement in counterpart to numerous statues of men, both in England and worldwide.

“Any sculptor would have been thrilled to create Virginia’s statue, and a female sculptor especially so.”

The statue has received some controversy from the Richmond Society about how it is positioned by the water.

Chairman Barry May said: “The Richmond Society supports having a statue of Virginia Woolf in the town.

“She was a distinguished author, an icon for the feminist cause, and a famous resident.

“We believe placing it on the riverside to be ill-advised, insensitive and reckless, however.

“She drowned herself in a river at the age of 59 after a history of mental illness which blighted her life.

“A figure reclining on a bench gazing over the water might distress anyone who knows her story and is in a vulnerable state of mind.”

Ms Dizengremel responded by pointing out that the statue is Woolf at age 40 in a serene mood where she often walked her dog, and therefore has no correlation to her death at age 59 at the River Ouse.

She said: “When we listen to a song by Amy Winehouse we do not inevitably think of her death.

“When we see Virginia sitting with a smiling face by the Thames, we remember – and rightfully so – her books, which are read worldwide.

“The positivity of her presence, the fact people can sit with her and see her serene face and perhaps be inspired to write themselves is what matters, not the woke comment by Barry May.”

Pictured top: Laury Dizengremel’s statuę of Virginia Woolf in Richmond (Picture: Maureen Rice)

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