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This Dark Country


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A dazzling, boldly original work that tells the powerful and passionate stories of a group of extraordinary women as glimpsed through their still life paintings

About the Author

Rebecca Birrell grew up in Southport, and lives in Cambridge. She studied English Literature at UCL, followed by Women’s Studies at the University of Oxford. She has occupied curatorial positions at the Jewish Museum London, the Department of Prints and Drawing at the British Museum and at the Charleston Trust. In 2018 she undertook a fellowship at the Yale Centre for British Art. She completed her PhD at the Edinburgh College of Art. She is a curator in the Department of Paintings, Drawings and Prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge.


Blending flights of poetic rhapsody with more traditional critical language, This Dark Country is as seductive as it is scholarly ... Riveting
*Financial Times*

[A] wonderful book. I am impressed and fascinated. It is beautifully written. Each woman artist, in this superb book, addresses the need to transform the confines she inhabits into a space of empowerment. These artists all lived and worked in the first part of the twentieth century yet their legacy continues to be relevant
*Celia Paul*

A brilliant book ... A truly radical aesthetics fit for the twenty-first century at last!
*Thérèse Oulton*

A beautifully written and important art historical work, This Dark Country is a magnificent debut by one of Britain’s most electrifying new talents. I cannot wait to read what she writes next!
*Camilla Grudova, author of THE DOLL's ALPHABET*

[An] unusual and refreshing group biography of artists ... I loved Birrell's brilliant re-apprehension of Rodin’s The Thinker through the experience of Gwen John. And her explanation of the magnitude of rooms and importance of room, in these women’s lives
*Leanne Shapton*

[A] beautiful, bold new book … explores the desires and ambitions of women artists, moving beyond the frame to reflect lives that rarely fit convention

Birrell’s blend of art criticism and biography works best when it is tethered to real-world calculation. She is particularly good at teasing out the stubborn material facts that underpin the most serene of still lifes

Rebecca Birrell urges us to ask new questions about gender and genre, domesticity and work … At its heart is the challenge of understanding the lives and works of women whose desires and ambitions often demanded secrecy, evasion and ambiguity
*Literary Review*

[I was] captivated by this extraordinary book - stayed up way too late scribbling my astonishment on all the pages
*Doireann Ní Ghríofa, author of 'A Ghost in the Throat'*

This is a bold, unusual book, filled with archival research, exuberant ideas and a determination to counter misogyny
*RA Magazine*

We have not generally thought of the still life as a radical feminist genre – until now. In This Dark Country, Rebecca Birrell gives a sensitive, deeply researched look at the lives behind the still lives, showing us how for a group of early twentieth-century women artists the home became a radical feminist space in which to redefine domesticity and their relationships to the world outside. There is a calm and companionable stillness to Birrell’s prose, too; I loved seeing these paintings through Birrell’s eyes.
*Lauren Elkin*

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