Test Plate for Virginia Woolf from The Dinner Party 1978

Judy Chicago, Test Plate for Virginia Woolf from The Dinner Party, 1978; Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler in honor of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and the 20th anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Judy Chicago created the Test Plate for Virginia Woolf as part of her development of The Dinner Party. That large installation piece (permanently housed at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum) is perhaps the best-known artwork to come out of the feminist movement of the 1970s.

The Dinner Party consists of three long tables, arranged to form a triangle. The tables support elaborate place settings for 39 women. Each table has a designated historical era: pre-history to classical Rome, Christianity to Reformation, and the American Revolution to the Women’s Revolution. Additionally, Chicago included the names of an additional 999 famous women on the Heritage Floor on which the tables sit. 

The test plate for Virginia Woolf’s place setting, and others like it, is identical in size to the final version that sits on the table. Each plate is a unique work, yet they share similar imagery based on butterfly and vulvar forms. Woolf’s plate features a core of seed-like shapes surrounded by three-dimensional petals that curl at the edges.

This floral imagery is meant to symbolize the fruitfulness of Woolf’s talents as a writer. Hence, the curved petals may also be seen as pages of an open book. While the final plate for Virginia Woolf is delicately tinted with colored glazes that range from a deep pink in the center to a light celadon at the outer edges, the test plate is completely white, reinforcing the association with paper and writing.



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