Bloomsbury Art & Design
18 February – 21 September 2017
The Courtauld holds one of the most extensive collections of works by artists from the Bloomsbury Group. This display presents a wide-ranging selection of objects from its holdings, many of which were bequeathed by the artist and art critic Roger Fry (1866 – 1934) to the newly formed Courtauld Institute of Art in 1935.
The first decades of the twentieth century saw an outpouring of literary and artistic creativity in London. Through exhibitions in 1910 and 1912, Fry introduced the British public to modern European painting, with many coming face-to-face with works by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and others for the first time. Fry also helped bind together a group of like-minded British artists, including Duncan Grant (1885 – 1978) and Vanessa Bell (1879-1971). They were inspired not only by these continental artistic developments, but by their appreciation for art from further afield, including Africa and China. They became known as the Bloomsbury Group, after the central London district where they initially lived and worked.
Blurring traditional boundaries, the Bloomsbury Group produced both paintings and applied arts. In 1913, Fry opened the Omega Workshops, a studio and showroom, encouraging artists to create a range of ‘objects for common life’, from rugs and upholstery to ceramics and painted furniture. Fry’s intention was to spur creative freedom and inject ‘the spirit of fun’ into furniture and fabric design as he believed ‘we have suffered for too long from the dull and stupidly serious’. These household items exhibited the direct expressive touch of the artist, in deliberate opposition to the uniform finish of mass-produced goods. Their bold use of colour and form also contrasted with the restrained and sober character of the Edwardian aesthetic. Artists worked collaboratively, marking the finished objects with the collective omega symbol rather than individual signatures.
The closure of the Omega Workshops in 1919, following the First World War, marked the end of the Bloomsbury artists’ most experimental period of creativity, during which they championed a new visual sensibility that pushed the limits of figuration and explored abstract design. Their audacious approach remains a significant contribution to the development of modern art in Britain.
Note: Due to the duration of this Special Display, our works on paper will be changed for those currently in store to avoid excessive light damage. A new selection of works on paper will be displayed from 24 May 2017.