Bloomsbury Art & Design at The Courtauld Gallery

The ‘Bloomsbury Art & Design’ exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery displays pieces from various artists from the Bloomsbury Group, including works from Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. This early 20th Century group was formed by Fry, who brought together likeminded artists. They were inspired by continental artistic developments and had an appreciation for art from Africa and China. 

From this group, Fry launched the Omega Workshops, within which the artists created work that blurred the traditional boundaries of art, creating their own artistic objects from common life, such as rugs and ceramics. Fry wanted the group to create spur of the moment art, and inject the spirit of fun into household designs and objects. He strongly believed in creative freedom and a spontaneous spirit. The group’s artwork also heavily influenced modern attitudes towards feminism, sexism, and pacifism. 

The exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery displays paintings, drawings and designs for furniture and rugs.  ‘Two Designs’ (1913-1914) is a design for printed linens, which was later used as a design for a carpet. The pattern ‘Mechtilde’ was named after Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky, the wife of the German ambassador and supporter of the Omega Workshops. 

Another rug design by Vanessa Bell features an incredible use of colour, Bell herself described the picture as, ‘…patches, each of which has to be filled by one definite space of colour… not allowing myself to brush the patches into each other’. The white spaces left between the coloured patches are used to add brilliance to the colours. The rug designs heavily feature ‘cubism’, an art style adapted and used by Picasso. 

On one corner of the room stands a marvellous, eye-catching, room divider screen with a lily pond design. Grant’s inspiration for the ‘lily pond’ pattern came from a sketch of a goldfish pond at Roger Fry’s home in Surrey. The paint was poured directly from the can to give the design more spontaneity.  This screen is among several household items on display here, alongside a hand painted piano, dining chair and several ceramics.

In a glass cabinet that travels the length of the room, a collection of ceramics call out for attention. The loud, bold designs painted onto plates, bowls, and various jugs and vases are beautiful, making them truly one of a kind pieces. The bright colours and simplicity of the designs are almost childlike and yet they also clearly feature very complex inspirations from tribal patterns from various ethnic cultures from around the world. Every ceramic creation had the group’s Omega symbol printed on it. 

This gorgeous exhibition shows how art can be fun and spontaneous and that it doesn’t need to be perfect and meticulous, as long as it represents the artist and the feelings they want to share. The Bloomsbury Group created a new movement in the art world that opened many doors for aspiring artists and art lovers and invited everyone to enjoy the creative process. 

“Bloomsbury Art & Design” is on at The Courtauld Gallery until 21st September.  More information may be found here.