Archive for the ‘Omega Workshop’ Category

Hamnett illustration

Nina Hamnett illustration of an Omega interior for Roger Fry’s The Artist as Decorator 1917. Copyright The Courtauld Gallery.


David Herbert’s newly opened exhibition A Room of Their Own: Lost Bloomsbury Interiors 1914-30 at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, England brings together rarely seen pieces of fine and decorative art to suggest the essence of lost Bloomsbury spaces.

The exhibition works from illustrations and photographs to recreate lost interiors that have been destroyed due to changing tastes and fashions. In this small gallery, nestled on the River Avon in the centre of Bath, Bloomsbury pieces are brought back together providing a springboard from which to visualise oneself eating breakfast or listening to music, as Virginia Woolf would have done, in a Bloomsbury room.

Opening with three portraits of the co-founders of the Omega Workshops, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, and Duncan Grant, the exhibition then leads into the first “room” which recreates the style of Fry’s 1917 Omega interior design for The Artist as Decorator, illustrated for Colour Magazine by Nina Hamnett. The bold abstraction typical of the early Omega workshop style is felt here and one can imagine how impressive the original space must have been. Of particular interest is a Lily Pond design screen by Duncan Grant which is radiant, hinting at the brightness of colour originally intended.  A lovingly worn geometric painted table also sits in front of the fire place which is dressed exactly how Hamnett depicted it in her 1917 illustration.

DG tulips

Duncan Grant, unfinished work Tulips in a Vase 1914.

The exhibition is particularly strong in its comparison of decorative and fine art and its consideration of the relationship between the two. Duncan Grant’s Cat on a Cabbage design for a cross-stitch chair seat sits next to his painting The White Jug and shows his use and exploration of abstraction across forms. His unfinished painting Tulips in a Vase also provides a rare glimpse into his process as a painter and leaves the bare skeleton sketch of the design uncovered, half way through building up colour and shape in paint.

VB fan and sketches

Vanessa Bell Adam and Eve design fan hung with figurative sketches.

There are also rarely seen works by Vanessa Bell, including her painting Vase, Hat and Flowers and a fan vibrantly painted in her Adam and Eve design. Here the Omega interest in clothing and accessories is hinted at. Well-known Omega fabric designs also fall down the walls and over chairs giving an impression of how textiles were an important medium at the Omega. Indeed, such an exhibition as A Room of Their Own which brings together the fine and decorative arts, hanging them side by side, succeeds in representing the Omega Workshops’ “wider aesthetic project of proclaiming modernism as an overall experience”1.

Omega Showcase

Display case with Duncan Grant’s Grapes fabric design glimpsed in the background.

The exhibition moves through later designs to an impression of Dorothy Wellesley’s dining room at her Sussex home, Penns-in-the-Rocks, created by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in 1929. Here the colours have turned more towards elegant pastels and the wall panels depict classically influenced scenes such as a jug on a plinth and three nude bathers. Finally there is a nod to Charleston, a fantastic black three-fold screen designed by Duncan Grant and embroidered by Ethel Grant, and photographs of Duncan Grant in the studio at Charleston in 1974. Thus we see the progression of Bloomsbury style and the range of moods that it encompassed.

Other notable highlights are a Vanessa Bell teapot painted for her sister Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry’s abstract marquetry giraffe design cabinet, and a rare example of painted furniture by Dora Carrington.

A Room of Their Own: Lost Bloomsbury Interiors 1914-30 at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, England runs until 4 September, 2016.

1Koppen, R.S. (2009), Virginia Woolf, Fashion, and Literary Modernity, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


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Virginia Woolf wrote in her 1928 novel Orlando “clothes have more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us”. Her intimate circle of friends and members of the Bloomsbury group were part of the radical Modernist rethinking of dress at the Omega Workshops and Woolf herself wrote for British Vogue under Editor Dorothy Todd in the 1920s. Today the styles of Bloomsbury are inspiring more and more contemporary designers suggesting their aesthetic is as modern as it was 100 years ago.


Nina Hamnett and Winifred Gill wearing Omega designs photographed in The Illustrated London Herald 24 October 1915. Copyright British Library.

In 1915 Woolf’s sister and co-founder of the Omega Workshops Vanessa Bell suggested that the Omega take up dress design using the fabrics they were already creating. Bell went on to design and wear many Omega dresses inspired by the new un-corseted “Directoire” style made popular by Parisian designer and marketing-extraordinaire Paul Poiret. Many of the garments were painted in bold colours in the Post-Impressionist style that had offended vast swathes of the British public at Roger Fry’s first Post-Impressionist art exhibition in 1910. The Omega artists took the style of these bold canvases and transferred it onto clothing, revealing a daring defiance in opposition to accepted ideas of “good taste”. Indeed, in Omega dress we glimpse attitudes that would define youth fashion in the second half of the twentieth century, dressing to express alternative aesthetic and ideological allegiance.

Virginia Woolf responded to these Omega styles, writing to Vanessa Bell:

 “My god! What clothes you are responsible for! Karin’s clothes wrenched my eyes from the sockets – a skirt barred with reds and yellows of the violent kind, a pea-green blouse on top, with a gaudy handkerchief on her head, supposed to be the very boldest taste. I shall retire into dove colour and old lavender, with a lace collar and lawn wristlets”.

In this note to her sister, Woolf craves subtler shades for her own wardrobe. She was remembered for these neutral shades, for wearing “simple” or “martial-looking” clothes, but also in elegant stand out dresses and by Madge Garland, fashion editor of British Vogue, as a “beautiful and distinguished woman wearing what could only be described as … an upturned wastepaper basket on her head”. Her own relationship with clothing was complicated and her writing reveals a strong awareness of how clothes represent the self and hints at the perils of misrepresentation.


Virginia Woolf wearing her mother’s dress photographed for British Vogue. Copyright British Vogue.

The many moods of Bloomsbury dress are increasingly being adopted by contemporary designers. Painterly Post-Impressionist styles, updated Victorian details, and slouchy yet elegant shapes capture the freedom of expression and reclamation of the past so typical of the works of the Bloomsbury group.


Burberry AW14/15 ready to wear. Copyright British Vogue

Burberry’s Bloomsbury Girls (AW14/15) modelled long floating hand-painted button-up dresses, patterned as if they had stepped out of the paintwork of an Omega interior. Tim Walker more recently used Charleston House in Sussex – home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant – as the dramatic backdrop for his editorial Rebel Riders for Italian Vogue (December 2015): Four models posed in front of Vanessa Bell’s iconic black painted wall in the library and waded through the depths of the pond that initially drew Bell’s affection for the house 100 years ago. See-by-Chloe’s upcoming AW16/17 collection is also inspired by the Bloomsbury aesthetic, layering floating skirts in chintz prints with long shirts and polo-neck sweaters. Here the subtler Victorian styles – the bow tied collars, lace up boots, and long frilled skirts – are coupled with thick knits and urban details.


Tim Walker’s Rebel Riders December 2015. Copyright Italian Vogue.

The personal styles of many members of the Bloomsbury group were as radical as their works. They rejected expected conventions whether that was with word, image, or by wearing a painted hat or a “wastepaper basket” style on one’s head. Perhaps this reveals the root of their continued relevance, both of their intellectual and sartorial lives, today.


Looks from See by Chloe’s AW16/17 campaign. Copyright Vogue.

This post is inspired by my research paper Dressing Modern Identity that I wrote and delivered earlier this year as part of my curatorial traineeship at Charleston. Read the current interns’ research at thecharlestonattic.wordpress.com.

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Night and Day: Monk’s House, Rodmell (2011), an original cut paper collage by Amanda White that is part of her Writers' Houses series. See more at http://www.amandawhite-contemporarynaiveart.com.

Woolf and collage, anyone?

That was the question that came up on the VWoolf Listserv a few weeks ago. Other list members promptly and generously shared information on the topic of Woolf and modern collage.

Here are the highlights of that discussion, along with some details I have added:

  • Brenda Helt cited Woolf’s writing about the 1910 and 1912 Post-Impressionist Exhibitions and the Omega Workshop.  Specifically, she mentioned the
    sometimes snide and snarky commentary” in Volumes 1 and 2 of Woolf’s letters, indexed as “Post-impressionist Exhibition” and “Omega Workshop,” and “her later more complex and appreciative understanding” included in the chapters on Post-impressionism and the Omega in Woolf’s biography of Roger Fry.
  • Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and other post-impressionists worked with collage. Both used collage in objects sold at the Omega Workshops and in decorating furniture at Charleston Farmhouse and elsewhere.
  • Woolf knew of early Cubist collage, but would have been most familiar with applied arts such as collage through Bell’s and Grant’s work, as well as the work of other Bloomsbury artists.
  • Three examples of Bell’s and Grant’s collages from 1912, 1914 and 1915 are included in the exhibition catalog for A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections. You can read a post about the last stop on that exhibit’s 2010 cross-country tour here. Collage examples in the exhibition catalogue include:
    • Bell’s Composition (1914), oil and gouache on cut-and-pasted paper, Page 124
    • Grant’s In Memoriam: Rupert Brooke (1915), oil and collage on panel, Page 176
    • Grant’s Design for a Fire Screen (1912), watercolor, gouache and collage, Page 220
  • Christopher Reed, associate professor of English and visual culture at Penn State, discusses and shows examples of others in Bloomsbury Rooms: Modernism, Subculture, Domesticity. They include:
    • Grant’s On the Mantelpiece, 46 Gordon Square (1914), oil and collage on board, Page 149.
    • Roger Fry’s Essay in Abstract Design (1915), oil and collaged bus tickets, Page 155.
    • Grant’s Abstract Kinetic Collage Painting with Sound (1914), gouache, watercolor and collage on paper, Page 156
    • Grant’s Abstract (1914-5), paint, fabric and collaged paper on board, Page 158
    • Grant’s Interior at 46 Gordon Square (1914-5), collaged paper on board, Page 159
  • In Bloomsbury Rooms, Reed discusses Grant’s use of a piece of foil from a cigarette pack liner in In Memoriam as its only collaged element and says it is echoed in Woolf’s review of Edward Marsh’s 1918 memoir on Brooke (161). He also mentions that reviewers unanimously dismissed Grant’s abstract collages in the 1915 Vorticist exhibition, calling them a foreign joke (162).
  • Other important research sources on this topic include:
    • Frances Spalding’s biographies of Bell and of Grant
    • Simon Watney’s The Art of Duncan Grant
    • Douglas Turnbaugh’s Duncan Grant and the Bloomsbury Group
    • Richard Shone’s The Art of Bloomsbury
    • Bell and Nicholson’s Charleston

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What if Virginia Woolf were a food writer? What if she were a dog? This week’s Woolf sightings have a few “what-ifs” and a lot of other stuff too.

Sightings include inspiring new cover designs by Angus Hyland for a hardback series of Woolf’s major works. The covers are modeled after the textile designs of the Omega Workshop. The series includes Mrs. Dalloway,

A Room of One’s OwnTo the LighthouseThe Waves, and Orlando and is available on Penguin Books U.K. site for 14 pounds (about $21) each.
  1. Wanted: A Virginia Woolf Series Designed By Pentagram’s Angus HylandCo.Design
    What a shame that the thought and imagination inside of Woolf’s books aren’t reflected on the outside. So it’s with great relief that we bring you news of Angus Hyland’s designs for a fresh hardback series of Woolf’s major works. ..
  2. The Best of British in the kitchen: CHRISTMAS COOKERY BOOKS, Daily Mail
    In her tie-in cookbook, she quotes Virginia Woolf: ‘One cannot think well, love well and sleep well if one has not dined well.’ Lorraine’s take on easy fine dining includes salami-stick sausage rolls and a cake made of readymade chocolate ice-cream and …
  3. Nightcaps: If famous writers had been food writersSan Francisco Chronicle (blog)
    [Tablehopper] What if Virginia Woolf was a food writer? “Looking back at the cherries, that would not be pitted, red polka dots on white, so bright and jolly, their little core of hardness invisible, in pity she thought of Mrs Sorley, that poor woman …
  4. What We’re ReadingNew York Times (blog)
    So beginneth an onion tart recipe as set down by Geoffrey Chaucer — and imagined by Mark Crick, who speculates how Chaucer, Virginia Woolf and Raymond Chandlerwould have written cookbooks. (Chandler on lamb with dill sauce: “Feeling the blade in my …
  5. What Virginia Woolf might look like. As a dog.Houston Chronicle (blog)
    It’s like finding your other half. Needless to say, the temptation to upload every photo of every friend and family member is frighteningly strong. I’m proud to say I stopped at two: That’s Virginia Woolf, with her doggelganger. ..
  6. In Praise of PG WodehouseTIME
    He was a comic writer in an age of serious aesthetes: he was of the generation of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and the toweringly serious works of his famous coevals have gone a long way towards obscuring Wodehouse’s enormous gifts as a stylist.
  7. Board of Education Approves Search Contract, Discusses Book PurchasesPatch.com
    Most of those novels are being used in classrooms, though administrators told the board that they are working with a publisher to exchange hundreds of extra copies of Mrs. Dalloway, the Virginia Woolf classic. However, the updated version of the
  8. Afternoon of Cakes & Conversation at Dimbola, Island Pulse
    Enjoy the atmosphere of Dimbola Lodge where Lord Tennyson and Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf and many other writers found inspiration. – Well known playwright John writes novels for children, BBC Radio plays and local dramas. …
  9. How a Hangover Will Help you Achieve Huge Commercial SuccessChicagoNow
    The lyrics are equally strong; particularly striking are those in “What the Water Gave Me”, which evinces Virginia Woolf’s suicide with pockets full of stones. Each song on the album is different and memorable in its own right. 
  10. Mac the Knife: On Dwight MacdonaldThe Nation
    He also had a predilection, perhaps not surprising for a man of his time, for a certain type of virile authorial presence, which a “lady novelist” like Virginia Woolf failed to satisfy. (He said he preferred George Eliot, “whom I really don’t consider …
  11. Beattitudes: On Ann BeattieThe Nation
    Wider questions are discussed, as well: what Katherine Anne Porter meant when she said that Virginia Woolf “ranged freely under her own sky,” what Louise Glück had in mind when she spoke of “the impossibility of connecting the self one is in the …
  12. Woolf who turned his back on the pack – IThe Island.lk (subscription)
    Leonard was later to marry Virginia, the younger of the two sisters, whose fame as a writer eclipsed his, though he was himself a star in his own right in a combination of diverse other roles; Leonard Woolf was a prominent member of the Fabian Society, …
  13. Biopic Pictures The OscarsFemaleFirst.co.uk
    Other winners since 2000 include Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, Nicole Kidman as troubled Virginia Woolf, Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos and Reese Witherspoon for her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line. Similarly six of the last eleven …
  14. OxStu Big Book Survey: The ResultsOxford Student
    In the ‘Favourite Author’ category Virginia Woolf edged to victory, ahead of a four-way tie for second place. Clearly opinion was divided between classic literature and more modern favourites, with JK Rowling and Terry Pratchett sharing the spoils with …
  15. Don’t Miss: Nov. 26-Dec. 2Wall Street Journal
    The William B. Beekman collection of memorabilia tied to novelist-essayist Virginia Woolf is up for sale and partly on view in “Virginia Woolf: The Flight of Time”—including a 1911 letter rebuffing her suitor Sydney Waterlow. …
  16. Writing MiddlesexThe Guardian
    Traditionally, literary characters who change sex have been mythical figures such as Tiresias, or fanciful creations such as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. I wanted to write about a realistic person and be as accurate as I could with respect to the …
  17. Going ‘Solo,’ plus oneThe Boston Globe
    Others she seeks out, as a kind of pilgrim: gravesites (Shelley’s, Brancusi’s, Walt Whitman’s) or personal artifacts, again mundane, belonging to the famous (Robert Graves’s hat, Virginia Woolf’s cane, Hermann Hesse’s typewriter). …
  18. Things Fall ApartWall Street Journal
    In its literary brilliance and evocative power, the diary is the equal of those of Virginia Woolf, Harold Nicolson and André Gide. Mr. Easton ranks it one of the greatest diaries ever. Many will agree. But if the journal is so significant as a literary ...
  19. Cary Grant: Hollywood enigma was a devoted dad but a despicable husbandDaily Mail
    Perhaps he had what Virginia Woolf described as “an androgynous mind”. I’m sure he was sometimes a bit flirty with men. People can be so black and white. I’d like to think Dad greyed the line a bit. Not long ago, someone asked if I’d heard George …
  20. How fiction can engage history students in the pastThe Guardian (blog)
    8 – 13 Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, published in 1925, pp. 58 – 63 • Debbie Bogard teaches History and Politics at City and Islington Sixth Form College in London. A …
  21. Books of the year 2011The Guardian
    As Virginia Woolf said: “The whole world is a work of art.” Non-fiction: I loved two very different books of criticism, Nicola Shulman’s beautifully lucid study of Thomas Wyatt, Graven with Diamonds (Short Books), and Owen Hatherley’s furiously 
  22. Library Connection, Conway Daily Sun
    PWR (People Who Read) a discussion group for adults and teens gathers to discuss “Make Lemonade” by Virginia Woolf. Warning: this group tackles controversial issues and is not for the faint of heart. Teens must be in at least ninth grade. …
  23. Woolf signature seals £10250 saleFalmouth Packet
    The visitors’ book from Godrevy Lighthouse in St Ives, containing the childhood signature ofVirginia Woolf, was sold last week for £10250 at the Bonhams Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs Sale in London. 
  24. Insider’s viewChandigarh Tribune
    What is interesting is the frequent meetings of a small group consisting of James Strachey, Maynard Keynes, EM Forster, Bertrand Russell and Virginia Woolf who met in rooms in Neville’s Court with the conviction that they had found the answer to moral …
  25. Jack Kerouac’s ‘first’ novel publishedDigitalJournal.com
    The prose style utilizes a free-from style of writing and is in the tradition of the ‘stream of consciousness’ (that is a flow of thoughts and images) prose style (earlier employed by Virginia Woolf in “To The Lighthouse”). …
  26. Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz: reviewTelegraph.co.uk
    So she photographs the detail in Dickinson’s sole surviving dress; the books on Sigmund Freud’s shelf; a pigeon skeleton labelled by Darwin; Georgia O’Keeffe’s box of pastels; Virginia Woolf’s desk, covered in stains and scratches – the residue left by...
  27. The Fashion Set Flocks to Chelsea for Leibovitz’s ‘Pilgramage’Women’s Wear Daily
    Guests, who included Carolina Herrera, Jann Wenner, Tory Burch, Karen Elson and Ali Hewson, took in shots of relics that ranged from Virginia Woolf’s writing desk to the gloves Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated. 
  28. Leibovitz’s ‘Pilgrimage’ records photographer’s journeyLincoln Journal Star
    Leibovitz has the former, regardless of subject matter, and her photos here, be they of the dark interior of Virginia Woolf’s home, Old Faithful or Annie Oakley’s boots, show her mastery in the capture of light. This is a true aside. …
  29. Picture books hook the eyeSan Antonio Express
    There are intimate shots of ghostly interiors —Eleanor Roosevelt’s bedroom — and meaningful objects — the hat Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater — that tell us something about their owners — including John Muir, Virginia Woolf, Annie Oakley.
  30. Hills & Gardens Photographer Leibovitz at BookCourtBrooklyn Daily Eagle
    We see Virginia Woolf’s writing desk and the carpeted couch in Sigmund Freud’s London study. There is a section devoted to the New Mexican desert world of Georgia O’Keeffe — both the outdoor vistas that inspired her art and the collected rocks and 
  31. Self-Knowledge: Identify Your Patron Saints.Huffington Post (blog)
    Virginia Woolf: intensely attuned to the power of the passing moment. Well, Julia Child and Winston Churchill are probably rarely paired together in the same discussion, but they both represent very powerful ideas to me. It’s interesting — the posts …
  32. Tilda’s talkingNew York Post
    Anyone hear she keeps her “Virginia Woolf” prosthetic nose? When it wrapped, producers gave her a permanent silver one. PRAYER heard out on the North Fork: “Dear Father: Please. For this year a thin body and a fat bank account. 
  33. From the archives: Remembering Ken RussellFilm Journal
    “I think of Virginia Woolf and The Waves—on one page, she manages to convey the childhood of six people and you also get how they’re going to grow up, as well as an afternoon in an English country garden. There are so many layers that words can make. …
  34. Sullivan Street Press Announces New Book Launch, Scags at 18, About Boomers …PR Web (press release)
    To discover the power of feminism, specifically by reading Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” It’s during her trip to DC to participate for the first time in an anti-war march that Scags experiences more than she could have imagined. …
  35. University ClubA.V. Club New York
    Instead of focusing on the food, let the spirits of luminaries who have supped at this 104-year-old establishment—many exchanging bon mots concerning Thomas Kuhn, Xenophanes, and Virginia Woolf—come alive as a collective ghostly presence. …
  36. The Literary CubsNew York Times
    Rachel Rosenfelt, right, reads a selection from Virginia Woolf at a literary salon held by the editors of The New Inquiry, an online journal she helped start. Also at the salon, from left to right, are Rebecca Chapman, Helena Fitzgerald and Tim Barker. …
  37. Improve your health… get a garden shed: How solitude may help lower blood Daily Mail
    Among those who swore by them include Virginia Woolf, Rudyard Kipling and Dylan Thomas, not forgetting Benjamin Britten, whose potting shed at Horham, Suffolk, is now a Grade II listed building, one of 50 such places of special interest nominated by
  38. Upheaval at the New York Public LibraryThe Nation
    Over the decades, the NYPL would acquire a spectacular range of materials: Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, Walt Whitman’s personal copy of Leaves of Grass,Virginia Woolf’s cane, Man Ray’s portrait of Arnold Schoenberg, …
  39. Paris paradox: The changelessness of changeGadling
    You’ve seen these faces before: Malraux, Cocteau, Gide, Colette, Valéry, Zweig, Joyce, Virginia Woolf… But you’ve never seen them displayed and lit so skillfully. Another German Jew who fled the Nazis and transited through Paris was Walter Benjamin, 
  40. A Spirit from the Past Moves the PresentPalisadian-Post
    I often think of Beryl as I while away the hours here at the coffee shop, plucking out poems and lesson plans for my students at Marquez Elementary and Palisades Elementary, ‘musing among the cauliflowers,’ as Virginia Woolf once put it. …
  41. Art shows run gambit of elements, students, books, sizeTulsa World
    Meltzer writes that the images he builds feature “the most meaningful and representative passages” from writers as diverse as Henry David Thoreau and Friedrich Nietzsche, Virginia Woolf and Lewis Carroll. “I hope to encourage the viewer to experience …

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