14 September 2019 – 19 January 2020
100 years after the Omega Workshops closed their doors in the heart of bohemian London, a major exhibition exploring their radical approach to modern design and living is set to open at Charleston where the Workshops’ ideals found their most convincing expression.
Established by the painter and art critic Roger Fry in 1913, the Omega Workshops were a design enterprise that employed many of the most avant-garde artists of the day. Inspired by the new, vital spirit of Post-Impressionism they created thrillingly bold, colourful and abstract items for the home that challenged the social sensibilities of Edwardian Britain. In 1913, Fry remarked to a journalist:
Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops will feature the largest display of Omega objects in more than 30 years, with around 200 works on show. The exhibition traces the Workshops’ philosophy and beginnings through to their pioneering experiments in interior design.
Drawing on loans from the V&A, The Courtauld Gallery, a number of private collectors and Charleston’s own collection, the exhibition will showcase some of the finest examples of the Workshops’ furniture, ceramics, printed fabrics and textiles, including many works on public display for the first time. Works on paper that reveal the vision and design processes of the artists who worked at the Omega Workshops will also feature.
Fry viewed art as a necessary facet of everyday life and, through the Omega Workshops, sought to remove what he saw as the false division between fine and decorative art. This experimental moment in design history sparked a change in British taste and style that still resonates today. At its height, artists working at the Workshops included Paul Nash, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Frederick and Jessie Etchells, Nina Hamnett, Henri Doucet, Edward Wadsworth and Wyndham Lewis.
Well ahead of their time, the Workshops’ expressive, colourful and bold designs pioneered many of the trends which became wildly fashionable in the fabrics and ceramics of the 1920s and 30s. Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, W.B. Yeats and E.M. Forster; as well as high society figures like Lady Ottoline Morrell and Maud Cunard were among the customers at the Workshops’ premises at 33 Fitzroy Square, London. Even Gertrude Stein paid a visit.
As the former home of the Omega Workshops’ co-directors, Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Charleston is a fitting setting for the exhibition. The House’s playfully painted interiors, brightly decorated furniture and embroideries make it the living embodiment of a Post-Impressionist inspired home. When Bell and Grant moved to Charleston in October 1916 they brought an array of Omega items with them, and today Charleston’s collection includes the tableware the Bloomsbury group ate with and the chairs they sat on.
Dr Darren Clarke, Head of Collections, Research and Exhibitions at Charleston who has curated the exhibition said:
Spanning the Wolfson, Spotlight and South Galleries, Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops is the latest exhibition to be staged in Charleston’s new galleries which opened last September. From Cubist-style lampshade holders and rugs to Fauvist-inspired textiles, the exhibition will give visitors a taste of what it must have been like to step inside the Omega Workshops’ studios and showrooms, with a diverse range of items being made and sold.
The Omega Workshops managed to stay open throughout the First World War, eventually closing in 1919. Although short-lived, this visionary group of design disruptors had a far-reaching influence and paved the way for more expressive forms of representation in decorative art that retained the artist’s touch.
Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops
14 September 2019 – 19 January 2020
Wednesday – Sunday/Bank Holidays: 10am – 5pm.