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.
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.
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.
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.