Last Wednesday I attended the Private View for Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19 at the Courtauld Gallery.
The exhibition is extremely well curated and provides a rare chance to see sketches of the designs from the workshops. A positive Bloomsbury treasure trove – the rooms are crammed with drawings, paintings, ceramics and rugs. The exhibition highlights just how varied and dynamic the creative output from the workshops was in such a short time.
It is fascinating to see the sketch and the finished piece side by side. The rug for Lady Ian Hamilton, designed by Vanessa Bell, is placed next to the preliminary design offering a unique chance to draw comparisons. This is also true of the painted silk with peacocks by Roger Fry; the Peacock Stole – the silk is brighter and less concentrated whereas the sketch is actually more dynamic.
The wonderful, messy structure of White the furnishing fabric designed by Vanessa Bell, is not to be missed and a true gem within the exhibition is the Omega signboard, designed and painted by Duncan Grant. A glossy mess of colour and intense design, the signboard articulates the liberation through abstract design that defined the work of the designers.
The exhibition paves the way for further exploration of the designs of the Bloomsbury Group and their influence over modern creative practitioners.
The following, characteristically pertinent, quote from Virginia Woolf is as meaningful today as it was during the uncertain early 20th century: “[Omega is] a beacon of civilisation in the midst of chaos” – for us in the midst of global recession we need ‘beacons of civilisation’ in our lives, so go to the Courtauld Gallery for a reminder that civilisation was and still is, in operation.