Friday, October 14, 2011

Behind the Scenes at the Courtauld Gallery

A new rug by Christopher Farr inspired by a design from the Omega Workshop, photo via "Elle Decor"
I saw the original Omega design at the Courtauld Gallery 

Somerset House, the home of The Courtauld Gallery in London

Did  you know that if you want to see an art work at the Courtauld Gallery that is currently not being exhibited, you can make an appointment with a curator and go behind the scenes to see it?  This is what I did on my recent trip to London, and it was one of the highlights of the trip!

It all started with the October issue of Elle Decor.  I was browsing through it while still in Los Angeles and was stopped in my tracks by an article called "Charmed Circle:  A new collection of rugs based on their designs proves that for the artists of the Bloomsbury group, the home was a compelling canvas."

It turns out that Christopher Farr Rugs, located in London and Los Angeles, is issuing limited editions of rugs based on five designs created by Bloomsbury artists for the Omega Workshop.  The Omega Workshop was founded in London in 1913 by artist and art critic Roger Fry as an enterprise that would allow his fellow Bloomsbury artists  to design furniture, textiles, rugs, ceramics, lampshades and other home accessories in the same spirit of modernism that they were displaying in their art work.  The Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry were greatly influenced by the developments occurring in the art world of Paris in the early twentieth-century.  In fact, they were responsible for bringing works by these European artists, such as Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso to London and thus introducing the age of modernism to England.  At the same time, their own work was greatly affected by what they saw in Paris.

Being a forward thinker, Roger Fry was also anxious to bring this spirit of modern art to the world of home decor.  And so the the Omega Workshop was born as an atelier in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, a place where these artists were given the opportunity to design home furnishings with the same free hand that they brought to their bright, expressive paintings. 

Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex

I was in just in London a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to visit Charleston in Sussex, the country home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.  Our tour guide pointed out many objects in the house that had come from the Omega Workshops -- the chairs around the dining room table, a "Lily Pond" table in Maynard Keynes room, and several different fabric designs that were designed by Bell and Grant. 

Duncan Grant's studio at Charleston, his country home that he shared with Vanessa Bell.  Many of the items in Charleston were designed by the Omega Workshop.  Photo via "Elle Decor"

A Farr rug with a design attributed to Vanessa Bell, photo via "Elle Decor"

A Christopher Farr Omega design in Hand-knotted wool and mohair, photo via "Elle Decor"
I saw this original design at the Courtauld Gallery

According to the article in Elle Decor, these designs were at the Courtauld Gallery and since I was going to London I made up my mind to seek them out.  So one of the first places I went when I arrived in London was the Courtuald to search for these designs.  I couldn't find them and when I asked a young woman for some assistance she told me they were not out at the moment.  But would I like to make an appointment to return at a later date to see the pieces.  Yes, I would!  So on a Thursday afternoon I had an appointment at the Courtauld to see some of the Omega designs.  I was able to take a few photos as long as there was no flash,  but unfortunately my flash started going off and I was unable to snap the photos of the two designs that I did see for the rugs that Christopher Farr has brought out.  

When we arrived we were met by the charming assistant who had set up our appointment.  We were then taken to the display room of the storage facility at the Courtauld where a Bloomsbury scholar brought out about twenty works for us to see.  

We were given magnifying glasses to see these rug designs closely

Rug design from the Omega Workshop

Rug designs from the Omega Workshop

Rug design from the Omega Workshop

This hour spent behind the scenes at the Courtauld Gallery with a curator who shares my love of the Bloomsbury Group was one of the best of my trip.  In addition to seeing some of the treasures of this art museum, I got to chat with a lovely American scholar about all things Bloomsbury.  It was truly a highlight of my visit to London.  Now I cannot wait to see the actual rugs at Christopher Farr!


  1. How exciting!! I have actually never been to the Courtauld but have several friends who have studied there. How fabulous that you got to go behind the scenes and that they even offer that opportunity!!

  2. Duncan Grant's studio is so beautiful and warm, absolutely a place I'd love to paint in. What a wonderful experience to go behind the scene at the Courtauld. So many interesting layers to your trip.

  3. Stacey, I agree that it was a fabulous opportunity. The Courtauld has a wonderful art collection, including my favorite Manet painting, "The Bar at the Folies Bergeres." It's a great little museum.

  4. Kathy, Duncan Grant's studio really is a special place. Just outside the door is the garden, and you can just imagine him painting outside as well as in the studio. It's a very inspiring place. And the house itself is just filled with color and pattern, as well as many Bloomsbury paintings.

  5. So lucky you had that private appointment!

  6. Magnifying glasses at underrated! We see so much more with them :) Rainbow grocery has one hanging in the herbs and tea section. It's no Courtauld but sometimes you just gotta see CLOSE-UP. Bloomsbury print? Parsley Sage Rosemary Thyme? Better close-up! xxooxo