(Blogpost) Roger Fry and the Bloomsbury Group

Roger Fry, ‘Studland Bay – A Black Sea Coast’, 1911

This week Art on Tour have been making a bit of a fuss about the Bloomsbury Group, complete with a brand new episode of Art Snaps exploring work by Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant from Swindon’s collection.

“Why the Bloomsbury Group” we hear you ask?

Well for one, the simple reason that we love the exciting colours, bold forms and rhythmical quality, which characterises so much work from these artists. Then there’s the art historical reason; the fact that this visual appeal is the result of a revolutionary moment in British art, which sets this small but important group of artists apart from the rest.

The man at the centre of it all was Roger Fry: artist, critic, curator, game-changer, tastemaker, forward-thinker.

If you listen to the Art Snap, you’ll hear about a striking piece in the collection called ‘Studland Bay – A Black Sea Coast’ which Fry painted in 1911. It presents a beautifully balanced composition, simplified forms and bold contrasting colours, which create a great sense of atmosphere without the need of any painstaking detail. For sure, it’s a beautiful and unforgettable piece in the collection.

And yet, it isn’t his work as an artist which makes Fry such an influential figure in British art. In 1910 he staged a seminal exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists at the Grafton Galleries in London, which introduced modern art from across the channel into the mainstream of British culture for the first time. He also coined the term “post-impressionism”, which is still largely used to define much French art produced in the late 19th– early 20th century.

He raised the profile of work by those newly named “post-impressionists” Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh as well as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, kick-starting a new kind of art which championed the formal qualities of an artwork.

In his important writing ‘An Essay in Aesthetics’ Fry argued that art should be about line, mass, colour and overall design that evokes an emotional response from the viewer. This was a new approach in British art, and can clearly be identified in Swindon’s work ‘Studland Bay – A Black Sea Coast’.

Fry’s exhibition and ideas also opened up new possibilities for Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who would go on to become the Bloomsbury Group’s two most famous artists. In the following decades, their work became more bold and daring, and works from Swindon’s collection show the ways in which they were breaking through the traditional boundaries of image making.

But we’re not going to give it all away here… oh no. Why not take 10 and listen to our latest Art Snap about this terrific trio, and hear all about what makes them so great? – https://youtu.be/-po_e_b_Y3M. Enjoy!

Blogpost by Katie

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