Sunday, 4 October 2009
Omega Workshops Limited Carpets: Designers and Inventory. Part 2
After a general presentation of the Omega Workshops Limited in the previous post, we will now focus on their carpets. This category of product was very soon integrated into the catalogue of the company and was displayed at their first Ideal Home Exhibition of 1913. After the clearance sale of the Omega stock in July 1919, carpets could still be obtained by order from Roger Fry at 7 Dalmeny Avenue. Like the Wiener Werkstatte, Omega sold both loom and hand-woven carpets. The different qualities and prices were presented in the Omega Descriptive Catalogue of 1914, but no designer's names were mentioned which was part of the policy of the group. Today we can identify some of the artists involved in carpet design after the preparatory drawings and gouaches collected in the Victoria and Albert Museum which has about thirteen examples, and in the Courtauld Gallery which has about thirty (www.artandarchitecture.org.uk), some have either signatures or monograms. The artists involved in this activity are by order of importance Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Frederick Etchells (1886-1973), Roger Fry (1866-1934), Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) and Winifred Gill. They designed either loom or hand-woven carpets.
Rug by F. Etchells exhibited at the Ideal Home Exhibition 1913 (see also Chelsea School of Art rug, or on www.flickr.com), 1914 Omega Workshops Descriptive Catalogue. The Carpet Index Library.
The loom rugs of Omega were sold as 'Super Wilton' quality. Whether or not they were manufactured by the Royal Wilton Carpet Factory is not confirmed as this designation could just refer to a type of technique of production. In the catalogue of 1914 the Mechtilde pattern with a dark background and border to be used as a stair carpet, 27 inches wide, is illustrated. This design was also used for linens and fabrics. How important the collaboration and the manufactured production was, is impossible to evaluate, due to the lack of archives and samples.
The hand-woven carpets are more difficult to evaluate. Susan Day in her book states that the first knotted carpets were made in France because the British industry was not interested in producing them. This is also evoked in the Courtauld exhibition catalogue, but has not yet been proven. What is certain is that the Omega Workshops produced many hooked rugs on canvas. This technique had the advantage of making the supply of orders flexible and they did not require a particularly large investment. However, the rugs are less resistant to wear. It is probably due to this last reason that so few carpets of this period exist today.
The Carpet Index documentation enables us to identify the following carpets and their location.
The Victoria and Albert Museum have two examples, (www.vam.ac.uk):
1) Ideal Home model 1, attributed to Duncan Grant, 226cm x 276cm, T.192-1958
2) Lady Hamilton model, attributed to Vanessa Bell, 190cm x 90cm, CIRC.660.1962. (There is another unit in another collection where the Omega sign is visible in a corner without a frame).
The Courtauld Gallery have one example:
3) Ideal Home model 1, attributed to Duncan Grant, 170cm x 221cm, T.1958.PD.267
The Chelsea School of Art have one example:
4) Ideal Home model 2 in blue, attributed to Frederick Etchells, 147cm x 91cm. (There is a dark model in private hands that can be seen on www.flickr.com) see illustration above.
There is another carpet with a different design attributed to Roger Fry but in the same style as the Hamilton one, but larger and more colourful. It appeared twice (possibly the same rug) on the market in London in two auctions: Sotheby's November 4, lot 285 and Christies May 12 1999, lot 241. The rug was woven for Sir Kay Muir in 1914 and measured 240cm x 188cm.
Any new information that would increase this list is always welcome. It is necessary to say that Duncan Grant produced rug designs throughout his career, even up to the 1970s, but they are not integrated within this present study as I was not able to identify the Omega sign. This is also true for Vanessa Bell, but on a much smaller scale.
Even though production was limited, the styles of these carpets are interesting and unique because they offered a complete opposite in style to that offered by the Arts & Crafts movement or by the Modernist style. My personal favourites are the compositions by Etchells which reflected both African art and the Cubism of Pablo Picasso, as illustrated above.
They clearly anticipated the tribal approach of da Silva Bruhns in the 1920s. It is worth mentioning that the series of gouaches by Duncan Grant portraying overlapping geometrical rectangles (Courtauld D.1958.PD 5 & 7/8/9), also clearly announce the mural paintings of Fernand Leger of 1925 that were afterwards produced as carpets by Myrbor, or the style of Edward McKnight Kauffer and his modernist rugs produced after 1928-29. To my knowledge none of the three artists has ever declared being influenced by the Omega Workshops. This visionary approach needed to be emphasised and therefore justified my two posts.
Article written by Jean Manuel de Noronha