The artists at Cresta

Wells Wintemute Coates design for the Cresta shop front.

Tom Heron (the father of Patrick Heron) was born in Bradford in 1890. He had rather artistic connections and unusually for a manufacturer at that time, he was left wing and was in the Guild Socialist League, taking on sweatshop conditions in factories and mixing with left wing artists and politicians. Heron was a silk manufacturer with Cryséde silks (1926-1929) and moved from St Ives, Cornwall to Welwyn Garden City in 1929 to set up Cresta Silks Ltd. For this high class, high fashion brand, he used professional gallery artists as designers, most notably Paul Nash, as well as architects like Wells Wintemute Coates to design their shop fronts and logos and packaging designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer.

Cresta Silks Ltd was a dressmaking firm that specialised in producing high quality silk clothing during the 1930s and 40s, thereafter covering a more general … The early designs were mainly by artists who later became well known-Paul Nash.

Museum Bulletin – Volumes 23–24, 1983

Paul Nash – Phalanx Pattern, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1930

When WWII broke out silk was requisitioned for parachutes so Heron switched to wool fabric enabling Cresta to continue. The company had to leave its Howardsgate factory which was used by Murphy Radio for essential war work. Cresta Silks went into Welwyn Stores temporarily and Heron went to the Board of Trade as ‘Advisor on Women’s and Children’s Clothing’ where he initiated the famous Utility Clothing scheme for the wartime population. In 1946 the company was able to return to its Howardsgate factory though it would eventually move back to Welwyn Department Stores in 1954.

Welwyn Garden City – Heritage Trust

Patrick Heron – Amaryllis, 1936

Paul Nash – Cherry Orchard, 1932

Paul Nash – Design, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1930

Aztec – Patrick Heron, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1947

Graham Sutherland – Web, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1947

Below is a silk scarf by Patrick Heron, designed in 1948, but produced in 1985. ‘St Ives’ was one of the silk scarfs Patrick made for his father’s company, but Cresta Silks rejected it and didn’t produce it, so it was made as high class merchandise for the Barbican Art Gallery’s 1985 retrospective of Heron.

Patrick Heron – St Ives Design, designed in 1948, produced in 1985

Bloomsbury and the Arts in the early 20th century by Professor Quentin Bell

As the title suggests, this is a lecture by Quentin Bell on his family that I haven’t found online, so using a text scanner, I have put it online for you all.

When it was known that the exhibition which you see around you would come to Leeds, Mr. Rowe suggested that I, as the son of the artist, should open it. I resisted this notion. A filial tribute is, of all literary forms, the most difficult and the most perilous censure is out of place and praise
is discounted; impersonality is absurd and intimacy is embarrassing. Thus it appeared, thus it appears to me and I felt that I could not undertake the task. Our Director is, however, a remarkably persuasive and persistent character. When he had twisted my arm very nearly clean out of its socket I agreed to talk, not about my mother, but about the circle of friends to which she belonged, that which the world knows as “Bloomsbury”. I have now become aware that, in accepting this proposition, I made a careful withdrawal from the frying pan into the fire. I shall again be forced into the compromising situation of an advocate; moreover there must be a
certain air of irrelevance about what I say. We are here in a picture gallery and you naturally expect me to talk about pictures, whereas in fact I must talk about writers and politicians, about philosophy and about sex (I shall probably be thrown out before I have done). But here I must ask you to bear with me, the incongruity between that which you see before you
and that which you will hear, is in truth, a part of my argument; it will help me to explain the nature of what they call the ‘Bloomsbury Group’.

Vanessa Bell – Virginia Woolf, 1912

I shall have to use the word ‘group’, but it is something of a misnomer; when one speaks of ‘a member of the group’ one suggests an organisation with rules, membership cards, and a programme. Bloomsbury had none of these things and it is not at all easy to say who was or who was not within that circle of friends, most of whom lived in Bloomsbury. Circles of friends are not usually perfect circles, in fact they are more like spirals which
extend further and further from their centres in a progressively widening helix. But even this image will not serve, for a spiral departs from a centre and in Bloomsbury there was no centre. I have heard Virginia Woolf described as the ‘Queen of Bloomsbury’ this is pure nonsense; Bloomsbury was never a Monarchy – neither was it a Republic. It was an anarchic entity in so far as it was an entity —without laws or leaders or a common doctrine. The inhabitants themselves differ when it comes to making a list of the so-called members.

Let me play safe: no account of Bloomsbury could omit Lytton Strachey and his cousin Duncan Grant, the two daughters of Leslie Stephen, Vanessa and Virginia, and their two husbands, Clive Bell and Leonard Woolf; to these we may certainly add Maynard Keynes and Roger Fry.

During the years between 1904 and 1914, these were very closely linked by friendship with Desmond MacCarthy and his wife Molly, Saxon Sidney Turner, Gerald Shove and H. T. J. Norton, E. M. Forster, and, until his early death, Thoby Stephen, the brother of Vanessa and Virginia.

During and after the First World War there were many other close contacts and the list could be enormously widened, but at this period, as I hope to show, the method of classification has to be altered. Now I was born in Bloomsbury and am related to or have been a close friend of all the people whom I have placed on my ‘shortlist’ and some of those in the more
extended catalogue. But I am very far from being an authority on this subject. I was only four years old when the first and most characteristic phase came to an end; and today a great deal has been written on the subject, so that a complete bibliography would, I suppose, be quite an
extensive document. I have read very little but I have read enough to gain the impression that Bloomsbury was, in the opinion of most critics, an unhealthy neighbourhood. Let me quote from one of these critics, Sir john Rothenstein:

Vanessa Bell – Lytton Strachey, 1911

“I doubt… whether more than a few people are even now aware how closely knit an association ‘Bloomsbury’ was, how untiring its members were in advertising one another’s work and personalities. Most people who came into casual contact with members of this gifted circle recall its charm, its candour, its high intelligence; few…suspected how ruthless and businesslike were their methods. They would have been surprised if they had known of the lengths to which some of these people were prepared to go in order to ruin, utterly, not only the ‘reactionary’ figures whom they publicly denounced, but young painters and writers who showed themselves too independent to come to terms with the canons observed by ‘Bloomsbury’ or, more precisely, with the current ‘party line’…. If such independence was allied to gifts of an order to provoke rivalry, then so much the worse for thc artists. And bad for them it acts, for there was nothing in the way of slander and intrigue to which certain of the ‘Bloomsburys’ were not willing to descend. I rarely knew hatreds pursued with so much malevolence over so many years; against them neither age nor misfortune offered the slightest. protection.”

Rothenstein’s hard words certainly prove how much Bloomsbury has been
disliked. I do not think that they prove very much more than that because,
when it comes to the awkward business of supporting his accusations with evidence, Sir John is completely at a loss. He has in fact been challenged to make good his words and has failed to do so. I understand that in a later edition of his book they have been omitted. But the fabrication, for it certainly is a gross and impertinent fabrication, has been widely circulated and I take this opportunity to deny it.

Now let me turn to a more common and more reasonable line of criticism which is expressed well enough by Mr. A. D. Moody in a study of Virginia Woolf. Mr. Moody describes the origins of Bloomsbury in the Victorian middle class, that section of it which produced the Darwins, the Haldanes, thc Huxleys, the Strachey’s, and the Stephens, academics and civil servants who “became the top layer of the middle class, primarily by virtue of intellectual ability and moral responsibility, though inevitably this later took the form of social exclusiveness.” Mr. Moody sees Bloomsbury as a fraction of this part of the establishment.

“The distinguishing character of the Bloomsbury group derived largely from King’s College, Cambridge, and principally from the philosopher, G. E. Moore, author of ‘Principia Ethica’. The influence of G. E. Moore can be described as a turning back within the ‘intellectual aristocracy in a rather ideal form of Arnold’s ‘Culture’, or rather in that aspect of it which led Eliot to connect Arnold with Pater. The ideal of Moore’s followers was the exclusive and strictly non-practical pursuit of ‘sweetness and light’ ‘love, beauty and truth’ were their own terms. They had the requisite residue of Hebraic conscience, expressed mostly in righteous scorn for the barbarian, philistine and populace, to which all outsiders were consigned; and they subscribed to the Greek heritage. Since their concern was all for a civilisation of the mind, they regarded as outsiders the main body of the Establishment who were concerned with the more practical problems of governing and civilising. Thus they set up a cultural elect within the Establishment elite.”

Vanessa Bell – Leonard Woolf, 1940

Mr. Moody overlooks an important element in the formation of Bloomsbury and his generalisations can hardly be applied even to the short list that I have made. I am not quite sure what he means when he says that ‘they subscribed to the Greek heritage’, but certainly the phrase could hardly be used of Roger Fry nor could he be described as a follower of G. F. Moore. But I think that Mr. Moody’s principal criticism, and it is a common one, is that Bloomsbury lived in an ivory tower, that it scorned the populace, and that it disdained the ‘practical problems of governing and civilising’. It is a criticism with which I have some sympathy. I remember that when Maynard Keynes read his essay entitled My Early Beliefs to a group which included what we called ‘Old Bloomsbury’ and also to some much younger persons, we, the young, agreed that it was a fantastically reactionary document and revealed a politically innocent and parochial attitude on the part of Cambridge at the beginning of the century which we deplored. Nevertheless, whether their political beliefs were right or wrong, we could hardly maintain that our elders had withdrawn from political action. Neither Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf nor Lytton Strachey could be described as being indifferent to the practical problems of governing and civilising; Keynes and Woolf were in fact public servants. The suffrage movement, the foreign and colonial policy of the Labour Party, the credit structure of the Western world have all felt their influence.
The third critic whom I would like to mention was D. H. Lawrence.

Lawrence went to Cambridge in 1915 and met a number of people, some of whom Keynes, Duncan Grant and, perhaps, Francis Birrell, the son of Augustine Birrell may fairly be described as ‘members of Bloomsbury’, others, such a Bertrand Russell, who can not. His reaction was sharp and decisive:

“…to hear these young people talk really fills me with black fury: they talk endlessly, but endlessly and never, never a good thing said. They are cased each in a hard little shell of his own and out of this they talk words. There is never for one second any outgoing or feeling and no reverence, not a crumb or grain of reverence. I cannot stand it. I will not have people like this….”

And to David Garnett who had brought about this unlucky meeting:

“Never bring Birrell to see me any more. There is something nasty about him like black beetles. He is horrible and unclean. I feel I should go mad when I think of your set, Duncan Grant and Keynes and Birrell. It makes me dream of beetles….”

Keynes, in the work to which I have already alluded, considers Lawrence ignorant, jealous, irritable and hostile (and, as one who remembers the charm, sincerity and good humour of Birrell, I should add: blind), but he goes on to ask whether there was not “something true and right in what Lawrence felt? There generally was. His reactions were incomplete and unfair, but they were not usually baseless.” In a brilliant analysis of the influence of Moore on Cambridge and of the way in which the profoundly unworldly teachings of that philosopher changed in the hands of a generation which found that it could not accept the high seriousness or the
austerity of its starting point, Keynes concludes that Lawrence was not altogether wrong. The criticism may be just, but is it a criticism of Bloomsbury? Could it be directly applied to, shall we say, Roger Fry
or Virginia Woolf’? I doubt it. Is there in fact enough community of thought and feeling in Bloomsbury to make any criticism of this kind valid?
I think that perhaps there is, that the quality which Lawrence called ‘irreverence common to all; but one cannot understand Bloomsbury unless one begins by acknowledging its heterogeneous character and observing that it was heterogeneous in a very special way. It is because this has not been understood that so many of the criticisms that are aimed at it fall partly or wholly outside the target area. I think I may come at the nature of
Bloomsbury by looking at its origins. In so doing I must again admit that I do not speak as an authority, in fact I rely very largely upon a volume which Sir Leslie Stephen wrote for his children after his wife’s death. It gives a sufficiently vivid picture of one of the families from which Bloomsbury sprang but it is, of course, concerned only with this one family. I will try, however, to confine myself to those transactions which were reasonably typical of many such families and which set the
tone for Cambridge and for London at the end of the Victorian Age.
What kind of people were they? They had money, not enough to keep them in idleness but enough to enable them to choose the kind of work that they would do in the world. They went into the Universities, into the Civil Service —-above all into the Indian Civil Service—they wrote books, they edited journals. The great intellectual adventure of their lives was
the struggle between faith and reason. The struggle was an arduous one and certainly it would be a mistake to think of our grandfathers as living a sheltered life—it was the very opposite for they looked out with dismay into an empty universe. But it was a private struggle. By this I mean that, unlike continental atheists, English freethinkers were not naturally drawn to a political position and that, although they had changed their views
concerning the origin and destiny of men and women, this in no way altered their views concerning the proper relationship between ladies and gentlemen. The enlightened English home at the end of the century might be, and very often was, a benevolent despotism; but it was and it remained despotic. Our Father in heaven might be removed to the world of myth,
but our father at the breakfast table persisted. Just what this could mean in practice in what was, taking one thing with another, a happy family, we may see from Virginia Woolf’s portrait of Mr. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse. Stephen worshipped his wife;

“He desired,” writes Noel Annan, “to transform her into an apotheosis
of motherhood, but treated her in the home as someone who should
be at his beck and call, support him in every emotional crisis, order the
minutiae of his life and then submit to his criticism in those household
matters of which she was mistress… he was for ever trampling upon her feelings, wounding the person who comforted him, half conscious of his hebetude, unable to contain it.”

This was the paternalist structure of society in action as the Stephen children saw it and they did not have to look very far afield in order to see how the conventional morality in which they had been reared could turn to unreasoning savagery. A short entry in my grandfather’ private memoir reads thus:

“There happened a terrible scandal in consequence of which Lady
Somers daughter, Lady Henry Somerset, was separated from her husband —a blackguard.”

Behind this brief statement lies a Victorian tragedy. My grandmother’s
cousin had married a man who, in so far as he was unfaithful to her, might fairly be termed ‘a blackguard’, but the terribly scandalous nature of his ‘blackguard’, but the terribly ‘blackguardism’ lay in the fact that his partner in sin was of his own sex.

Now observe the workings of Victorian morality: when the scandal broke, and it was the young wife’s mother who made it public, the censure of society was brought to bear, not on the husband, who escaped to Italy and ended his days in cultured ease, but upon the wife. Her guilt consisted in the fact that she reminded society of something that it preferred to disregard. She was cut, ignored and as far as possible forgotten by good society. I am happy to say that my grandparents proved on this occasion that they were not really members of good society. I do not think it will be denied that, with very few exceptions, the hard thinking, bravely speculative intellectual elite when confronted with that which it considered ‘morbid’ or ‘unnatural’ was, like the rest of good society, bereft of courage, humour, compassion and reason.

The younger generation was confronted, then, by a system of morality which was by no means purely ethical, it was a system which allowed the strong and the fortunate to injure the weak, the herd to dominate and destroy the individual. This, it may be objected, is still the case but today audible protests are made, eighty years ago they were not. G. E. Moore did not offer an escape from this system, as Keynes has pointed out ‘he found a place in his religion for vindictive punishment’ and no place at all one may add for l’homme moyen sensuel. But his disciples could find in his concern with passionate states of contemplation and communion, with love and with beauty, enough to write into his teachings a doctrine of complete nonconformity in faith and morals. It is interesting to notice that Bertrand Russell came to the same position via Spinoza. The a priori moral judgment, unquestioned acceptance of established patterns of behaviour, the taboo that forbids further discussion of a subject, all were discarded and the burden of making ethical decisions was taken from society and thrust upon the individual. This I think was characteristic of Bloomsbury
at the beginning of the century. I think it had a deep effect upon the habits
of speech and thought of the group and that its influence is discernible in the writings of Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf and even of
Roger Fry.

This then brings me to the first common characteristic of the group, its readiness to talk about anything:

“They showed a taste for discussion in pursuit of truth and a contempt for conventional ways of thinking and feeling contempt for conventional morals, if you will” says Clive Bell and adds:

“Does it not strike you that as much could be said of many collections of young and youngish people in many ages and many lands? For my part, I find nothing distinctive here.”

Personally I doubt whether any group had ever been quite so radical in its approach to sexual taboos. I am not sure. But I am sure that in this country, at all events, there had never before been a moral adventure of this kind in which women were on a completely equal footing with men with, so to speak, no holds barred. It was this which, after 1903 at all events, made Bloomsbury very unlike any other Cambridge group, made it in fact ‘un-Cambridge’. But there was something else, something even more important, an influence which was in a sense anti-Cambridge, and this I think has been overlooked by most of the people who have written about Bloomsbury. It is here that I would ask you to look at the pictures on the walls. You will search in vain I think for the influence of G. F. Moore or Bertrand Russell, you will find that of Cezanne and Matisse, of Velasquez and of Duncan Grant. Vanessa and Virginia Stephen were from the first. affected by two parental influences. From their father they imbibed and reacted against a purely Cambridge doctrine, the doctrine of men such as Fav cett and Maitland, which was concerned entirely with the world of literature and of ideas. From their mother they learnt of a very different society, the society of Little Holland House, of Watts and Woolmer, Val Prinsep and Burne Jones. They reacted against this too, in so far as it represented the late Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic, but their reaction was an aesthetic reaction. Leslie Stephen climbed the Alps, at his feet lay Milan and Sta. Maria delle Grazie, Turin and Bergamo. But never, in all his life, did he go down to visit these cities of the plain. For him Paris was a station between London and Geneva, the fine arts a mystery that he did not care
to examine. His children did not climb the Alps, they hastened past them to Arezzo and to Padua; above all they journeyed to Paris and there, with Clive Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry, established friendships with Picasso, Derain, Andre Marchand, Segonzac and Matisse such as have seldom existed between artists on opposite sides of the Channel.

The great and moving spirit in all this was Roger Fry and, to my mind, the
great and decisive act of Bloomsbury was the Post Impressionist exhibition of 1910. The exhibition itself represented comparatively little to those of the group who were neither artists nor art critics. But the reaction to the exhibition was important. Desmond MacCarthy, who was secretary of the first exhibition, has left his account of the laughter and abuse with which it was greeted. Leonard Woolf has recently published his account of the
second exhibition —in 1912.

“The first room was filled with Cezanne watercolors. The highlights in the second room were two enormous pictures of more than life-size figures by Matisse and three or four Picassos. There was also a Bonnard, and a good picture by Marchand. Large numbers of people came to the exhibition and nine out of ten of them either roared with laughter at the pictures or were enraged by them…. The whole business gave me a lamentable view of human nature, its rank stupidity and uncharitableness… hardly any of them made the slightest attempt to look at, let alone understand the pictures and the same inane remarks were repeated to me all day long. And every now and then some well-groomed, redfaced gentlemen, oozing the undercut of the best beef and the most succulent of chops, carrying his top hat and grey suede gloves, would come up to the table and abuse the pictures and me with the greatest rudeness.”

The intensely individualist revolt against Victorian morality is paralleled by the equally individualist revolt against Victorian aesthetics. In both cases Bloomsbury is on the side of the individual and against what it sees as the irrational power of the establishment. In both cases it stands on the side of reason and tolerance and against authority. Such an affirmation of individualism implies, in the absence of any alternative system of ethics and belief, irreverence. And I think that Lawrence was right when he found Bloomsbury lacking in that quality. I think also that critics of Bloomsbury are right when they accuse it of a centripetal, a clannish tendency, although here, if one is to be fair, it is necessary to make
all kinds of reservations and qualifications. To some extent the mere fact that Bloomsbury was committed to an attitude which was fiercely resented by the majority of ‘right-thinking people’ made it more compact. The experience of the two post-Impressionist exhibitions augmented that
feeling; but the really formative moment, in this respect, was the war, that war which was humorously styled ‘the war to end war’.

Here again the reactions of Bloomsbury were not uniform, some opposed the war and became conscientious objectors, others joined in the war effort. But there was, I think, a common reaction to the communal spirit of that time, a spirit of unreasoning devotion to the Fatherland and equally unreasoning hatred of the enemy. My generation has seen a war which was, in all conscience, horrible enough and in many ways more terrible than that which preceded it; but at least it was not obviously and hopelessly futile, the generals could at least lead armies and win victories. From December 1914 to March 1918 the pointless and gigantic butchery was organised by elderly gentlemen who remained at a safe distance from the firing line, in order that the business —and it was a profitable business —might continue. The press, the publicists and the politicians had continually to proclaim the unspeakable wickedness of the enemy, the purity of our intentions, the stirring integrity of our allies, and the fact that we were in some mysterious, imperceptible and yet indubitable fashion, winning. It was this the hatred and the hubris of the home front that Bloomsbury refused to accept, it was here that it proved its final and complete irreverence for anything save the intellect. Lytton Strachey ordering a glass of lager beer in a restaurant found himself faced by the protests of his neighbour, protests which ended with the half apologetic admission, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but it drives me silly with rage to see a Britisher drinking a hun beer.” “So I observe,” replied Strachey. The refusal of the intellectual to be stampeded by a collective emotion whether it be of love or of hatred, is exasperating to the ordinary man and calls forth all his witch hunting instincts; but it is even more exasperating to the intellectual who has accepted the collective emotion. There is, I think, no more touching record of D. H. Lawrence than his letter to Ottoline Morrell of 14th May, 1915, after the sinking of the Lusitania: There had been riots in London, German shops or at least shops with German names, were smashed and looted and Lawrence wrote:

“I cannot bear it much longer, to let the madness get stronger and stronger possession. Soon we in England shall go fully mad, with hate. I too hate the Germans so much, I could kill every one of them. Why should they goad us to this frenzy of hatred, why should we be tortured to bloody madness, when we are only grieved in our souls, and heavy? They will drive our heaviness and our grief away in a fury of rage. And we don’t want to be worked up into this fury, this destructive madness of rage. Yet we must, we are goaded on and on. I am mad with rage myself. I would like to kill a million Germans —two millions….”

and then at the end of the letter:

“Don’t take any notice of my extravagant talk -one must say something.”

If one is D. H. Lawrence one must, even if one knows at bottom that what one is saying is stupid and odious, for it is produced by a real sentiment of anger and of affection, real sentiments are holy things, things to be treated with reverence. It is not surprising that Lawrence detested Bloomsbury, nor is it surprising that under the stress of war Bloomsbury became increasingly separated from the main current of intellectual life, for it was the liberals the progressively minded people who were loudest in their rage against the Germans and who, unlike Lawrence, mistook their emotions for patriotism and sanity. Apart from religious and political extremists, Bloomsbury had no allies. Bloomsbury, according to Vanessa Bell, ended in 1915. In a sense it is true and yet the achievements of Bloomsbury were
still to come. It was the war itself which, more than anything, brought Leonard Woolf into practical politics; it was Versailles which impelled Keynes to make his celebrated attack upon a peace which he saw as vindictive and unworkable. Eminent Victorians was, I think, published
in the same year. By the mid nineteen twenties, the communal feeling that had made the war and made the treaty was dissipated, people began to wonder whether there might not, after all, be something to be said for reason and critical detachment. At the same time the war itself shook the patriarchal morality of the nineteenth century to its foundations. The libertarian spirit of Bloomsbury was no longer exceptional, neither was it any longer so odd a thing to admire Cezanne or even Picasso. A new generation arose which has sometimes been identified with Bloomsbury but for which I think that one ought to find another name, even though the older members were often very intimate with their younger contemporaries. Bloomsbury had ended by the twenties in the sense that its always very tenuous common qualities ceased to be meaningful; its beliefs were shared by many people and as the individuals who had originally made it developed, they became less and less capable of being contained within any generalisation. A group of friends continued to meet, held together by old affections and, perhaps, by the memory of a time when they had been unified in moral isolation; but by the 1930’s it was no longer possible to find any intellectual attitude that would distinguish them from their fellows. Thereafter the group itself rapidly changed character as it fell beneath the sentence of the President of the Immortals.

What was the Omega Workshop?

The Omega Workshop was a curious idea set up in 1913 by Roger Fry. It was really following Fry’s rise as a rebel in the art world. Though hard to think of as controversial now, in 1910 he held the first British exhibition of the Post-Impressionists to some upraw.

Posters for the first and Second Post-Impressionist exhibitions in London.

It featured Gauguin, Van Gogh and Matisse. He then followed this with another exhibition in 1912 of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. These exhibitions are noted with contemporary accounts of Slade art teacher, Henry Tonks, forbidding his students from going to it as it might corrupt their mind; and it did just that, for many of them like Mark Gertler and Dora Carrington it changed their styles of painting and bought them into the Bloomsbury groups orbit.

The Omega Workshop Studios

The Omega Workshop was an attempt to celebrate handmade items, without being too rooted in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Though the link is undeniable, the decorations of the items was not precise and Omega was more like the British version of the Mingei movement that happened later in Japan. On visiting the Omega studios in 1913 Yone Noguchi noted that Roger Fry was “attempting to create an applied art just as (William) Morris did” and that the studio was using Cubist motifs and designs, of abstract shapes in the fabrics and wood marquetry.

Room at 4 Berkeley Street, Painted by Omega Workshops.

What Roger Fry brought to the workshop was an inquisitive nature on designs from Africa as well as encouraging the artists to look at the works of other modern painters like Kandinsky. The main success of all these abstractions is that the studios were an area were the artists could play with ideas, as well as an exhibition space for their outcomes. They would give themselves a basic education on the method of the craft, say rug weaving, and then look at the limitations of the process and work designs around this.

Though the projects originally included Wyndham Lewis, he went off to explore the other outcome of European cubism – futurism. The main contenders were Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Simon Albert Bussy, Roald Kristian, Edward Wolfe, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Frederick Etchells, Winifred Gill, Henri Doucet, Nina Hamnett.

The rug (below), and used in this postcard (above) was made for Lady Hamilton, by Royal Wilton Carpets, for Omega Workshops by Vanessa Bell.

Vanessa Bell – Rug for Lady Hamilton, 1914

As the studios printed and made their own publicity material, they also started to print books. One if their earliest was by Arthur Clutton-Brock’s Simpson’s Choice, 1915. It had printed boards with a geometric design and woodcuts by Roald Kristian. Clutton-Brock worked as a reviewer and critic for The Times and was a personal friend of Roger Fry, it was this type of journalist the workshops needed on their side.

Soon after Leonard and Virginia Woolf were looking into hand-printing and bought a box of type blocks, a printing machine, and where printing their own books (though later they did employ a typesetter). They featured the prints of artists at the Omega Studios, though they were printed on the table at Hogarth House, the close connections ties them to the Omega Workshops.

In March 1917, the Woolfs walked along Farringdon Street, London, and purchased a printing machine, materials and an instruction booklet from Excelsior Printing Supply Company. The purchase was impulsive, but they had been discussing the idea of setting up a printing press since autumn 1916. Although the Woolfs were enthusiastic and absorbed by the work, their first publication shows some signs of amateurism such as irregular spacing and blotted ink. As Hermione Lee highlights, however, the Woolfs quickly developed into professional printers.

It took two and a half months to print 150 copies of Two Stories, which was released for sale in July 1917. Because the printing process was all-consuming, Virginia did not compose ‘The Mark on the Wall’ until the printing of Leonard’s story was complete. The 32 pages were sewn together and bound with paper covers by hand. Being bound on an ad-hoc basis, different covers exist: the British Library’s copy is bound in a blue weave-textured material.

Below is one of the Woolf’s early books, from Two Stories, The Mark on the Wall, by Virginia Woolf, with woodcuts by Dora Carrington.

The Mark on the Wall, by Virginia Woolf, 1917

The pottery that Omega originally decorated was bought in, but soon he asked a pot asked someone to make pots for them. “He contacted George Schenck , a potter at Mitcham , Surrey , and tried to get him to throw the simple shapes he wanted . The potter was unable to alter his long – practised throwing and Roger realized he would have to learn to do it himself “. Then on Schenck gave Fry pottery lessons were he experimented with designs and glazes, rather than using household paint applied onto vases. Later in 1915 when Fry designed a table service production was moved to Carter & Co, Poole, (later to become Carter Stabler and Adams, and Poole Pottery). At this time Carter & Co were making designs for garden pots for Liberties and were a high class artisanal pottery. Many of the works potted had a chinese influence.

When it comes to the furniture, many companies were employed to make pieces, for different uses, the marquetry cabinet here John Joseph Kallenborn.

Dryad made the cane seating and the chairs that were later painted by the workshop members.

I attach a write up by Roger Fry here, not to offend, as it is contemporary language about historical artifacts, but rather to show how many inspirations Fry was feeding off and his aims.

If you look at a pot or a woven cloth made by a negro savage of the Congo with the crude instruments at his disposal, you may begin by despising it for its want of finish. If you put them beside a piece of modern Sevres china or a velvet brocade from a Lyons factory, you will perhaps begin by congratulating yourself upon the wonders of modern industrial civilization, and think with pity of the poor savage. But if you will allow the poor savage’s handiwork a longer contemplation you will find something in it of greater value and significance than in the Sevres china or Lyons velvet. It will become apparent that the negro enjoyed making his pot or cloth, that he pondered delightedly over the possibilities of his craft and that his enjoyment finds expression in many ways; and as these become increasingly apparent to you, you share his joy in creation, and in that forget the roughness of the result. On the other hand the modern factory products were made almost entirely for gain, no other joy than that of money making entered into their creation. You may admire the skill which has been revealed in this, but it can communicate no disinterested delight. The artist is the man who creates not only for need but for joy, and in the long run mankind will not be content without sharing that joy through the possession of real works of art, however humble or unpretentious they may be.

The Omega Workshops, Limited is a group of artists who are working with the object of allowing free play to the delight in creation in the making of objects for common life. They refuse to spoil the expressive quality of their work by sand-papering it down to a shop finish, in the belief that the public has at last seen through the humbug of the machine-made imitation of works of art. They endeavour to satisfy practical necessities in a workmanlike manner, but not to flatter by the pretentious elegance of the machine-made article. They try to keep the spontaneous freshness of primitive or peasant work while satisfying the needs and expressing the feelings of the modern cultivated man.
ROGER FRY, Director, Omega Workshops, Ltd.

Room decorated by Omega Workshops for the Cadena Cafe, 59 Westbourne Grove, London. The rugs, attributed by Roger Fry but likely designed by Frederick Etchells with chairs made for Roger Fry by Dryad.

Henry Harris’s house in Bedford Square by Omega Workshops.

Maybe part of the biggest failures of the group was the building they set themselves up in. George Bernard Shaw’s concern voiced to Fry in May 1914 was that “you need a shop window, Morris found that out. It is all very well to live in a quiet London Square and look like an Orthopaedic Institute, but the price you pay is that your business remains a secret of a clique.

How The World Began

I bought a signed copy of How The World Began by Dorothy (Straight), 1964. It came from the estate of Gigi Richter whos husband was brother to Dorothy’s mother. This post is really a voyage through an extraordinary family tree that started with the book.

Dorothy is one of the youngest authors ever published, written when she was four and published when she was six; for years she was in the Guinness book of records for it. Born on May 25, 1958 in Washington, D.C she is the daughter of Michael Whitney Straight (1916–2004) and Belinda Booth Crompton (1920–2015). She illustrated a series of drawings for her grandmother when asked how the world was created. Her parents sent the drawings to Pantheon books, who published it.

Belinda Booth Crompton was born in Port Chester, New York, on August 15, 1920. She attended the private Perse School in Cambridge, England, before marrying in 1939. After the death of her father, David Crompton (an English stockbroker living in New York), her mother, an American called Lillian nee Sheridan, married Charles W. Tobey, a Republican senator from New Hampshire. Her brother was David “Buzzy” Crompton who married Gigi Compton, nee Richter, and this is how Gigi owned a signed copy of the book.

Belinda had some medical training at New York University in 1952. She become a child psychologist, teaching and practicing over the years at what is now Children’s National Medical Center, George Washington University, Howard University and the Washington School of Psychiatry. In March 1965 she traveled from Washington to Selma, Alabama, partly to stand ready as a first-aid provider at the voting rights march scheduled to depart from that city. But mainly, she told the Washington Evening Star at the time, she went “to lend support to the civil rights movement.” She gave medical care to dozens of protesters when the Selma march turned violent, when Police troopers began shoving the demonstrators, knocking many to the ground and beating them, firing tear gas, and mounted troopers charged the crowd on horseback. Televised images of the brutal attack presented Americans and international audiences with horrifying images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured, and roused support for the Selma Voting Rights Campaign.

Belinda and David “Buzzy” also had a sister, a Lady Catherine Walston, neé Crompton, Dorothy’s aunt. She had met and married Baron Walston. They were wed in England in 1935. Walston’s estate was in Thriplow just outside Cambridge. They entertained many writers and artists. Catherine met Graham Greene in 1946 they started an affair. The relationship continued until her death from cancer in 1978. Below is an account from Oliver Walston, Catherine’s son, responding to the affair when it first became public in a Greene biography.

I had first met him as a small boy of seven when, in the spring of 1948, my mother told me that we were going to Italy to stay with Graham. Together with my younger brother and sister and Twinkle, our nanny, we flew off from Northolt to Naples. For three months we sat in the sunshine of Capri, playing in the walled garden of Greene’s white-painted villa. In the mornings we were confined to the furthest corner of the garden and told to be quiet because ‘Graham works in the morning and he doesn’t like any noise’. In the evenings we would stroll down to the piazza of Anacapri and eat a dish which, for a boy who lived in dreary, rationed post-war England, was unspeakably exotic. It was called a pizza. On rare occasions we would go on expeditions, sometimes by boat to the Blue Grotto and sometimes to the other side of the island to visit Gracie Fields and her husband, who had settled there. Greene himself was a distant figure who appeared to tolerate children but never to enjoy us. He must have looked on us as a price he had to pay to have my mother’s company.

In the years which followed, Greene’s affair with my mother settled down into something like comfy normality. I saw no signs of the tension between my parents…To me he was just one of a coterie of friends who came down to Thriplow most weekends to get away from London, sit in the sunshine, read the papers and drink a bit. Whatever passed between my mother and father did so behind closed doors and not a ripple nor an echo ever penetrated the nursery.

During this period my mother travelled the world with Greene, going to the Caribbean to visit Noel Coward, to Vietnam where they smoked opium and, most frequently, to a small cottage on Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland. My father had by then come to terms with Greene and, although they never had a warm relationship, at least tolerated his presence at Thriplow.

Dorothy’s grandparents Willard Straight, an investment banker, and Dorothy Payne nee Whitney, an heiress of the Whitney family, they founded the New Republic magazine. On December 1, 1918, Willard died of pneumonia, a complication of the Spanish influenza, in Paris, where he was arranging the arrival of the American mission to the Paris Peace Conference. Later his widow married Leonard Knight Elmhirst, a British educationist who founded Dartington Hall school in Devon, something satirised in Agatha Christie’s They Do It with Mirrors.

Their son, Michael Straight, Dorothy’s father, was educated at the London School of Economics and Trinity College. While at Cambridge University he became friends with Christopher and John Cornford, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt. Straight joined the British Communist Party after the death of John Cornford in the Spanish Civil War. Burgess was asked to provide a report on Straight:

“Michael Straight, whom I have known for several years… is one of the leaders of the party at Cambridge. He is the party’s spokesman and also a first-class economist. He is an extremely devoted member of the party… Taking into account his family connections, future fortune and capabilities, one must suppose he had a great future, not in the field of politics but in the industrial and trading world…. One may reckon he could work on secret work. He is sufficiently devoted for it, though it will be extremely difficult for him to part with his friends and his current activities.”

Roland Perry, the author of The Last of the Cold War Spies: The Life of Michael Straight (2005), has argued that Joseph Stalin wanted Straight to be groomed as a future President of the United States: “According to Yuri Modin, the most successful KGB control for the Cambridge ring, Straight was viewed as a potential top politico – a long-term ‘sleeper’ candidate. Stalin and the KGB would always be prepared to support and guide someone for however long it took to get an agent into high office, even the White House. After returning to the United States in 1937, Straight worked as a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was on the payroll of the Department of the Interior. Working as a spy, he frustrated the Russians with the mundane information he was giving them. In 1946 Straight took over as publisher of his family-owned The New Republic magazine.

In 1963 Straight was offered the post of the chairmanship of the Advisory Council on the Arts by President John F. Kennedy. Aware that he would be vetted – and his background investigated – he approached Arthur Schlesinger, one of Kennedy’s advisers, and confessed to him that Anthony Blunt had recruited him as a spy while an undergraduate at Trinity College, as well as also being a lover of his. Schlesinger suggested that he told his story to the FBI. Straight’s information was passed on to MI5 and Arthur Martin, the intelligence agency’s principal molehunter, went to America to interview him. Straight confirmed the story, and agreed to testify in a British court if necessary. His confession brought down the Cambridge Spies.

Michael’s brother was Whitney Straight a Grand Prix motor racing driver and founder of the Straight Corporation, a significant operator of British airlines, airports and flying clubs from 1935 until the mid 1970s. In 1967, he donated for the ‘Whitney Straight Award’ to the Royal Aeronautical Society to recognise the achievement and status of women in aviation. The award consisted of a cheque and a sculpture by Barbara Hepworth.

Barbara Hepworth – Trophy (Flight), 1965

Saved for the nation

​I love discovering interesting artists, the research and uncovering details of their life and then buying works to sell, but before the Covid Lock-down, I bought a painting stolen from the Victoria and Albert Museum, that I have now returned to them.

The painting was a watercolour by Vincent Lines, an artist with an interesting past. Lines education started at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts, then in 1931 he was admitted into the Royal College of Art. He was influenced by A.S. Hartrick and Thomas Hennell, mostly by the latter. He worked as a watercolour artist and an illustrator. He became Principal of Horsham Art School in 1935. He was one of the artists chosen to work on the wartime Recording Britain project, and that is one of the things that attracted me to him.

During the Great Depression in America artists were employed by the state to make works for the public. It was called the Federal Art Project and from 1935 the project was mostly famous for many murals in post offices and public buildings across America, but it also covered sculpture and graphic design work. The project is said to have made 200,000 works from 1935 to 1943.

The director of the National Gallery, Sir Kenneth Clark was inspired by the Federal Art Project in the run-up to the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime (part of the British Ministry of Labour and National Service) launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country’s finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Rosemary Ellis, Rowland Hilder, and Barbara Jones were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns, villages, churches, country estates, rural landscapes; industries, rivers, monuments and ruins. They were documenting characteristic scenes in a way never undertaken before.

The picture had its title “Vale of Shalbourne” on the front in pen under the watercolour when auctioned online. The image below from their website.

Why didn’t I google the work? Well I knew the artist, his style and there are many works not in the Recording Britain scheme by him, so I wouldn’t think it was stolen. The real question, in retrospect, is why didn’t the auction house list the painting as Vale of Shalbourne by Vincent Lines instead of how they chose to list it:

Vincent Henry LINES (1909-1968) landscape with farm worker signed watercolour

How did I discover my purchase was stolen? I bought the painting at over the internet (not ebay) and had it posted to me, when it arrived the glass was broken, so I took it apart. Unusually it had no tape on the back of the frame and it was in a cheap clip frame giving easy access to the back. On the back of the painting it had the full details, Vincent Lines, and the name “Vale of Shalbourne” and next to it a stamp saying ‘Recording Britain, Scheme, Pilgrim Trust Branch’.

Left: a stamp saying “Recording Britain, Scheme, Pilgrim Trust Branch”.

Furthermore, in the picture above, in the centre on the back of the watercolour was the V.A.M. stamp (for Victoria and Albert Museum) and then the allocation number. The code when typed into the V&A website comes up with a listing for “The Vale of Shalbourne” by Vincent Lines, is is listed as “In Storage”. Being stamped, with the code next to it, means it couldn’t have been a rejected work by Lines for the project. The Recording Britain board chose what they bought, leaving more prolific artists some works to sell, but these were not stamped. Though the Pilgrim Trust funded the scheme they gave all the works (over 1500) to the Victoria and Albert Museum to document and keep.

Due to the large number of works created, many works were loaned to regional collections and it is likely this painting was either stolen or wrongly disposed. The normal line of things is for it to hang in someone’s office for years, then it taken home as a retirement present. From the frame the watercolour came in, the style of mount and the amount of dirt on the glass I would say it was framed in the early 1990s. It’s a typical and trivial thing that happens but the V&A said they have been working hard to recover items missing and that people like me do return them when they become awake of the mistake.

This problem happens with many loaned collections, the British Government said it had lost eight works between 1 November 2007 and 31 October 2008; three from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, including a Julian Trevelyan and John Brunsdon, those were recovered, but five are still lost.

I emailed the V&A, but due to furloughing, it took awhile for a response, but now the lockdown has ended I have returned the painting to them.

Other collectors of Vincent Line’s work were the King, the Government Art Collection, Hertfordshire Pictures for Schools and the Royal Library. Thankfully I legitimately own the Hertfordshire Pictures for Schools painting as they were all sold off when the council wanted to make some money, but that is another story and there is another tale there too.

An Essex Farmyard

John Aldridge – Essex Farmyard, 1948, Lithograph

Some time ago I was asked the location of Essex Farmyard print by John Aldridge. This lithograph was made for the Society of Painter-Printmakers and exhibited as number 27 in the catalogue for the 1948 exhibition. The key to the identification was finding a painting of the same view while writing a post-script for Lucie’s book. It was a painting from 1939 of Grove Farm, Farmyard, Oxen End, Little Bardfield.

John Aldridge – The Grove Farmyard, 1939

The oil painting above was exhibited at Leicester Galleries, 1940, as with the watercolour study below you cans see the farmyard and the sheds, when printed the image is reversed and that’s why the print is a mirror image.

John Aldridge – (The Grove Farmyard) Essex Farmyard, 1948

Below is a photograph of the house today and part of the farmyard. This is from the local historical society:

Grove Farm was owned by the Adams family who owned other properties in Oxen End. An accident with a steam engine cable severely damaged Mr Adams’ legs. They built a bungalow and then sold Grove House.

The Crossman-Adams family owned the property as well as Crossman House in Braintree. Some of the family still live in Great Bardfield.

In 1969 Mrs Tennant of the Tennant brewery family owned Grove Farm.

Grove Farm, from Google Maps.

This is a drawing in the Fry Gallery collection, likely from 1939 when Aldridge was studying for the painting.

John Aldridge – The Grove Farmyard, c1939

Before and After Great Bardfield

Limited Edition SOLD OUT
Paperback SOLD OUT

Before and After Great Bardfield: The Autobiography of Lucie Aldridge with a postscript by Robjn Cantus. The limited edition hardback is one of 50 copies that are signed and numbered with dust-jacket. The paperback is limited to 250 copies.

“It will have to wait until I’m dead or Laura will shoot me,” Lucie Aldridge wrote of her autobiography, referring to Robert Graves’s long-term mistress and muse Laura Riding. A painter and rug weaver, Lucie Aldridge settled in the Essex village of Great Bardfield in 1933 with her husband, the painter John Aldridge. Also living there at that time were Eric Ravilious and his wife Tirzah Garwood who were cohabiting with Charlotte and Edward Bawden. When Tirzah and John had an affair it tarnished the Aldridge’s marriage forever, something Garwood didn’t acknowledge in her biography Long Live Great Bardfield.

This is Lucie’s newly discovered autobiography, with a detailed biographical postscript by Robjn Cantus. The memoirs were written at the suggestion of the editor of Time magazine, T. S. Matthews. They describe her unorthodox childhood in Cambridgeshire, the involvement of her family in Women’s Suffrage, her marriage during the First World War, and her experiences at Art School in London in the 1920s. A beautiful woman, she posed for several artists. She also observed the post-War era of the Bright Young Things and the painters she knew, including Robert Bevan, Cedric Morris and Stanley Spencer. Through John Aldridge she came to know Robert Graves when he was living in Deià with Riding, and provides a fascinating account of her visits there while Graves was in self-imposed exile after writing Goodbye to All That. During these visits she also met and wrote about poets and artists such as Norman Cameron and Len Lye.

Lucie’s memoir is illustrated by Edward Bawden

After Lucie’s death in 1974 the memoir was lost, but it recently surfaced in
an American university archive. This is its first publication with Lucie’s text illustrated with linocuts by Edward Bawden. The postscript covers the other artists of Great Bardfield and their friends.

After being postponed due to the Covid pandemic the book is released on the 16th August. It has been printed in a limited edition of 50 hardback copies and 250 paperbacks.

Lucie in the Garden by John Aldridge

If you are interested in the author giving talks on the book please email.

Early Hockney

Most people have in their mind and idea of a David Hockney painting but I was surprised when I encountered his early work. Before his unique style came in he was imitating artists that had come before him with help from his tutors.

At Bradford College of Art he was taught perspective and painting by Derek Stafford and printmaking by Norman Stevens (1937-88). Other students at the college were Derek Boshier, Pauline Boty, Norman Stevens, David Oxtoby and John Loker. Hockney hitchhiked to London and toured the galleries absorbing new art and styles. In 1957 he got into the Royal College of Art and the rest is history.

David Hockney – Bolton Junction, Eccleshill, 1956

David Hockney – Bolton Junction, Eccleshill, 1956

David Hockney – Moorside Road, Fagley, 1956

David Hockney – The Village Street, Kirton, near Felixstowe, Suffolk, 1957

David Hockney – Tunwell Lane, 1957

David Hockney – Hen Run, Eccleshill, 1954

David Hockney – Landscape 1956-1957

David Hockney – Kirton, 1956/57


When it comes to the battlegrounds of the First World War, most people are sheparded to the memorials and graveyards to focus on the horror of it all. But in this post I would like to look at two of the buildings, lost and invisible in the landscape today, that found themselves in the middle of a war-zone. Our visual link to them today are the images of shelled buildings in the middle-east, but like Canute and the tide, nothing can stop war, even your home.

Château de Thiepval

The village in Thiepval was part of the Somme region that was one of the main battlegrounds in the war. The German forces had set up in the château as a headquarters. Any of the buildings in the villages were subject to the same fate of random shelling from each side. The Battle of Thiepval Ridge was the first large offensive of the Reserve Army. In two days 12,500 men had been killed.

It’s why towns like Ypres were reduced to rubble. A curious piece I found on the effect of the countryside of the war was:

As for the wood of Thiepval, it is no longer worthy of the name of wood; rather, it is a collection of broken and ragged trunks. Revue Française d’ornithologie, 1928

The château was the home of three generations of Roch de Wasservas.

The effect of the Somme on the artist Percy Smith was that he sketched discreetly the carnage and while on leave back in Canada he produced his famous set of prints ‘The Dance of Death’.

Percy Smith – Thiepval château, 1917

Chateau et Contalmaison

A similar fate to that of château de Thiepval happened to Contalmaison. When it was bombed out the Advanced Dressing Station used the cellars of the château as a station. From what I can understand the house was sold around 1880 and after some years it was turned into a hotel.

Both the châteaus ended up having the rubble removed and their lands became the sites of burial grounds. The grounds of Thiepval was the site of the Thiepval Memorial, about 200 years from where the house stood.

Thiepval Memorial © Andrew Bailey

Cliff Child – A New Prospect

In my spare time I also make and produce music, this is for the Anglo/Icelandic band Cliff Child. Free to download or stream.

1. ダンジネスビーチ 03:07
2.プロスペクトコテージ 05:04
3.庭 02:58
4.イギリスの 見納め04:52
5.発電所 01:32
6.あなたの球 01:30