Omega Workshops

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Decorative arts company founded by Roger Fry in London in 1913 with the twin aims of improving the standard of design in Britain and providing work for the young avant-garde artists in his circle. (Omega is the last letter of the Greek alphabet and it has been suggested that Fry chose the name to indicate its products were ‘the last word’ in design, but in fact he seems to have picked it because it was anonymous but easy to remember and in addition to being a word was a sign that could be used as a trademark.) Fry disliked the smooth finish of machine products, and Omega works characteristically have the irregularities of hand craftsmanship, although the furniture it sold was originally bought ready-made and then painted on the premises, and its linens were expertly printed in France. Its other products included ceramics and carpets. The favourite Omega motifs included flowers, nudes, and abstract patterns, and colour was often very bright; Cubism and Fauvism were strong influences. Apart from Fry himself, the designers most closely associated with Omega were Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and several other distinguished artists worked for the enterprise, including Paul Nash and William Roberts. However, all the work was sold anonymously. Artists were paid a regular wage, the financing coming from Fry himself and from subscribers, including George Bernard Shaw. The Workshops made a promising start, but the First World War had a disastrous effect on sales (Fry in any case had little business aptitude) and in June 1919 Omega's remaining stock was sold off; the company was officially liquidated in 1920. The best idea of Omega furnishings in a contemporary setting can be gained at Charleston, the country home of Bell and Grant at Firle in Sussex. There are also good examples in London at the Courtauld Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Subjects: Art.

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