Rugs Through Time (1910s – 1920s) – The Omega Workshop
Our journey through the history of rugs began with William Morris, one of the most outstanding figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Morris was a man of many talents: designer, writer and artist.
Morris died on 3rd October 1896 aged 62.
A few years later one of the most controversial and progressive design groups, the Omega Workshop, came to life.
Roger Fry formed the Omega Workshop in 1913, with the intention of integrating fine arts into the decorative arts. His work and the work of his group, had a significant impact on the world of modern rug design.
Here we take a closer look at this incubator of radical design ideas and how they marked one of the most creative moments in the history of modernist craft and design in Britain.
The Bloomsbury district is traditionally known as a vibrant intellectual hub. It was also here, precisely at 33 Fitzroy Square, that Roger Fry founded the Omega Group.
Fry brought together a group of young yet notable avant-garde artists, including Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Frederick Etchells (1886-1973) and Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), probably best known for her sister Virginia Woolf. Grant and Bell also became co-directors of the company.
Like the Bloomsbury group, the lesser known artists of the Omega Group rebelled against the stuffy social conventions of their time.
Vanessa Bell wrote:
We should get all your disreputable and some of your aristocratic friends to come – and after dinner we should repair to Fitzroy Sq. where would be decorated furniture, painted walls etc. Then we should all get drunk and dance and kiss. Orders would flow in and the aristocrats would feel sure they were really in the thick of things.
(Vanessa Bell, as quoted in Bloomsbury Portraits, Richard Shone, 1976)
The difference between Fry and his predecessor William Morris is clear. If Morris was involved in political activism, the Omega Group was instead very much aligned with the Bloomsbury group and wanted to fuse art and interior design.
Fry also believed that all work had to be produced anonymously: what mattered was the aesthetic quality of the product. All designs were just marked with the symbol Ω, the Greek letter “Omega”.
Interestingly, in the late nineteenth century, Ω stood for the “last word” on a subject.
Heavily influenced by contemporary art in Europe, especially Fauvism and Cubism, the Omega Workshop created a wide range of products: from stained glass, mosaics and ceramics to furniture and clothing.
And, of course, rugs.
Rug Design of the Omega Group
The group could never be considered part of the mainstream British interiors market. The overlap between fine art and design can be particularly seen in their rugs – and this is why Omega’s work was too radical for most people’s taste.
One of the first rugs available from Omega was Duncan Grant’s striped rug in bright and bold colours, similar to our Amore Kelim rug with its baby blue and luscious pink blocks. Grant’s rug was also displayed at the Ideal Home Exhibition in 1913.
It presented most features of Omega’s style: intense and bright colours combined with dark tones and black, resulting in an organic geometrical pattern. A similar design, with abstract forms and strong lines, can be seen in Bell’s early and Futuristic-influenced rug designed for Lady Hamilton.
Despite Fry’s commitment to Omega, the group managed to stay open during the First World War but closed shortly after in 1919. A combination of inefficient techniques, expensive materials and poor organisation contributed to its decline. Furthermore, because of their originality, inventiveness and radical ideas they were frowned upon by proponents of the early Arts and Crafts Movement.
Simply, Fry, Grant, Bell and the whole Omega Workshop were somehow too ahead of their time. That is why the majority of their clientele were young, complicated, and fascinated with the new and modern.
And that is also why their rug design still feels as fresh and provocative as it did at the time.
If you love the abstract and intense style of the Omega Group, have a look at our hand-knotted geometric collection – they have an undeniable sense of their design.