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From lyricism to cubism

Although best known as an art critic (see Fry's Biography), and for his contribution to developments in design, Fry considered himself first and foremost a painter.

From 1889 he attended Francis Bate's progressive art school in Hammersmith, West London. He made his first trip to Italy in 1891 where he devoted time to sketching and painting, and on his return produced a number of Italianate landscapes. Through studying the Old Masters first-hand he learnt the importance of structural design and form in painting, values he pursued throughout his painting career.

Roger Fry's palette

Roger Fry's palette
Roger Fry painting In 1892 Fry spent a short time at the Academie Julian in Paris and on returning to London continued his artistic training at Walter Sickert's Chelsea Life School. He became a member of the New English Art Club in 1893 and had his first solo exhibition at the Carfax Gallery in 1903.

He first became interested in modern French art from about 1906 but it wasn't until after he organised the 1910 London exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists, which included work by CÚzanne, Picasso and Matisse, that the influence can be seen in his painting style. During a visit to Paris in the autumn of 1911 with Duncan Grant and Clive Bell, Fry first saw cubist works, which, with their reduction of real form into geometric shapes, appeared revolutionary.

Roger Fry painting
© Tate Archive, 2003

Landscape with Shepherd, near Villa Madama, Rome
Roger Fry, Landscape with Shepherd,
near Villa Madama, Rome
, 1891
© Estate of the Artist
River with Poplars
Roger Fry, River with Poplars, circa 1912
© Estate of the Artist

From this time we see a dramatic transformation from the gentle, poetic and conservative landscapes of his early career to angular and rather brutal landscapes, where the hazy soft forms of trees and hills have become geometric shapes often heavily outlined in black.

Like the other Bloomsbury artists Fry experimented with abstract art and, taking inspiration from cubism, also with collage. He exhibited three works titled Essay in Abstract Design at his one-man show at the Alpine Club Gallery at 1915.

Roger Fry, Essay in Abstract Design, 1914 or 1915
© Estate of the Artist

Essay in Abstract Design