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Vanessa BellRoger FryDuncan GrantWorking TogetherOmega Workshops
Painting together: Fry, Bell and Grant

Essay in abstract design,
Roger Fry,
Essay in abstract design, 1914 or 1915
© Estate of the Artist
Abstract Painting
Vanessa Bell,
Abstract Painting, circa 1914
© Estate of Vanessa Bell
Interior at Gordon Square
Duncan Grant,
Interior at Gordon Square, circa 1915
© Estate of Duncan Grant

Lytton Strachey From 1911 Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant often worked together on the same subject. On a summer camping holiday at Brandon near Thetford in 1913, Bell and Grant produced different views of the same tents. The following year, Bell and Fry both painted oranges and lemons sent by Duncan Grant from Tunis. Fry's painting includes the same jug and background (of an Omega print), as Vanessa's.

All three artists painted Lytton Strachey reading a book in 1913 and Iris Tree in 1915. Also in 1915 David Garnett and Mary Hutchinson both sat for Vanessa and Duncan.

The Mantelpiece and Still Life on Corner of Mantelpiece, were painted by Grant and Bell, side-by-side at 46 Gordon Square in 1914. The paintings show slightly different viewpoints of the mantelpiece with boxes, cartons and some Omega flowers in a jug.

Lytton Strachey  © Tate Archive, 2003

The Mantlepiece
Vanessa Bell, Still life on
Corner of a Mantlepiece
, 1914
© Estate of Vanessa Bell
Still life on Corner of a Mantlepiece
Duncan Grant,The Mantlepiece,
1914 © Estate of the Artist
The paintings show a similar approach but there are also discernible differences. Grant painted a more exact representation of the moulding under the corner of the mantelpiece, whereas Bell simplified the scrolls to rectangular shapes. They chose different colours for the boxes, flowers and even for the background wall. Grant also added cut out pieces of painted paper to create a collage effect.

Fry, Grant and Bell all ventured into abstraction at about the same time (1914-1916), using blocks of colour and experimenting with collage. [See images at the top of page]

After 1915 when Bell and Grant had become closer, the three rarely painted together and Fry felt excluded.

Letter from Roger Fry to Clive Bell 'In painting Nessa and Duncan have taken to working so entirely altogether and do not want me' he complained to Clive Bell adding, 'I find it difficult to take a place on the outside of the circle instead of being, as I once was, rather central.'

However, a few years later in a letter to Roger Fry written in May 1921, Bell questioned whether the close working relationship she and Grant had was having a bad effect on her work. When they holidayed in St Tropez in 1921 they decided to paint separately and only looked at each other's paintings at the end of their stay. From that point although they occasionally worked together or painted the same subject, it ceased to be a regular activity.

Letter from Roger Fry to Clive Bell
© Annabel Cole