Roger Fry

Essay in Abstract Design

1914 or 1915

Not on display

Roger Fry 1866–1934
Oil paint and bus tickets on wood
Support: 362 × 270 mm
frame: 546 × 444 × 42 mm
Presented by Mrs Pamela Diamand, the artist's daughter 1975

Display caption

This is one of the very few abstract works by Fry to have survived, and is one of three he exhibited in 1915. His use of the bus tickets was clearly inspired by Picasso. Fry has used real tickets and stuck them down to the painted board. They are for Route 88, which runs past the Tate Gallery, although from a different stage of that route. It was Fry who gave intellectual focus to the Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers. He had trained as a painter in France and Italy, and with Sickert in London, but became best known as a highly influential writer, critic and lecturer. Fry organised two exhibitions of Post-Impressionist art in 1910 and 1912, showing types of European pictures then little known in Britain.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

T01957 ESSAY IN ABSTRACT DESIGN 1914 or 1915

Not inscribed
Oil, oil on paper and bus tickets on veneer board, 14 1/4×10 9/16 (36.2×26.8)
Presented by Mrs Pamela Diamand 1975
Coll: Margery Fry, the artist's sister; his daughter, Mrs Pamela Diamand
Exh: Paintings by Roger Fry, Alpine Club Gallery, November 1915 (45); Duncan Grant: a 90th Birthday
Exhibition of Paintings, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, July–September 1975 (58)

In his exhibition at the Alpine Club Gallery in November 1915 Roger Fry showed three works, all with the same title of ‘Essay in Abstract Design’, numbers 19, 44 and 45 in the catalogue. T01957 can with near certainty be identified with No.45 in this exhibition and the title ‘Essay in Abstract Design’, as on acquisition it bore a gummed label with the number 45 on it, at the bottom left hand corner of the frame. Further evidence that T01957 was in Fry's 1915 exhibition is Sickert's review of the show in the December 1915 issue of the Burlington Magazine, pp.117–18. He wrote: ‘Now Mr Fry has undoubted gifts as a painter. It remains, nevertheless, surprising that a painter who has the double advantage of power and erudition should continue to treat seriously fumisteries à la Picasso (framed posies of tram tickets, etc.)...’

The two collaged bus tickets in T01957 give a terminus post quem for its execution. The tickets, one for a halfpenny, the other a fivepenny, were for the No.88 bus route of the London General Omnibus Company, and were issued between 18 December 1913, when this particular No.88 route was introduced, and mid-November 1914 when the route was extended from Oxford Circus to Acton Green. The halfpenny ticket has fare stages, including the Tate Gallery, printed on it, and was used for a journey from Tooting Broadway to Tooting Junction. The fivepenny ticket was issued, probably soon after the route was introduced, for a journey from Piccadilly Circus to Mitcham. This ticket has faded considerably since it was issued, but the halfpenny ticket is close to its original colour. (The compiler is grateful to Mr J. K. H. Cunningham, O.B.E., Secretary of the Transport Ticket Society for information on the bus tickets (letter of 17 September 1975) and for producing unfaded tickets for comparison).

The fivepenny ticket in T01957 may well have been issued to Roger Fry himself. The donor Pamela Diamand, daughter of Roger Fry, told the compiler (conversation 12.10.75) that he often visited a pottery at Mitcham c.1914 to throw pots for sale in the Omega Workshops. Mrs Diamand also suggested that most probably T01957 was executed at Fry's house, Durbins, near Guildford, though he did some painting at the Omega Workshops in Fitzroy Street. Fry would often do new experiments in painting, which would give him pleasure, when he was unhappy. In 1914 and 1915 he had not recovered from the breakup of his affair with Vanessa Bell, and his wife was in a mental home at York. Fry destroyed some of his abstract works when he moved from Durbins in 1919, and others were probably destroyed after his death. According to Duncan Grant (conversation with the compiler 28 May 1976) Fry did only a small number of abstract works. None is known to have survived apart from T01957.

Compositionally the work has similarities to Picasso's ‘Head of a Man’ 1913 (oil and charcoal on paper, 24 1/2×18 1/4 ins., Zervos H, 431), which has the illusion of planes overlapping in space, which Fry acquired c.1914.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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