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Artist, critic and tastemaker Roger Fry is one of the most influential figures in British art history. His Post-Impressionist exhibitions in London introduced a British audience to a new artistic frisson of European modernism and his keen eye for the Avant-garde positioned him as the leading champion of modern art. Evoking the landscapes of Paul Cézanne whilst maintaining a purity of form, this atmospheric scene expresses Fry’s consummate comprehension of contemporary painting.

This landscape was executed by Fry during the same year as the publication of his Vision and Design. This book was a collection of essays on aesthetics, criticism, and art history and was the first of his major contributions to art criticism. At this date, Fry was one of the foremost advocates of modern art in Britain. He had become well known for introducing European Modernism to a British audience through his two exhibitions held at the Grafton Galleries in 1910 and 1912; Manet and the Post-Impressionists and...

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Artist, critic and tastemaker Roger Fry is one of the most influential figures in British art history. His Post-Impressionist exhibitions in London introduced a British audience to a new artistic frisson of European modernism and his keen eye for the Avant-garde positioned him as the leading champion of modern art. Evoking the landscapes of Paul Cézanne whilst maintaining a purity of form, this atmospheric scene expresses Fry’s consummate comprehension of contemporary painting.

This landscape was executed by Fry during the same year as the publication of his Vision and Design. This book was a collection of essays on aesthetics, criticism, and art history and was the first of his major contributions to art criticism. At this date, Fry was one of the foremost advocates of modern art in Britain. He had become well known for introducing European Modernism to a British audience through his two exhibitions held at the Grafton Galleries in 1910 and 1912; Manet and the Post-Impressionists and the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition. His book Vision and Design continued along this vein, with chapters that addressed a range of artists and movements. His penultimate chapter is devoted to the French painter Jean Marchand, a friend and artist whom he greatly admired and who’s relevance to the present painting is noteworthy. Within the chapter, Fry praised Marchand’s style; ‘he builds up his designs with such massive and perfect handling.’[1]

In 1920, Fry and Marchand accompanied one another on a trip to the medieval town of Vence, France, where the present landscape was painted. Fry’s multiple trips to Vence prefigured the artistic sojourns of modern giants such as Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse. The present painting depicts rolling hills and mountains which make up the Alpes Maritimes. This bucolic landscape is punctuated by the building in the foreground. Fry and Marchand both painted this scene - given their respective viewpoints, it seems likely that the two artists painted side by side. In recent years, Marchand’s influence on the Bloomsbury group has been somewhat overlooked, yet Fry was clearly inspired by this young painter, and admired him enough to learn from him and paint alongside him.

The collapse of the Omega Workshops[2] in 1919, the year prior to this painting’s execution, saw Fry increasingly divide his time between France and England. In Fry’s biography, Virginia Woolf noted the sense of freedom and relief he felt once he relinquished control over the Omega business; after years of anxiety and hard work, Fry now had more time to travel, paint and write.[3] Of his first trip abroad after Omega was wound up, he wrote to Vanessa Bell; ‘It’s too exciting to see this Southern colouring again … Every bit of odd wall, every tiled roof seems as though it were exactly right, and only needed to be painted.’[4] This painting is the result of this new lease of artistic energy and conveys his immeasurable impact on twentieth century taste.

[1] Fry, R. (1920) ‘Jean Marchand’ in Vision and Design. London: Chatto & Windus, p.185.

[2] The Omega Workshops was the design enterprise founded by Fry and the Bloomsbury painters, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry.

[3] Woolf, V. (1940/2003) Roger Fry: A Biography. London: Hogarth Press/Vintage Random House, p.219.

[4] Fry, R. (1919) quoted in Woolf, V. (1940/2003) Roger Fry: A Biography. London: Hogarth Press/Vintage Random House, p.220.

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500 Years of British Art