Moments of modernism: the Omega Workshops and Unit One: Appropriation, Anglicisation and the modern interior

Angwin, Benjamin (2012) Moments of modernism: the Omega Workshops and Unit One: Appropriation, Anglicisation and the modern interior. (MA(R) thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis explores two episodes of English modernism: Roger Fry and the Omega Workshops (1913-19), and Herbert Read and Unit One (1933-35). It examines their homologies of origin and development: from their appropriation of existing continental models and practices, their reliance on Anglicisation through a renewal of qualities of Englishness and allegiances towards tradition, to their reworking of those continental models via concerns for interior contexts of their works; particularly the modern interior. Both the Omega and Unit One have been previously measured as inferior modems, since they do not fit easily into templates from the canon of continental modernism. This investigation re-engages with historical material of both groups, paying particular attention to recent reassessments of these modern English episodes which have directly challenged the modernist canon. In doing so, I hope to reposition Fry and the Omega, and Read and Unit One within significant responses and developments of modernism. Both groups sought to reconnect the modern artist with a modern society, and identified that via diversification of practice the 'problem' of the modern artist could be resolved. The Omega and Unit One also recognised the modernist potential in exploring interior contexts for their works, and embraced the possibilities of creating art for a domestic and architectural environment. For them, the domestic offered a multiplicity of materials, surfaces and modern experiences. The home was not modernism's "other" - as it has been constructed to be - rather it was another site for modern practice and experience. Moreover, their engagement with interiors have been accused as forms of 'modern decoration' which have seen them further excluded from the modernist canon; since decoration does not leaned itself towards the autonomous demands of modernism. By engaging with these two hugely influential figures, Fry and Read, and their two respective groups, the Omega and Unit One, I not only seek to contribute to the reassessment of the processes in which English modernism was constructed and developed, but also to the early modern developments of Fry and Read themselves.

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