Friday, July 1, 2011

Roger Fry: A Critic Who Painted

Roger Fry (1866-1934) was the influential art critic who coined the term "Post-Impressionism." He also was a competent painter. For information about his life and career, Wikipedia has a summary here.

What I find interesting about Fry is not that he both created and wrote about art. I think that it can be useful for a critic or an historian to have hands-on knowledge of his writing subject. For example, Paul Johnson, who wrote a large, decent-selling book about art a few years ago also paints at the amateur level. I can even cite myself -- "trained" in art, but never practicing it as a career.

No, what interests me most about Fry's art and writing about it is that while he promoted modernism to some degree in his writing, he didn't stick with the program when painting. Examples of his paintings are below. During roughly 1910-20 he tried to paint "modern." By the 1920s he slid away from modernism and his works became increasingly traditional.

I'm not sure why. During the 20s modernism hit a slow patch where it was gaining stature with establishments and publics while the artists themselves collectively couldn't quite figure out what to do next. So perhaps Fry figured that modernism had exhausted its possibilities so far as his own painting was concerned. I read a biography of Fry a few years back, and can't recall if this matter was even dealt with. Since I sold the book to Powell's bookstore in Portland a while ago, I'll never know. If any readers have the answer, please let us know in Comments.


Virgina Woolf
Fry became a member of the Bloomsbury Set. He painted Woolf and she wrote a biography of him (not the one I read).

River with Poplars - ca. 1912
A landscape in the modernism spirit.

Nina Hamnett
The Wikipedia entry above states that Fry had an affair with Hamnett (her entry is here). This portrait and the one shown below are in the modernist vein.

Edith Sitwell

Bertrand Russell - ca. 1923
Here Fry's modernism is oozing away. Yes, the image embodies some modernist-approved simplifications. The near-obligatory flatness in honor of the picture plane is absent.

Clive Bell - ca. 1924

Self-Portrait - 1928
The two portraits above illustrate a bit more slippage. Fry never reached the general style of Sargent, Sorolla or Laszlo, but these works are at some remove from how he depicted Woolf.

September in Sussex - 1933
Another landscape, this painted not long before his death. It bears a touch of the exaggerated solidity practiced by American Regionalists such as Grant Wood. But only a very slight touch; modernist influence is largely absent here.

1 comment:

dearieme said...

Outstanding self-portrait. On the Woolf, the ring is a nice touch.