Bed thumbnail 1
Bed thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Not currently on display at the V&A
On short term loan out for exhibition

This object consists of 7 parts, some of which may be located elsewhere.


1915-1916 (designed)
Place of origin

This is the headboard of a bed that was painted by the Omega Workshops. It formed part of a suite of bedroom furniture made for the London flat of Lalla Vandervelde. The art critic and painter Roger Fry founded the Omega Workshops in 1913. He was inspired both by William Morris and by French Post-Impressionist painting. Artists from the Bloomsbury Group designed furnishings and interiors for the Workshops. Much of the furniture, such as this bed, was painted in a style inspired by folk art, as well as by new developments in painting. Roger Fry probably designed the bed himself. Lala Vandervelde was a friend of Fry's and the wife of the Belgian ambassador. Two wardrobes and two corner cupboards, which are also said to have been made for her flat, are in the V&A collection (CIRC.271 to 273-1975).

Object details

Object type
This object consists of 7 parts.

  • Headboard
  • Footboard
  • Box Mattress
  • Bed Iron
  • Bed Iron
  • Mattress Cover
  • Mattress
Materials and techniques
Birchwood (?) and cast-iron, painted with oil paint, the box mattress of softwood, horsehair and ticking.
Brief description
Single bed, with head- and footboard, the frame painted grey-green, the headboard painted on both faces with a reclining nude woman, the footboard painted on both faces with a fruit and a fruitbowl. Almost certainly designed by Roger Fry for the Omega Workshops, English, 1915-6
Physical description
Bed, with panelled headboard and footboard, the headboard painted on each side with a reclining nude figure, the footboard on both sides with a bowl of fruit and pieces of fruit. The frame of the bed is painted grey-green with a gloss paint. The painting was undertaken on a standard, plain single bedstead by the commercial bed manufacturer, Vono, and this name is cast into the iron brackets on the foot and headboards to which are fixed the iron side pieces that support the base.
All elements of the frame of the headboard and footboard are of square or rectangular section, without decoration. The top, outer corners are rounded in elevation. The two bed ends are made of a light wood, probably birch, but possibly beech. This has not been identified scientifically, but the pale, rather featureless grain is visible on the underside of the cross rails, which was not covered by the grey-green paint either. The frame appears initially to have been varnished a deep brown, perhaps imitating mahogany, and this was presumably how the bed was originally offered for sale. The bed irons and brackets were also originally painted reddish brown. It is probably this paint layer, as the under-layer to the grey-green, which is causing the crazing of the paint layer visible on some of the rails in particular.
The inner panels of the headboard and footboard are framed with a narrow fillet, 1.8 cm wide (3/4"), which is now painted bright green with a gloss paint that is very thinly applied. The headboard is painted on the foot face with a nude woman reclining on a red-checked rug, with a dappled grey/green/yellow wall behind her. The figure is heavily outlined in black, with the flesh painted in an ochre. She has black hair, cut in a short bob. The head face is painted with a similar composition but this side is less well painted. The upper right-hand corner shows the Omega motif in red. The figure is in red, with black outlines, and has the same black hair. On this face, the figure is lying on a green and brown mottled surface painted with circles in black. The upper part (wall?) is in yellow with grey checks. There is no Omega motif on this side of the headboard.
The footboard is similarly framed in bright green. It is painted on the head back with a black, footed bowl against a folded grey fabric. The bowl contains a banana, an orange, a lemon a pineapple and two unidentified fruits. To the left of the bowl is a gourd and to the right a bunch of grapes. The Omega motif in red is painted in the top right-hand corner of the image. On the foot face of the footboard is painted with a similar composition but with more fruit. This face of the footboard is not signed.
Two iron brackets are screwed to the inner face of both the headboard and the footboard. These are L-shaped in plan. The arms of the L running parallel to the headboard and footboard support a cross rail of L section, which is rivetted to each bracket. These form the head and foot rails that support the box mattress. The arms of the L that run at right angles to these are cast with a deep, cup-like recess, pierced at the bottom, through which the bolts screw to attach the L-sectioned side rails that complete the box mattress support. The back plate of the iron brackets are each cast with the word 'VONO' in relief. All the iron work is painted grey-green. The brackets have been moved downwards by approximately 12 cm and the old fixing points are clearly visible. This alteration was presumably done to accomodate the arrangement of box mattress and mattress rather than a wire frame mattress support with mattress.
The box mattress is covered in standard black-and-white ticking. The mattress is now encased in a white cotton cover.

The frames of the headboard and footboard are joined with mortise-and-tenon joints. The cast-iron brackets are screwed in place. The bed irons are rivetted (the cross rails) or bolted (the side rails) in place. The mattress sits on a box mattress.

The grey-green paint on the frame is crazed in places, the result of interaction with the lower varnish layer. On the head face of the footboard there is one deep scratch in the lower left corner of the panel. The acquisition papers note 'Paintwork rubbed in places'. Slight further wear to base was noticed after return from loan to the exhibition 'Art Made Modern: Roger Fry's vision of art' at the Courtauld Institute, 1999-2000 (See Registered File 96/171.

  • Height: 117cm (headboard)
  • Width: 166cm
  • Length: 201cm
Dimensions taken from departmental catalogue.
Production typeUnique
Marks and inscriptions
  • Greek letter omega (In red paint on top right corner of foot face panel on headboard and head face panel on footboard)
  • VONO (Cast in relief on each of the four brackets that support the bed irons.)
Gallery label
BED Possibly painted by Roger Fry (British, 1866-1934) Decorated for Omega Workshops, London Painted wood 1916 Said to have been part of a suite of furniture decorated for the apartment of Madame Lalla Vandervelde, the wife of the Belgian War Minister, in Rosetti Mansions, Flood Street, London. The suite itself probably consisted of ready-made pieces purchased by Omega for decorating. Bequest of Mrs F.C.O. Speyer Circ.270-1975(1989-2006)
Credit line
Bequeathed by Mrs F. C. O. Speyer
Object history
This bed was bequeathed to the V&A by Mrs F.C.O. Speyer, niece of Lalla Vandervelde, for whom the bed was designed. The acquisition is recorded in Nominal File MA/1//S2846. The bequest included two wardrobes (CIRC.271-1975 and CIRC.272-1975), and a corner cupboard CIRC.273-1975, all believed to be from the same commission. A bedside table was not accepted by the Museum.Two items from the same set had come earlier to the Museum by gift from Mrs Speyer, a low cupboard (CIRC.3-1966), for which she had no room after an earlier move, and a rug (CIRC.665-1969). On 26 August 1971 Mrs Speyer wrote:
'My aunt, Charlotte Helen Mary Vandervelde (nee Speyer) was born on April 4th 1870 and died on November 8th 1965. The furniture designed for her flat by Roger Fry has been housed by my parents ever since I can remember, i.e. from 1929 onwards, and probably before that as my aunt spent most of her life abroad, and did not come to live in England until she was evacuated from Malaga during the second world war, incidentally are your sure that the furniture was designed for a flat in Flood Street [Rossetti Mansions?]as I have always thought it was for her flat in Paris but perhaps I am wrong [she was], it was avery [sic] long time ago when my mother told me about it.'

Mrs Speyer also owned an inlaid desk from the same room that was shown in the Art Council's 1966 exhibition 'Vision and Design'. Two chests of drawers were also placed on long loan to the Museum by Mrs Speyer's daughter in 1971, and returned to her son, Giles Hedley-Dent in 2003 (see Registered File 1999/164).

The bed was designed in 1916 as part of a suite of bedroom furniture designed for the apartment of Madame Lalla Vandervelde (neé Speyer, b. 1870 in Belgium) in Rossetti Mansions, Flood St., London SW3. In 1901 she married, as her second husband, Emile Vandervelde, leader of the Belgian Socialist Party, who acted as Belgian ambassador during the First World War. Madame Vandervelde was a close friend of Roger Eliot Fry (1866-1934), one of the founding directors of the Omega Workshops, where the bed was painted. Fry, whose Quaker roots perhaps encouraged his sense of public responsibility, had joined with other artists to create the Workshops to provide employment for young artists. The donor noted that the design was by him. At the time that it was made, in 1916, the Workshops were under financial pressures, and the commission by Madame Vandervelde to design her flat was important in keeping the enterprise afloat and offered the possibility of further commissions from her Belgian friends. Fry undertook most of the work on this commission himself and the work became the basis of an article by him in the journal Colour in April 1917. In this he described Madame Vandervelde's flat, and his comments show how carefully paint schemes were considered: 'The walls were spaced out with pilasters of a pale petunia colour, made with aniline dye, put on with a smallish brush - as the dye dries instantly and the brush stroked overlapped, the result was a peculiar moiré effect, which relieved the pilasters against the flatter colour of the rest of the wall. This was done in pure raw sienna, also applied with separate brush strokes, which gave the whole surface an agreeable vivacity.' (quoted in Anscombe, 1982, p. 72, noted under references, below). Most of the furniture for the flat was painted, but at least one piece of marquetry furniture was made for the same room as the painted pieces in the V&A, a desk made for the company by the London cabinet-maker Joseph Kallenborn, whose premises were close to the Omega workshops. That piece is illustrated in Richard Shone, The Art of Bloomsbury (London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 1997, pp. 139-40) and is described in the contemporary account below.

The Furniture Record of 16 March 1917, published a commentary on the flat on p. 217:
' A Futurist Flat
A description of a "futurist flat" appeared in certain newspapers recently. I quote the following from the Evening Standard:
One of the most original schemes of decoration ever evolved has been carried out in Mme. Vandervelde's flat in Chelsea. I hear that it was designed by Mr. Roger Fry, and it is certainly most effective.
To begin with, the studio is an irregularly shaped room, with many corners, so special furniture of odd and original design has been made to fit to the angularities, and this has been ornamented with floral devices which are formal in design and yet free in style. They are carried out in bright, primary colours, and form a striking contrast to another ornament of the room, which is an escritoire of black wood inlaid with white.
Truly original! I should like to have an opportunity of seeing the furniture of odd design made to fit "angularities".' The article is signed in printed script 'Aitchee'.

In 1917, after the flat was completed, Fry painted a portrait of Madame Vandervelde.

The Flood Street flat scheme did not last long. Madame Vandervelde moved to 34 Kensington Square, where the Omega workshops reinstalled her interiors. In January 1919 Madame Vandervelde returned to Belgium after her wartime exile and Fry missed both her company and her support for his work. She died in 1965, having returned to England in the 1950s. She left her Omega furniture to her brother and sister-in-law, whose daughter presented this set (which includes two wardrobes, Circ.271-1975 and Circ.272-1975, and a corner cupboard, Circ. 273-1975).

A pencil drawing which appears to match this bedhead is held by The Courtauld Institute of Art (D.1958.PD.51), with a worked sketch on one side and a slighter version of it (reversed) on the reverse. The painting of the headboard and footboard is similar on each face, but the painting of the inner faces is of highter quality than that on the outer faces, and only these panels carry the Omega symbol, so it is possible that the outer faces are by different hands. This would be logical as the piece is meant to be enjoyed by the person reclining on the divan. The lowering of the brackets holding the frame of the box mattress means not only that the bed is transformed in to a more divan-like form but also that the bolsters sit below the painted panels, which remain fully visible.

The bed was built on a plain frame made by the Vono Company, founded in 1896 in Dudley Port, West Midlands. The name was taken from it founder, Mr Vaughan, a compound derived from the phrase 'Vaughan only'. The firm continued to make beds through the twentieth century and must have produced thousands of similar, simple frames. The headboards and footboards were made in cheap woods such as birch or beech (here probably birch), varnished to look like walnut or mahogany. When the Omega Workshops acquired this bed to decorate, they did not strip off the varnish layer, and this has affected the upper paint layer, which is crazing in places. Such use of cheap, commercial pieces for re-decoration, was typical of the Workshops' practice.

The brackets on the headboard and footboard have been moved down, approximately 12 cm. This is presumably to allow for a deeper sprung mattress and still ensure that the painted panel was not obscured. The commercial Vono bed on which this was based, would probably have offered a horsehair mattress on a box spring base. The horsehair mattress would have been of approximately 10 cm depth, rather than the 23 of the current mattress. This would have meant that the top of the mattress would not have obscured the panel, even when the brackets supporting the side rails were at their original height, but the increase of depth for the more comfortable mattress required the lowering of the brackets.

A toy chest, with the same design of fruit and a fruit bowl, was shown in the exhibition 'The Omega Workshops. Alliance and Enmity in English Art 1911-1920' at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, 18 January to 6 March 1984, no. 119. The catalogue entry notes the similarity to the V&A pieces.
Reason For Production: Commission
Subjects depicted
This is the headboard of a bed that was painted by the Omega Workshops. It formed part of a suite of bedroom furniture made for the London flat of Lalla Vandervelde. The art critic and painter Roger Fry founded the Omega Workshops in 1913. He was inspired both by William Morris and by French Post-Impressionist painting. Artists from the Bloomsbury Group designed furnishings and interiors for the Workshops. Much of the furniture, such as this bed, was painted in a style inspired by folk art, as well as by new developments in painting. Roger Fry probably designed the bed himself. Lala Vandervelde was a friend of Fry's and the wife of the Belgian ambassador. Two wardrobes and two corner cupboards, which are also said to have been made for her flat, are in the V&A collection (CIRC.271 to 273-1975).
Associated objects
Bibliographic references
  • Isabelle Anscombe, Omega and After. Bloomsbury and the decorative arts. London: Thames and Hudson, 1981, pp. and fig.15. Mme Vandervelde is also mentioned on p. 62 in relations to clothes designed by the Omega Workshop.
  • Green, Christopher (ed.), Art made Modern: Roger Fry's Vision of Art, London : Courtauld Institute of Art, 1999 p.124, no.107
Accession number
CIRC.270 to F-1975

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Record createdSeptember 25, 2000
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