Assembling art ‘Unlimited’

[Jeremy Fry with Takis Signals, Widcombe Manor, Bath 1967]

Bath’s Holburne Museum is branching out elsewhere to stage a spring exhibition featuring the works of Jeremy Fry – described as a handsome, charismatic and established member of the Sixties ‘Jet Set.’

It’s taking space in the National Trust’s Assembly Rooms, from April 22nd, for the first ever retrospective exhibition linked to his ‘ground-breaking’ Unlimited enterprise.

Variously an engineer, inventor and entrepreneur, Fry (1924-2005) was part of the eponymous West Country chocolate manufacturer, who used his wealth and creativity to launch a number of different companies, most famously the engineering firm Rotork. 

Liliane Lijn, Liquid Reflections, photo Caroline True 2023 

In 1966, Fry established Unlimited, a riposte to the traditional exclusivity of the art market and the whole notion of limited editions.He produced unlimited editions of work by some of the leading international artists of the day, works of art that could be retailed cheaply and in quantity, for the home.

To further emphasise this vision, the fledgling firm took a stand at the Ideal Home Exhibition. Ironically, the art objects Unlimited made during its short, two-year life are now collectors’ items.

Handsome, charismatic and an established member of the Sixties’ ‘jet set’, Jeremy Fry counted the likes of Princess Margaret, Lord Snowdon and David Hockney amongst his social circle.

Widcombe Manor

During the brief lifespan of Unlimited – 1967 to 1969 – he used the basement of his magnificent Georgian mansion, Widcombe Manor in Bath, to mass-produce objects based on original pieces made by artists who did not require their own hand to make multiple editions. In turn, this made those participating in Fry’s venture far more accessible to a wider audience. Though short-lived, the project was a huge success.

Although Unlimited was a huge success, with exhibitions across Britain and abroad, Fry closed the company when the Treasury determined that, as the art works were in unlimited editions, they were liable to Purchase Tax like any other retail item. The resultant 50% price hike made the business unviable and Fry took the decision to shut it down. The business had been founded shortly after the ‘Summer of Love’ and both the aesthetics of the art, which played with light and reflection, and the democratising impulse behind the idea, are resonant of that era. 

 Takis Signals, photo Caroline True 2023

Many of the works produced by Unlimited have since either languished in gallery and museum stores, or have resided in private collections, perhaps unrecognised today as part of an innovative experiment in the public promotion of art. For the first time in over fifty years, they will be reunited by the Holburne and presented at The Assembly Rooms, Bath.

This exhibition has been curated by Jeremy’s sons, Cosmo and Francis Fry with the Holburne Museum’s Chris Stephens. 

Chris Stephens, Director of the Holburne Museum says: “I am eager to promote the fact that there is so much more to Bath’s creative and cultural history than Georgian architecture. The city has been home to many major artists and designers since the 18th-century, but I am especially excited to celebrate Unlimited because of its bold ambitions to democratise art, by making it affordable for far more people than was traditionally the case. We are also delighted to be working in partnership with the National Trust to present this exhibition in The Assembly Rooms in the heart of Bath.”

Tom Boden, General Manager for the National Trust in Bath added “We’re pleased to be supporting the Holburne Museum with this exhibition in the Bath Assembly Rooms. This will be the first in a series of partnership events taking place in the Assembly Rooms whilst we uncover the history of the building, test and finalise plans for the future.”