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This special edition of the Decorative Arts Society Journal was produced in association with the William Shipley Group for RSA History, an independent body which organised a conference in November 2012 on the International Exhibition of 1862.
In 1887, to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the monarch’s coronation and the Army and Navy Club’s foundation, the Club commissioned a monumental white marble bust of Queen Victoria for display in its headquarters in Pall Mall, London. Club members awarded this prestigious commission to the highly regarded young British sculptor, Alfred Gilbert (1854–1934), who completed it in 1889. The bust remained in Club ownership until 2018, when it was saved for the nation after the Fitzwilliam Museum raised funds to prevent its export to New York. A virtuoso example of marble carving, the bust is an astonishingly unidealised yet deeply empathetic portrait of the iconic and oft-portrayed Queen-Empress. A little known and largely ignored masterpiece in Gilbert’s oeuvre, this striking bust is reconsidered here. Based on in-depth analysis and careful interpretation of surviving archival documents, as well as other contemporary textual and visual sources, this article pieces together the bust’s lengthy, complex commissioning history, situating it within the broader context of Gilbert’s mercurial life and work at this time.
At the onset of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, many French artists crossed the Channel for safety; some returned home but others remained in Britain, inspired by a thriving art market. Such artists cannot be dismissed as foreigners seeking refuge, as many went on to have an impact on British artistic production. One such artist was Marc-Louis-Emmanuel Solon (1835–1913). After nearly a decade at Sèvres Pottery, Solon arrived in Stoke-on-Trent in 1870 to work for Minton’s, where he perfected the pâte-sur-pâte method of porcelain decoration in relief. Solon’s multidisciplinary beginnings in Paris led him to ceramics, a medium in which he could incorporate aspects of art-making that were of greatest interest to him - applied arts with a personalised twist on classical themes.
During his time at Minton’s, Solon sought to secure not only his own reputation but also that of ceramics, in general, as a medium. Solon’s artistic trajectory mirrors a larger theme, for the great divide between media that scholarship tends to accentuate was not recognised by Solon and his peers. Similarly, the networks traversing the Channel allowed for artists to experiment, without needing to identify exclusively with one nationality or another. Solon exemplifies a wider phenomenon and promotes a call for the reassessment of artists who made similar choices, through working in the decorative arts.
Henry van de Velde (1863–1947) is rightly regarded as one of the major precursors of Art Nouveau. Having started out as a post-Impressionist painter, he switched to applied arts and architecture in 1893 while championing the new style in practice and theory via lectures, publications, and educational courses. These two sides of van de Velde’s activity have always been studied separately, but this article explores the dialectic between his theoretical and artistic work, to create a clearer picture of van de Velde’s intellectual universe and of the literary sources in which his ideas were rooted. A range of works and thinkers linked to the French intellectual world have been identified, which transform our understanding of the artist’s intellectual horizons. The importance of Vitalism and the human body both in van de Velde’s writings and in his artistic practice will also be examined.
A dedicated study will be made of van de Velde’s furniture designs, including a famous desk of 1899 with particularly pronounced Vitalist features. His artist friends and the artistic context of his day will be shown to play a key role here. In addition, an analysis of form and style will help us better understand the process by which the artist managed gradually to master the creation of works in three dimensions.
The Thinker, one of the most iconic sculptures of Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), is celebrated for its unique harmony, potency of form, and for its complex symbolic narrative; it originated from the sculptor’s fascination with fragments. It is one of the numerous sculptures and reliefs that adorn the sculptor’s life work, The Gates of Hell. The Gates inscribe Rodin in the rich tradition of decorative portals, uniting both architectural and sculptural form and function, a tradition that can be traced from the periods of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations through classical antiquity to the present.
Involvement with architectural and decorative sculpture marked the beginning of Rodin’s career, when he worked with several different decorative artists and ornamentalists, and when he was engaged in the decoration of several buildings in Paris and Brussels. The importance of this kind of artistic foundation was emphasised by Rodin, himself, who claimed in his later years: ‘I started as a craftsman, and then I became an artist. It’s the right one, the only method’. He also had experience as a ceramic decorator working for the Sèvres Porcelain Factory. This aspect of Rodin’s career and his interest in the decorative arts had a strong impact on his sculptural production, which is explained in the example of The Thinker and its complex history and meaning.
The Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter’s Seattle residence for Charles Douglas Stimson (1899–1901) introduced the English half-timbered style into Washington State at a scale that had not been attempted before. Cutter combined the ornamental vocabularies of classical, Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissance styles into successful residential architecture that balanced grandeur and intimacy to allow for both the formal and the casual moments in his clients’ lives. Cutter was also influenced by English Arts and Crafts designers, most notably William Morris, Philip Webb, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and Norman Shaw. He appreciated vernacular as well as high style. Indeed, he was as comfortable designing rustic Swiss chalets as he was in creating mansions.
Cutter was equally committed to interiors and furnishings. His almost obsessive devotion to detail resulted in rooms that were historically derived stage sets for living and entertaining. His work set a precedent and offered a prototype that would be copied and embellished by a host of local designers in the first decade of the twentieth century. Correspondence from Cutter, along with inventories and documentary interior photographs, provide a rare, complete picture of the design industry and designer/client relationships at the turn of the twentieth century.
The Glaswegian designer and teacher Grace Wilson Melvin (1892–1977) is today celebrated neither in Vancouver, nor in her native Scotland, although she played a pivotal role in helping to expand the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts (VSDAA) in British Columbia. This article aims to rectify this by highlighting the cross-cultural connections and impact of Melvin on Vancouver’s artistic community. Melvin, who studied at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) from 1907–18, and taught lettering and illumination there from 1920 to 1927, was given a leave of absence in order to travel to Vancouver to help to establish the Vancouver School. Melvin’s experience and skills gained during her time at GSA greatly influenced her teaching style and helped the VSDAA to grow and develop a diverse curriculum. She remained at VSDAA for over twenty years until her retirement in 1953. Through her publications and workbooks, including Basic Lettering for Art Students (1930), her educational impact can still be felt today. Through archival research in both the UK and Canada, this article will highlight Melvin’s impact, influence and role in Glasgow and Vancouver’s interlinked design history.
Otti Berger (1898–1944/45) was a Bauhaus designer, weaver, teacher and for a short time head of the Bauhaus Weaving Workshop. During a summer course in 1929 at the Practical Weaving School in Stockholm, she developed a fascination for old Scandinavian craft textiles, particularly the tapestry type rödlakan, rya and rag-rug weavings which came to influence her designs. She also studied the textile collections of the Museums of Decorative Arts in Oslo and in Bergen, where she had close relatives. She believed that hand and mechanical weaving should be used to mutual benefit, and she developed textiles with factories in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and in Britain. Unlike any other Bauhaus textile designer except, perhaps, Annie Albers, Berger’s reputation was international.
Berger conducted research into mixes of natural and artificial fibres that were durable and suitable for standardised production, patenting three of her inventions. Berger set up her own shop in Berlin featuring highly innovative fabrics, the focus being on the physical qualities of textiles - structure, elasticity and durability. Revolutionary light-reflecting and sound-absorbing fabrics were made in her studio, and she was one of the first female designers to use a designer label. Her avant-garde designs were shown in international exhibitions and magazines, and she frequently published articles herself. Tragically, Otti Berger was murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 or 1945, the exact date being unknown.
The decades between the end of the second World War and the Islamic revolution in 1979 saw a radical shift in the way that artists like Marcos Grigorian, Massoud Arabshahi and Parviz Tanavoli approached ceramics, working at the intersection of international modernism and Iranian cultural traditions to develop a new expressive language for clay. British potters also borrowed from this rich heritage, leading to an exchange of people and ideas from within the studio pottery movement. Some, like Philip Leach, lived in or travelled or travelled to Iran, while others were introduced via an exhibition organised by the British Council as part of one of the largest cultural festivals ever staged overseas. Conversely, Mohammad Mehdi Anoushfar, Monir and Mehdi Ghanbeigi and Abbas Qabchy, today among Iran’s most respected potters and professors, all spent time in England. Their stories have been largely under-appreciated to date and remain under-documented, but interviews with the artists along with previously unpublished archival records and photographs provide an interesting look at the mechanics of cross-cultural influences in ceramic design, thinking, and making in the twentieth century.
Following his famous father’s untimely death in 1852, Edward Welby Pugin (1834-75) successfully ran the family architectural practice, restoring or designing more than one hundred Catholic churches and a handful of houses. The Granville Hotel in Ramsgate, Kent was originally conceived and designed by E. W. Pugin as a terrace of eight symmetrical holiday villas. However, it soon became his financial and mental undoing. The furnishing of the hotel complex is the subject of this article. It has been generally assumed that E. W. Pugin manufactured all of his furniture in his own workshop in Ramsgate. Known as the South Eastern Works, it produced furniture to his designs not only for the Granville Hotel, but also for other commissions such as Scarisbrick Hall in Lancashire. However, contemporaneous comment in the local press suggests that the contents of the Granville Hotel were made both in Ramsgate and in London. E. W. Pugin was under financial strain when the hotel finally opened to paying guests in 1870, and he set about trying to capitalise on the new Granville designs. The emergence of two photographs dateable to before 1899 has allowed us to begin to clarify some of these attributions of the Granville furniture for the first time.
Paul A. Shutler
The RISD Museum owns the largest collection of works by the Gorham Manufacturing Company, comprising over 4,525 examples of silver, metalwork, furniture, jewellery, medals, bronze sculptures, design drawings, and watercolors. Many Gorham objects illustrate the trajectory of ‘Japanesque’ design as it transformed silver production in America and facilitated an amalgamation of Eastern design sources to permeate silver designs, forms, techniques, and ornamentation. The Furber Service, comprising hundreds of dining, serving, and decorative pieces made between 1869-80, until 1878 reflected the prevailing Renaissance Revival High Victorian style, yet pieces added after this date shifted towards Japanesque style.
Central to understanding the way in which Gorham designers and silversmiths used Japanese designs is the identification of specific volumes not valued principally as art books – although some of them were very costly – but rather actively handled on the smiths’ workbenches. Designs such as those of the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) were both copied and adapted. Gorham also incorporated Japanese metalworking technology, an aspect of Aesthetic silver that is frequently overlooked in favour of form and decoration. The extensive chromatic range of alloys and metalworking processes unique to Japanese metallurgy were integral to Gorham’s success with Japanesque designs.
Elizabeth A. Williams
At the end of 1876 Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), the prominent British designer and design theorist, realised his longstanding goal of visiting Japan, the source of distinctive art manufactures that had fascinated him for many years. This article describes how Dresser attained this goal, becoming – it is believed – the first professional designer from the West to visit Japan. Central to this story is Dresser’s relationship with the British fancy-goods importer Charles, Reynolds and Co. During the early 1870s, they established a new firm named Londos and Co which was dedicated to the acquisition, importation and sale of high-quality Japanese art manufactures. Dresser became a partner in Londos and also served as its art adviser.
Two of the firm’s earliest and most important buying assignments comprised the acquisition of large quantities of Japanese art manufactures for Londos and for Tiffany and Co, the American retailer. A careful analysis of Dresser’s relationship with Londos and Co illuminates one of his most significant characteristics: his adroitness as a strategic thinker, which is evidenced by his success in amalgamating the goals and resources of multiple entities for the purpose of visiting Japan, an experience that had a profound effect on his fortunes and artistic vision.
David A. Taylor
In an ethnic Hungarian region of what is today north-west Romania, peasant textile traditions that were in danger of dying out at the end of the nineteenth century were kept alive by one determined woman, Gyarmathy Zsigané Hory Etelka (1842–1910), who adapted the materials and patterns to suit the times. Between the wars and the shifting borders of the twentieth century, another woman, Kónya Gyuláné Schäfer Teréz (1884-1971), was largely responsible for raising the status and ensuring the survival of traditional stitching and embroidery. During the period of Communist rule and into the twenty-first century, a handful of women picked up the mantel and recorded what remained of the ancient and beautiful patterns of the open chain stitch, encouraging high quality sewing and research into these traditions.
Sara J. Meaker
Barn Close, Carlisle, was built in 1902 for the architect turned industrialist Edwin Scott-Nicholson (1873–1931). It is a house rooted in the Arts and Crafts approach prevalent in the last decades of the nineteenth century, but it belongs also to what Noel Carrington defined as ‘the post Morris period’. The carefully chosen furnishings of the interiors, assembled over the first three decades of the twentieth century, encapsulate the Arts and Crafts movement’s complex legacy and the struggle to forge a new direction for British design. William Morris textiles and William De Morgan ceramics reach back to the origins of the movement in the previous century; silver cups and covers by Omar Ramsden are consciously historicist in style, reflecting a wider love of chivalry, heraldry and pageantry; while pieces by Harold Stabler, Ambrose Heal and Harry Peach’s furnishing firms are indicative of a strong allegiance to the Design and Industries Association founded in 1915. The Barn Close collection shows both the plurality of taste in this period and the impossibility of drawing a clear line between design movements.
This article discusses recent research using antique black-and-white photographs of the apartments in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Russia, created in 1894-95 for Emperor Nicholas II and his family. One can detect the ‘English taste’ in the design of the private rooms belonging to the Imperial family. This assumption is supported by the lists of companies which supplied their wallpapers and fabrics in the Russian State archives – among them are English suppliers, such as Liberty, T. G. Litchfield, Charles Hindley and Sons and Morris and Co. In 2016 a joint study of this topic was conducted by the State Hermitage Museum and the Walker Greenbank Company of Buckinghamshire. It was possible to: identify the exact Morris and Co wallpapers that were used in the decor of the passage room in the Winter Palace; study the colour schemes of some of the private interiors (visible only in black-and-white photographs); and familiarise ourselves with the process of creating wallpapers in the 1890s, and the specifics of issuing orders for the Russian Imperial family in London. New data added important information to the history of the William Morris firm, and also expanded the notion of commercial and cultural ties between the Russian Empire and Great Britain towards the end of the nineteenth century.
In 1941 the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, purchased a large quantity of drawings, embroidery patterns and black and white photographs discovered at Kelmscott Manor, the former home of May Morris (1862-1938). These remained mostly uncatalogued until recent interest in May as a designer and embroiderer prompted further research. This article traces May’s creative process by considering examples from this collection, from sensitive plant studies taken directly from nature and inventive design sketches, through to the final patterns for such iconic works as the ‘Kelmscott’ bedcover. It examines her approach to line and colour, and explores her varied sources of cultural and historical influence. Important items in the Ashmolean’s collection are further highlighted in relation to William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as well as May’s Arts and Crafts collaborators, such as Walter Crane, Ernest Gimson, and the Pissarro family.
The Society of Antiquaries of London has owned Kelmscott Manor, the beloved Oxfordshire country house of William Morris and his daughter, May Morris, since 1962. Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has allowed the Society to plan a careful repair and reordering of the Manor and its buildings, and the scheme excludes motor vehicles from the site. It makes sympathetic use of the historic barns to introduce visitors to the Manor and to cater more fully for their needs. It closes the southern side of the principal farmyard with a new Learning Building to provide educational activities and a base for an artist or craftsperson in residence. In the house, the furnishing and decoration of the rooms will approach more closely their condition in the time of the Morris family, while new and improved spaces will be provided for temporary exhibitions and to allow visitors access to scholarly resources.
This article on the Purnell table and vase reveals the various sources of design, from those of the connoisseur Thomas Hope to a published collection of neoclassical vases, that were used to create an unusually well realised and unique testimonial piece. Research into the recipient of the table and vase, Purnell Bransby Purnell (1791-1866), demonstrates how appropriate the design would have been to his preferences and taste.
Designed by William Burges and painted by fourteen young artists between 1859 and 1863, the ‘Great Bookcase’ was recently displayed for the first time at the Ashmolean Museum. Made to hold books on art and architecture, it is painted with a sophisticated iconographic scheme relating to the pagan and Christian arts. Despite acknowledging that it was not ‘acceptable to present taste’, Kenneth Clark’s acquisition of the bookcase for the Ashmolean in 1933 was remarkably far-sighted. Nevertheless, it was to take over eighty years before the bookcase was placed on public display at the museum.
Through visual and technical examination, this article explores the work of William Burges and other artists between 1859 and 1862 in completing the painted decoration of his ‘Great Bookcase’. In particular, it attempts to understand the various stages, methods and materials of production, and to draw parallels with Burges’ ideas on medieval furniture. Later alterations to the structure and a connected simplification of the decorative scheme are also considered as part necessary, part aesthetic, responses to the bookcase falling over and being damaged in 1878.
The French enamel artist Charles Lepec (1830-90) first reached an audience outside France through his participation at the London International Exhibition of 1862. It was on this occasion that he came to the attention of Alfred Morrison (1821-97), who would become his greatest patron. When Lepec planned his stand at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, a large proportion of his display was borrowed back from Morrison. This article examines Lepec’s contribution in 1867, and how it led to widespread critical success. The opportunity is also taken, using previously unpublished contemporary documents, to examine aspects of this particular World’s Fair, and how Lepec was situated and considered in the company of his fellow participants.
Olivier Hurstel and Martin Levy
Prompted by the British Museum’s acquisition of a Pilkington’s lustreware vase given by William Burton to C. H. Read, a former Keeper at the British Museum, this article focusses on the unpublished correspondence between Burton and Read in the British Museum. Letters written between these long-standing friends over two decades reveal how the interest in contemporary manufactures fed into the huge emphasis then placed on connoisseurship – an indispensable part of any collecting activity. In so doing it uncovers much new information about the collecting world and its pre-occupations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The approach taken by Read and Burton of looking very carefully at quality and method of manufacture was basic at the time because of the problems museums across Europe were facing, which were all to do with nineteenth century reproductions and fakes. Burton’s analyses and experiments gave Read the answers he needed to identify modern copies of historic ceramics, demonstrating that relationships with contemporary manufacturers were thus a crucial part of a curator’s role in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – just as they are today.
Three important London-made art pottery collections had been acquired by the new London Museum by the end of the 1920s. A small but well-provenanced group of Doulton art pottery that had belonged to George Wallis, the keeper of the art collections at the South Kensington Museum, was purchased in 1912. A solicitor, Owen B. Gem, donated a large and significant collection of Martin ware just after the First World War. Then, in 1923, P. A.S. Phillips, a major benefactor of the London Museum, gifted a dozen pieces of William De Morgan pottery of exceptional quality, including vases and a charger in the Persian style. This article examines the motivation of the three collectors and illustrates the range of their collections. Just at the moment when these items entered the museum’s collection, fashions were changing and the appreciation and popularity of late Victorian art pottery had begun to wane.
This article is an expanded version of the paper of the same title given at a symposium on the re-discovery of the Victorians at the Ashmolean Museum in May 2016. Drawing on the recent acquisition by the V&A Archive of Art and Design of the Handley-Read Family Papers, it sheds some new light on Charles Handley-Read’s thoughts about the philosophy of collecting, and his ideas for the future of the Handley-Read Collection, largely in his own words.
Most histories of modern ceramics and glass tend to focus on the avant-garde. Instead, this article explores the overlooked potential of historicist design, viewed through the lens of a small and, in some ways, remote nation’s material culture -- Norway. In spite of rich craft traditions, Norway had little history for ceramics and glass. Catering to national sympathies in an age of rapid modernisation, these new designs alluded to the national heritage whilst simultaneously reshaping its subject. A range of case studies traces this development.
George Wragge Ltd was one of the key stained glass providers for secular decorative glazing schemes in Manchester and Salford, and one of the most significant stained glass makers in the North of England at the height of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Upon his retirement at the age of forty-five, George Wragge (1863-1932) had established and overseen an extremely successful business in the applied arts, including stained glass, and had been managing a group of talented individuals whose work was responsive to a variety of contexts. Their dynamism and skill combines to create spectacular compositions in stained and decorative glass in some of Manchester’s most opulent buildings of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. There is a lack of knowledge and awareness of the significance of companies such as Wragge’s, who were active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This article aims to broaden the scope of enquiry into Arts and Crafts stained glass to include domestic, recreational and commercial contexts, settings which had fewer constraints on form and content of windows as compared with ecclesiastical settings.
Arthur Romney Green began making furniture in 1900, only after having worked for some years as a maths teacher in South Africa, and is probably less well-known than certain other craftsmen identified with the Cotswold School. However, his extensive writing, which includes an unpublished autobiography, sheds new light on the left-leaning craft communities to which he belonged, as well as on his own evolution as a woodworker. His style would be formed in part by fellow craftworkers in Haslemere and Hammersmith, and through the creative partnership he long maintained with his brother, a successful architect. His own inner resources included his original calling of mathematics and a belief in breadth of experience as the key to creativity.
This article presents an overview of many of the designers, makers and artists who moved to the new Garden City of Letchworth, Hertfordshire, in the years from its beginnings in 1903 to the First World War.These included Alec Hunter and the St Edmundsbury Weaving Works; the bookbinder Douglas Cockerell; W. H. Cowlishaw and the Iceni Pottery; and the woodworker Stanley Parker. The article examines the concept of the ‘Simple Life’, so important to many of those who made the pioneering move to the new town. An appendix gives brief information on thirty key figures.