Archive for the Wallpaper Category

First Impressions: The Art of Design

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fine & Decorative Arts, Rugs, Textiles, Wallpaper, XC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Tile or panel design, W.T. Copeland & Sons, Ltd. (formerly Spode), c. 1880

As much as I love textiles and decorative objects, I am often just as attracted to the designer’s drawings, sketches and samples as to the finished pieces. The objects, no matter how beautiful, are immutable, fixed in the here and now. On paper, it is all possibility—often the line work is graceful and sinuous, the colors are rich and vibrant, and the patterns, free of prosaic form, veer toward the abstract. The flatness of the design is part of what I find so appealing. In two dimensions, the objects are not subject to gravity, they represent that most fleeting thing—the creative impulse. They embody the alchemy of transformation, idea into image, captured in pencil, ink or watercolor.

Dagobert Peche Design for a coffeepot, c. 1920

Design for a Sèvres porcelain cup, Empire period, c. 1800

In some cases, as in the designs of James Leman, the delicious yellows and oranges that are so pleasing to the eye represent various shades of metallic thread— which however sumptuous and elegant in the finished textile, is a completely different visual experience. In Leman’s designs on paper, his lyrical line and masterful layering of abstracted botanical images are enhanced by the warm, saturated colors. As patterns, woven in metallic thread on a heavy silk fabric, they are breathtaking and grand, but no longer have the down to earth, fresh from the garden appeal that they have on paper.

James Leman, design for silk fabric, 1711

I love the annotations on many of these sketches—dates, yardages, cost calculations, style names and numbers—many are in the artist’s hand alongside the images. They are a decorative counterpoint to the design, often extremely graceful and engaging in themselves. You can also see marks and notations made by the printers, engravers, weavers and dyers—the artisans who actually executed the designs. The combination of the drawing and the notations provide a compelling history, tracing the evolution from design to finished product.

Design for candelabra, c. 1840-1873
Elkington & Co. Ltd.

Tin-plate molds, Shoolbred, Loveridge & Shoolbred of Wolverhampton

Tea pots, creamers and sugar bowls, Liberty archive, c. 1900-1912

These working sketches were executed on paper, and, at the time they were created, not considered precious pieces to be treated with great care. As a result, the paper is often yellowed and brittle, and you can see smudges, folds, creases and spills. On many of them you can still see the grids and guidelines—another interesting counterpoint to the pattern and design. I don’t see these designs as mere preliminaries, inferior to a perfect, finished object. To my eye, they are works of art in themselves.

William Morris, Watercolor design for Evenlode, 1883
(design for  cotton fabric, printed by indigo discharge)

William Morris, watercolor design for Redcar carpet, c. 1881-1885

William Morris & Co. wallpaper designs, c. 1860s

I’ve restricted myself to designs for decorative objects, tableware, textiles and wallpaper and resisted the temptation to include designs for furniture, architecture and fashion. I have also deliberately not juxtaposed the drawings with the finished objects made from the sketch, because for me these stand as complete works on their own.

Design for seven-piece coffee set, Sèvres, 1899

The designs below, drawn in pencil or pen and ink, are quite elegant and visually stunning. This page of designs for tea strainers is beautifully drawn, patterned and balanced—and could easily be taken for a contemporary abstract drawing.

Designs for tea strainers, c. 1900-1912
Pen and ink on ruled paper, Liberty, London

In a narrative vein, this delightful Rococo-style sketch of insect figures, for use as a decorative motif, is playful and lively.

Charles-Germain de Saint Aubin (1721-86), sketch for decorative motif

This Wiener Werkstätte floor lamp design has a figurative totem-like quality, and is drawn in a loose and graceful style. Dagobert Peche’s sketches always have a flowing, effortless hand-drawn quality—a wonderful contrast to the elegant formalism of the objects made from his designs.

Dagobert Peche, design for floor lamp, 1920

This sketch for a graceful carafe has a very different presence than the finished piece of heavily embossed silver. As an object, the carafe has weight, volume, shine and a beautifully textured surface. The drawing, flat and decorative, has a very different, wonderful combination of elements. There is a narrative feel to it—the intricate patterning, sensuous curves, twisted serpent handle and amusing squirrel seem to be telling a story.

Arabian shape Claret jug, c. 1880
Workshop drawings of Oomersee Mawjee & Sons, Kutch

This gorgeous ink and wash drawing of a cloche has so much presence and volume. The sculptural decorative element at the top is exquisitely rendered.

Cloche, French, eighteenth century

Much of the inspiration for decorative objects comes from nature, as these floral designs for textiles by Anna Maria Garthwaite illustrate so beautifully. These botanical patterns, which take on a seriousness and formality when woven in silk and brocade, are exuberant on the page.

Anna Maria Garthwaite, silk design, c. 1730

Anna Maria Garthwaite, silk design, detail, c. 1730

Anna Maria Garthwaite, silk design (possibly a copy of a French original) detail, 1733

Some of my favorite designs are for tea pots, tea cups and china patterns. They are drawn in flattened-out, foreshortened shapes to best show the designs—you can really appreciate the quality of line, pattern and detail. The decorative motifs are fanciful, lighthearted and graceful—exactly the qualities treasured in a piece of delicate porcelain.

Tea cup designs, Spode, c. 1846

Majolica design, Apple Blossom flower pot, Wedgewood, c. 1850-1860

Coffee and Tea Cups, Spode, c. 1840

Dagobert Peche, Design for a teapot, c. 1922

Textile designs are executed in both minimalist and very painterly styles. Often you will see only one piece of the design completed painted, with the repeats only sketched in. When the designs are for woven fabric or rugs, you sometimes see the graph paper grids they are sketched on.

Fabric designs from Lyons, France, 19th century

Textile design, factory of Jean-Michel Haussmann, Colmar, 1797

Dagobert Peche, design for tapestry fabric for Johann Backhausen & Söhne, 1912

Textile and wallpaper designs were often collected in sample books—some were for companies and/or designers to keep track of their patterns, others were used to market the fabrics. Sample books for textiles, very popular in the 18th century through the 20th century, provide a wealth of information about the history of pattern design, dyeing techniques and the technical means of production. Often they contain swatches of the actual fabrics, shown in the various available colorways.

Wallpaper and border designs, Manufacture Dufour, Paris, early 19th century

Designs for block print fabric, French,  early 19th century

In 2008, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum mounted an interesting exhibition, Multiple Choice: from Sample to Product, that featured sample books for tableware, textiles for interiors and fashion, wallpaper, even buttons. Seeing these lovely books, which contain such a rich visual history, was quite poignant—in the contemporary design world, with electronic formats taking precedence, the paper sample book is truly a thing of the past.

Among the sketches I’ve referenced in this post, many are by well-known designers, others are from an anonymous hand. Some designs were never turned into objects, others are still being manufactured today. But they all continue to live vibrantly on the page, their yellowed and tattered pages still emitting sparks of inspiration.

Wider Connections

The French Archive of Design and Decoration by Stafford Cliff

The English Archive of Design and Decoration by Stafford Cliff

Dagobert Peche and the Wiener Werkstätte, edited by Peter Noever

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Venetian Red Bookshelf: 2009 Picks

Posted in Book Review, Christine Cariati, Design, Female Artists, Fiber Arts, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Textiles, Wallpaper with tags , , , , on December 1, 2009 by Christine Cariati

Most every Venetian Red post cites a book or two related to the topic at hand. Occasionally we review books at length. Many readers have commented with appreciation, and we decided that more in this department just might be better. Today we introduce Venetian Red Bookshelf, a periodic round up of books, favorites from our bookshelves and studio worktables.

Albrecht Dürer, Self-Portrait, 1500

In her beautiful book,  A Face to the World, Laura Cumming writes engagingly about the art of the self-portrait. Cumming draws you into her subject with the mesmerizing self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) on the cover and keeps your attention by her thoughtful inquiries into the intriguing art of the self portrait via literature, philosophy, history and biography. The book is thoroughly researched, very well-written, extremely entertaining and beautifully illustrated with self-portraits from Dürer to Warhol. —Christine Cariati.

The Grammar of Ornament, by Owen Jones. A classic in the annals of design; there isn’t much more to be said here. But if you do want want more, you might be interested in the VR post A Question of Ornament.Liz Hager

Necklace, Jaipur, mid-nineteenth century

Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts, edited by Anna Jackson and Amin Jaffer, was published as a companion to the current exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. It is a lushly illustrated book that explores both the reality and fantasy surrounding India’s maharajas, with knowledgeable essays about the splendid paintings, textiles, jewelry, metalwork and furniture of India’s rulers from the 18th century to 1947. —Christine Cariati.

Yasuhiro Suzuki—Cabbage Bowls, paperclay. Each leaf “peels” off to become its own functional bowl.

Designing Design, by Kenya Hara. “Creativity is to discover a question that has never been asked. If one brings up an idiosyncratic question, the answer he gives will necessarily be unique as well.” Quite possibly the most inspirational book in my collection.  This book by Japanese designer and curator Kenya Hara is chock full of pearls of deep wisdom on design as a philosophy of life. In between them are loads of images of creative solutions masquerading as products, graphics, systems, food, art. Think different!—Liz Hager

Gunta Stölzl, Untitled, watercolor and colored chalk, 1921

Finally, a book that does justice to the contributions of the women of the Bauhaus movement, Ulrike Müller’s Bauhaus Women: Art, Handicraft, Design. Müller explores the life and art of the more recognized artists—weavers Anni Albers and Gunta Stölzl and metalworker Marianne Brandt—along with those whose work has been largely neglected, such as Gertrud Grunow, Ida Kerkovius, Benite Otte, Otti Berger, Ilse Fehling, Lou Scheper-Berkenkamp, et al. An excellent companion book is Gunta Stolzl: Bauhaus Master, recently published by the Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with their current exhibition, Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity.Christine Cariati.

Color: A Natural History of the Palette, by Victoria Findlay. In this part travelogue, part historical investigation Findlay traverses the globe in search of the often-surprising origin of natural pigments and dyes. Maybe you know that the “Ultramarine Blue” pigment was originally ground up lapis lazuli mined only in Afghanistan. (Michaelangelo is reputed to have held up a painting waiting for the stuff.) But did you know that the royal purple of the ancient world was made from the mucous gland of a sea snail (murex brandaris) or that Napoleon might have died from the arsenic in the green paint of his wallpaper on St. Helena? This book is a welcomed addition to any painter’s bookshelf.  — Liz Hager

Winifred Gill, Sketch of dancers, 1916

Beyond Bloomsbury: Designs of the Omega Workshops 1913-19 was published to coincide with the exhibition of the same name at The Courtauld Gallery, London, which was held from June-September of this year. It is a beautiful book which, in addition to showing finished pieces, also includes many preliminary sketches for designs. For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, a related exhibition, A Room of Their Own: The Bloomsbury Artists in American Collections is currently at Mills College, Oakland until December 13, 2009. —Christine Cariati.

William Kentridge: Five Themes (catalog). William Kentridge is quite possibly the most talented artist working today. He’s a man of enormous creative capacity, who has profound things to say. If you missed the “Five Themes” retrospective in San Francisco and absolutely cannot get to NY MOMA this spring to see it, this catalog may be a painful indication of what you have missed. If you did see the show, the catalog will forever be a reminder of his particular genius.  For more on the exhibition, see Last Days in San Francisco.Liz Hager

Wallpaper: The Ultimate Guide by Charlotte Abrahams is a rather giddy celebration of wallpaper, tracing its history, designers, manufacturers and uses—and has many full-page reproductions of contemporary designs. A good companion to the 2005 second edition of The Papered Wall: The History, Patterns and Techniques of Wallpaper edited by Leslie Hoskins which takes a comprehensive and detailed historical approach to the subject. —Christine Cariati.

Francisco Goya, from Los Caprichos, 1797-98, etching.

The Demon & The Angel, by Edward Hirsch. Mark Rothko once observed that “All art deals with intimations of mortality.” Drawing predominantly on Frederico Garcia Lorca’s concept of the the duende (literally translated as “demon,” although the Spanish word implies inspiration in the face of tragedy, even death), poet Edward Hirsch delves enthusiastically into the source of artistic inspiration, which he believes emanates from both the “irrational splendors” of the duende and the inspirational angel (divine, though not religious, notion). Not limiting himself to poets, Hirsch also invokes Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Jimi Hendrix, Portuguese Fado.  It’s heady to the point of obscurity in parts, but still worth the read for the thought-provoking nature of many of its insights.  —Liz Hager

Trade textile, block-printed and dyed cotton, Gujarat, c.1340-80

Each of the four small hard-cover books included in V&A Pattern: Slipcased Set #1 (William Morris, Digital Pioneers, Indian Florals and The Fifties) comes with a CD which designers can use to rework and redraw the patterns for their own use (after obtaining a license from the V&A.) The V&A plans to issue three more sets in this series, the next, V&A Pattern Slipcase #2, will be out in early 2010 and will include Owen Jones, Novelty Patterns, Secret Garden and Kimono. Not nearly as much fun as spending endless hours rifling through the V&A textile collections in person, but the books are lovely, with an interesting and somewhat unusual assortment of patterns that provide an inspiring glimpse into the vast resources in the V&A’s textile collection. —Christine Cariati.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893, oil, tempera & pastel on cardboard.

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland.  What working artist facing the inspirational void hasn’t felt a fevered terror similar to the one depicted in Munch’s celebrated painting?  This booklet of 188 pages is both a pragmatic reminder of reality—i.e. “Making  art now means working in the face of uncertainty; it means living with doubt and contradiction, doing something no one much cares whether you do, and for which there may be neither audience nor reward”— and soothing medicinal balm—i.e. “The best you can do is make art you care about—and lot’s of it! The rest is largely a matter of perseverance.” No artist should be without this. —Liz Hager

A Different Canvas: Charles Burchfield’s Landscapes for Interiors

Posted in Christine Cariati, Design, Fine & Decorative Arts, Flora & Fauna, Painting, Textiles, Wallpaper with tags on November 18, 2009 by Christine Cariati

This is the fourth installment in a series of posts in which Venetian Red explores aspects of artist-designed textiles and wallpaper.  For all posts in the series, click here.

by Christine Cariati

Charles Burchfield, Morning Glories, c.1925
Design for fabric
Burchfield Penney Art Center

When Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) was a young man in Ohio he painted experimental watercolors of nature and insects in an expressionistic and exuberant style where color had deep emotional resonance and even sounds were depicted through an invented calligraphic shorthand. In 1930, the newly-opened Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted Burchfield’s work in their inaugural solo exhibition.

Charles E. Burchfield, The Insect Chorus, 1917
Opaque & transparent watercolor w/ink, graphite & crayon
Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, New York

In the 1930s and 1940s Burchfield shifted gears and began to paint the masterful, quiet yet dramatic portraits of industrial small town and city life for which he became very well known. These paintings were mostly watercolors but had the solidity and palette more commonly found in oil painting.

Charles Burchfield, Freight Cars Under a Bridge, 1933
Watercolor, Detroit Institute of Arts

Then, in 1943, when Burchfield was fifty years old, he returned to the landscape and created a stunning body of work. These large-scale, semi-abstracted landscapes vibrate with energy that lovingly reflects on and explores the landscape of upstate New York—the change of seasons, weather, clouds and flora—in a deeply inspired and spiritual way that has strong psychological and emotional resonance.

Charles Burchfield, Glory of Spring (Radiant Spring), 1950
Watercolor on paper
Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York
photo courtesy Gary Mamay

VR recently discovered that in 1921, after studying at the Cleveland School of Art, the young Burchfield relocated to Buffalo, New York (where he lived the rest of his life) to work as a wallpaper designer at M.H. Birge & Sons. He also designed coordinating fabrics for interiors. These designs are harbingers of Burchfield’s later work, celebrating nature and the seasons in a decorative yet very painterly and beautiful way. It’s an interesting variation on the theme of established artists venturing into textile design and yet another example of the fruitfulness of embracing both decorative and fine art.

Charles Burchfield, Bleeding Hearts, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, Robins and Crocuses, 1929
Design for wallpaper

Charles Burchfield, September, c. 1925

A retrospective of Burchfield’s work, Heatwaves in a Swamp: The Paintings of Charles Burchfield, is at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles through January 3, 2010.

Dagobert Peche, Genius of Ornament

Posted in Ceramics, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Furniture, Jewelry, Textiles, Wallpaper, XC with tags , , , , on July 28, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Dagobert PechePortrait of Dagobert Peche, c.1920

Dagobert Peche (1887-1923) was a brilliant, versatile and eclectic designer who, in fewer than 10 years with the Wiener Werkstätte, created more than 3000 decorative objects of great beauty, energy and imagination that were full of movement, light and playfulness. Peche’s decorative objects were wonders of linear grace and inventiveness; his jewelry designs were exquisite miniature sculptures; and his textile and wallpaper designs, with their extraordinary radiant color and pattern, are perhaps his greatest legacy.

Dagobert Peche—DeerDagobert Peche, Jewel Box, 1920

Josef Hoffmann, the founder, along with Koloman Moser, of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903, said upon Peche’s premature death at the age of 36:

Dagobert Peche was the greatest ornamental genius Austria has produced since the Baroque Age…All of Germany has arrived at a new stylistic epoch thanks to Peche’s patterns.

Dagobert Peche—Schwalbenschwantz, fabric, 1911/13Dagobert Peche, Schwalbenschwantz, fabric, 1911/13

Josef Hoffman and Kolo Moser, who both taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Art), founded the Wiener Werkstätte in Vienna in 1903. They were influenced by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement in England and inspired by their work in establishing a creative interaction of art, design and craftsmanship. Hoffman and Moser published a brochure outlining this philosophy of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) in 1905:

The limitless harm done in the arts and crafts field by low-quality mass production on the one hand and by the unthinking imitation of old styles on the other is affecting the whole world like some giant flood…It would be madness to swim against this tide. Nevertheless, we have founded our workshop…
We seek to establish close contact between the public, designer and craftsman, and to create a good and simple household object. We start with function, usefulness is our first requirement. Our strength lies in good proportions and proper use of materials. Where possible, we shall attempt to be decorative, but not compulsively so and not at any cost. The value of artistic work and its design needs to be acknowledged and appreciated once more. The work of craftsman is to be held to the same standard as that of the painter and sculptor. We cannot and will not compete with cheapness; it is mainly achieved at the expense of the worker, and we feel that recapturing for him the joy of creation and a humane existence is our foremost obligation…

They did not want to rely on overly expensive materials, especially in their jewelry, so they used a lot of silver, gilt, enamel, and semi-precious stones—but no diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

Josef Hoffmann—BroochJosef Hoffmann, Brooch, 1910

Initially, the aesthetic of the Wiener Werkstätte and Josef Hoffmann was one of simplicity, clarity of shape (often square), and a strict adherence to form. When Peche joined the Wiener Werkstätte, his more fluid, ornamental style began to dominate.

Josef HoffmanJosef Hoffmann, seated in a chair of his own design, c.1890

Josef Hoffmann—cigarette caseJosef Hoffmann, Cigarette case, 1912

Josef Hoffmann—Pot
Josef Hoffmann, Pot, porcelain, c.1905

Josef Hoffmann—Spoon
Josef Hoffmann, Serving spoon,c.1905

Dagobert Peche was born in Lungau, Austria in 1887. He wanted to be a painter, but his older brother Ernst claimed that role, so Dagobert went to Vienna in 1906 and trained as an architect at the Technische Hochschule. In 1911, at a banquet honoring Austrian architect Otto Wagner on his seventieth birthday, he met Josef Hoffmann. Peche did freelance textile design for the Wiener Werskätte from 1912 to 1915, when Hoffmann invited him to become a full member. In 1917, after a brief, unsuccessful stint in the  army, Peche moved to Zürich to take charge of the new Wiener Werkstätte branch there.

Wiener Werkstatte, ZurichWiener Werkstätte shop, Zurich, 1917

Peche had gone to secondary school in Stüttgart where became interested in Baroque and Rococo design. He also greatly admired the work of Aubrey Beardsley and was passionate about ornamentation. To Peche’s credit, he incurred the wrath of Adolf Loos by gilding the apples on a tree with gold leaf—unable to see the beauty or humor, Loos fumed that Peche had destroyed a whole year’s crop. In his polemic, Ornament and Crime, written in 1908, Loos wrote that “ornamentation was a grotesque relic of humanity’s unwholesome past.”

Dagobert Peche—Box in the Shape of an Apple, c.1920Dagobert Peche, Box in the Shape of an Apple, c.1920

For the Wiener Werkstätte, Peche designed metalwork, ceramics, mirror frames, glass, textiles, wallpaper, furniture, books and jewelry.

Dagobert Peche—ChairDagobert Peche, Boudoir Chair for an Elegant Lady, 1912

Dagobert Peche—Tea CaddyDagobert Peche, Tea Caddy, 1916

In all these pieces there is a quality of lightness, and a painterly, romantic touch. He integrated ornamentation into his designs, and often camouflaged the object’s function. He was pushing the limits of the Wiener Werkstatte’s philosophy of utilitarian design, but he justified it this way:

It is simply the product of art imposed on craftsmanship. The art enlivens the elements and branches of the craft in which the object to be created requires a certain look. Essentially, all of these are art objects, simply not fine art, for they generally have a function as well.

Dagobert Peche—Bird-shaped Candy BoxDagobert Peche, Bird-shaped Candy Box, 1920

Dagobert Peche—VaseDagobert Peche, Vase, c.1912

Dagobert Peche—Brooch
Dagobert Peche, Brooch, Zurich, c.1917-19

Dagobert Peche—fabric designDagobert Peche, Diomedes, fabric design, 1919

Dagobert Peche—Wallpaper designDagobert Peche, Wundervogel, wallpaper design, c.1914

Unlike the British Arts & Crafts movement which hoped to create a socialist state where excellent design and craftsmanship was universally available, improving the quality of life for all, the Wiener Werkstätte did not have such a clear agenda or widespread support. There was only a small segment of artistically engaged, wealthy Austrians who appreciated their efforts—among them the artist Gustav Klimt. His portrait below is of Eugenie Primavesi who, with her industrialist husband Otto, and cousin Robert, acquired a significant financial stake in the Wiener Werkstätte in 1914.

Gustav Klimt—Portrait of Eugenie PrimavesiGustav Klimt, Portrait of Eugenie Primavesi, c.1913-14

The Wiener Werkstätte closed in 1932. In future posts, Venetian Red will delve more deeply into the exquisite textiles produced by the Wiener Werkstätte and the interesting people, many of them women, who designed them. We can only imagine what amazing things Dagobert Peche would have designed if his life had not been cut short by a tumor misdiagnosed as TB. Toward the end of his life, Peche became nervous and solitary, and, frustrated with designing only for the wealthy, longed to create beautiful design that could be enjoyed by all.

To see many more examples of Peche’s designs and sketches, I highly recommend Dagobert Peche and the Wiener Werkstätte, Yale University Press, published with the Neue Galerie, New York.

Dagobert Peche—PosterDagobert Peche, Poster for Wiener Werkstätte Fashions, c.1919

Eminent Victorian: William Morris and “The Beauty of Life”

Posted in Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Textiles, Wallpaper, XC with tags , , , , , on June 11, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

WilliamMorrisOn his first trip to France in 1855, the 21-year-old William Morris wrote to his mother: “I do not hope to be great at all in anything, but perhaps I may reasonably hope to be happy in my work.” This, for me, sums up Morris’ greatness: his prodigious energy, insatiable curiosity and passion had the underpinnings of a tremendous work ethic, moral integrity and true decency. When Morris died in 1896, at the age of 62, his doctor said the cause of death was simply “being William Morris.” And no wonder—Morris was a poet, novelist, bibliophile, translator, embroiderer, calligrapher, engraver, gardener, decorator, dyer, weaver, architectural preservationist and Socialist. He designed furniture, printed and woven textiles, stained glass, tiles, carpets, tapestry, murals, wallpaper, books and type. An early environmentalist, the floral designs for which he is famous were informed by his knowledge of horticulture and inspired in part by medieval tapestries and the many gardens he planted and tended.

WMIrisWilliam Morris, design for Iris, printed cotton, c.1876

WMJasmineWilliam Morris, Jasmine, wallpaper, 1872

In 1847, after an idyllic childhood, Morris was sent away to Marlborough College a few months after the death of his father. He hated the school but loved the surrounding landscape and spent as much time as possible roaming the countryside. While at Marlborough, Morris abandoned his family’s tame Protestantism and embraced the music, ritual and aesthetics of Anglo-Catholicism. When he went up to Oxford in 1853, he intended to devote his life to God, but he soon abandoned the church for art. He always had a taste for things medieval and Gothic—it is said that he read the novels of Walter Scott at age 4. While at Oxford, he was very influenced by the work of John Ruskin, especially his essay “The Nature of Gothic” in his book The Stones of Venice. Oxford was also where he met his life-long friend, the painter Edward Burne-Jones, the son of a gilder from Birmingham who educated Morris about the plight of working-class laborers.

WMEBJEdward Burne-Jones and William Morris, 1890
photo:William Morris Gallery, London

William Morris was a Renaissance man in Victorian times. He is considered to be the founder, along with John Ruskin, of the Arts & Crafts movement. In his lecture, The Beauty of Life, given in 1880, Morris said: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” He despised the aesthetic failings of the machine age and the division of labor that broke down production, from design to execution, into separate tasks. He extolled the joys of handwork and the integrity of creative labor. He wanted to unify art and craftsmanship. He wrote: “If I were to say what is at once the most important production of art and the thing most longed for, I should answer, a beautiful house.”

A William Morris interior was the antithesis of the Victorian aesthetic of overstuffed rooms, draped with endless yards of fabric, filled with memorabilia, potted plants and heaps of mass-produced decorative embellishments.

VictorianroomVictorian drawing Room, Wickham Hall, Kent, 1897

Even though Morris combined densely patterned carpets, upholstery and wallpaper, the designs, influenced by nature but with orderly, flat areas of color and a graceful linear quality, had a clean simplicity and elegance.

KelmscottDrawing Room, Kelmscott Manor

Earlier I mentioned Morris’ decency. He insisted on a pleasant environment for his workers and his workshops were filled with light and air.

MertonAbbeyMerton Abbey, hand-blocking chintz in the print shop

He also believed everyone should have access to beautiful things: “What business have we with art, unless we can all share it?” He was a man who embodied enormous contradictions: an environmentalist who derided industrialization and urbanization, yet spent much of his life working in London; a Socialist who designed luxury goods for the wealthy and predicted the demise of capitalism. This latter conflict, in part, led Morris away from design into activism and book publishing, but not before appointing his disciple, the extremely talented John Henry Dearle, as the chief designer at Morris & Co.

JHDArtichokeJohn Henry Dearle, Artichoke wallpaper, 1899

JHDcherwellJohn Henry Dearle, Cherwell, wall hanging, 1897
Block printed velveteen

Morris devoted the last 10 years of his life to book publishing. Dissatisfied with the state of British publishing, he founded the Kelmscott Press “with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty.” Not surprisingly, it was very important to Morris for his books to have a strong visual element and they were filled with exquisite detail, including illustrations, decorative motifs and printed cloth book covers.

WMbookcoverWilliam Morris, The Roots of the Mountains (London, Chiswick Press, 1890), bound in Honeysuckle printed cotton

WMBookWilliam Morris, for the Kelmscott Press
Proof, title-page, The History of Reynard the Fox, 1893

Even more significant than his own prodigious output is the role Morris played as a catalyst, leaving an enormous legacy to craftsmen, designers, writers, publishers and politicians. He also inspired the founding of many schools and guilds devoted to the Arts & Crafts aesthetic.

CraftsmanThe Craftsman, October 1901
(The first issue, dedicated to William Morris)

William Morris contributed to, and inspired, the renaissance of British craftsmanship which led to an exciting new generation of British textile designers—Dorothy Larcher, Phyllis Barron, Enid Marx among many others. These designers embraced many of Morris’ ideals, but were determined to develop a new, more international aesthetic—experimenting with vegetable dyes, block-printing and traditional hand weaving techniques and taking inspiration from Italian, Scandinavian and Eastern European folk art. Some, inspired by the Bauhaus in Weimar, moved into industrial production.

Dorothy Larcher, Small Feather, block printed linen, 1930sDorothy Larcher, Small Feather, block-printed linen, 1930s

Morris loved beauty and nature but especially delighted in the man made co-existing in harmony with nature—and every beautiful object he created in his intensely productive life was a tribute to that vision.

“My work is the embodiment of dreams in one form or another.” Letter to Cornell Price, Oxford, 1856.

WMsnakesheadWilliam Morris, Snakeshead, printed cotton, 1876

Pochoir Portfolios: E.A. Seguy’s Floréal

Posted in Liz Hager, Textiles, Wallpaper with tags , , , , on June 12, 2008 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2008. All Rights Reserved

E.A. Seguy, color pochoir from the Floréal portfolio ca. 1920

While on an excursion in New York a few years ago I stopped by Leonard Fox Rare Books, eager to view fabrics designed by painters Sonia and Robert Delaunay. The Delaunays’ textiles were well worth the visit, but it was the experience afterward—leafing through the stunning portfolios of E.A. Seguy’s work—that was for me like the rich butter chocolate icing on the cake—so delicious I just couldn’t stop myself from consuming to the point of sensory overload.  Considering the prolific output of this designer, I was surprised and dismayed to find that very few of the particulars of his life are a matter of public record. In fact, according to Leslie Overstreet, curator of rare books at the Smithsonian and author of Botanicals, the designer’s identity is today still largely a mystery. (Intriguingly, “he” might even have been a “she.”)

Seguy was active predominently in Paris between 1900 until the early 30s. He produced produced eleven albums of illustrations and designs including Les Fleurs et Leurs Applications Decoratives (1900), Samarkande—20 Compositions en Couleurs dans le Style Oriental (1914), Floréal (1920), Papillons (1924), Insectes (1924), Bouquets et Frondaisons (1926), Primavera—Dessins et Colori Nouveaux (1929), Suggestions (1930), and Prismes—40 Planches de Dessins et Coloris Nouveaux (1931).

The brilliance of the color scheme typical of Seguy’s designs was due to their execution in the pochoir illustration technique, essentially the hand-stenciling of watercolor or gouache colors onto a black printed design. Pochoir is said to have been developed by the Chinese in the first millennium, but pushed to aesthetic heights by the French between 1800-1920.   Generally the decorative portfolios were produced as a kind of style manual for textile, wallpaper and murals, much like Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament was an earlier generation.

The natural world was Seguy’s main source of inspiration.  The bug designs are probably Seguy’s best-known works, deservedly so. The artist beautifully rendered his exotic and sumptuous butterfly subjects in a level of detail befitting curiosity cabinet specimens and, yet, there is no mistaking that a superb eye for decorative pattern has directed the whole exercise.

E.A. Seguy, Beetle Pattern ca. 1925-30

Though the bugs were incomparably unique, it was the Floréal collection that tugged at my aesthetic heart strings.  Seguy straddled the Arts Nouveau and Deco styles. In the Floréal designs,  the legacy of the Art Nouveau style is right before you—the fanciful, naturally-inspired, swirling forms associated with Nouveau are in abundance. But the designs also anticipate the bodacious color schemes and geometric obsession of the Deco style. In that sense, the portfolio is a wonderful document of a decorative style in transition, a fascinating design artifact even.  Leaving it at that description though wouldn’t do the collection complete justice. Simply put, Floréal is a rich and opulent luxury.

Wider Connections

Textile Designers—A fabulous visual resource on the history of textile design.

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