Page 1

the victoria and albert museum

Edited by Julius Bryant

the victoria and albert museum

art and design for all

art and design for all


1 ‘La Gloire’ vase Sèvres, c. 1850, London The Victoria and Albert Museum Inv.-Nr. 452-1852

2 Cup with lid probably made in Bidar, Karnataka, India. Purchased at the Great Exhibition of 1851, London The Victoria and Albert Museum Inv.-Nr. 151-1852

3

1

seemed to be directed towards the past. This is by no means surprising. It is clear from the debates that accompanied the founding of the School of Design that there was a widespread consensus that contemporary designers and manufacturers would naturally turn to the art of the past, from which they had much to learn; and historical items were prominent among the material acquired for the School of Design in the years before Cole took it over. Moreover, contemporary decorative art almost invariably made use of historical styles, so it would hardly have been possible for anyone, whether artisan, manufacturer, art teacher or member of the public, to develop a critical perspective on it without studying historical decorative art. When decorative art museums were founded in other countries, following the example of Cole’s museum, they too assembled historical collections. II Henry Cole appointed a curator to his museum in 1853, John Charles Robinson. In his annual report for 1855, Robinson noted that acquisitions had been made from three principal sources: ‘1, Purchases from public sales and dealers; 2, Purchases from sale of Bernal collection; 3, Purchases from Paris Universal Exhibition.’10 This shows how a pattern was established. Robinson was passionate to acquire historical art, and he looked for it from collectors and dealers. Contemporary material came in under the third heading. If the museum had wanted to acquire a representative collection of contemporary designed objects, it could presumably have gone out into the marketplace and bought them. But it preferred to acquire objects that had won prizes (e. g. the awards for Art-Workmanship bestowed by the Society of Arts), 11 or had figured in exhibitions, notably international exhibitions. As far back as 1844 the School of Design had purchased a batch of objects from the Paris Exhibition of that year. 12 Then came Cole’s purchases from the 1851 Exhibition. As we have just seen, another batch came from the Paris 12

2

1855 exhibition. The government made a special grant to the museum to make purchases from the London 1862 Exhibition.13 At the Paris Exhibition of 1867, purchases were made, and there were also some exchanges of material (mostly reproductions) with Prussia, Russia and Italy.14 It was not only at French and English exhibitions that acquisitions were made. In 1861 the Italians, inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851, mounted a national (not international) exhibition at Florence, which included historical as well as contemporary material. Robinson was granted funds to visit this in pursuit of medieval art, but then the funds were diverted to Cole, who bought contemporary material, to Robinson’s great chagrin.15 The museum’s holdings of Japanese contemporary art were boosted in 1876 by the acquisition of ‘an interesting collection of Japanese pottery, formed by the Japanese Government for the Museum, and first exhibited at the Philadelphia Exhibition’.16 At the Paris Exhibition of 1878, the museum was disappointed that ‘the continued reduction in the purchase votes of the Museum prevented any very considerable expenditure in the acquisition of objects […] showing novelty in manufacture and design, but some specimens of wrought-iron work, enamelling and furniture were purchased’. 17 Acquisitions from international exhibitions seem to have been less vigorous after this. As the above comment suggests, what was acquired from international exhibitions was not the typical. The aim was to catch the latest thing, and the latest thing was often very elaborate and expensive, such as (from the Paris 1855 exhibition) the cabinet made by Jackson & Graham, flashing with ormolu and porcelain mounts [v&a: 7247–1860]; and (from Paris 1867) the Fourdinois cabinet, a technical tour de force, studded with carved decoration [v&a: 721–1869].18 Sometimes individuals would make contributions. In 1870, A. H. Layard (British Envoy to Madrid, and a friend of museums) gave a collection of modern Spanish terracotta; and a collection of modern Italian peasant pottery was donated by the Roman jeweller Alessandro

Majolica dish Urbino, Italy, 1573/74, London The Victoria and Albert Museum Inv.-Nr. 8898-1863

Castellani (whose collection of jewellery had been purchased at the Paris 1867 Exhibition). 19 Such donations regularly occurred, but did not have a large impact on the formation of the collections. Sir George Donaldson’s gift of Art Nouveau furniture in 1900 created high-profile controversy [cat. 338-9]. Diplomatic gifts sometimes occurred. Examples of new ceramics from Sèvres were presented by the French Minister of Public Instruction in 1877, and in 1881 by the Under-Secretary of State for the Fine Arts.20 These instances, picked out of the museum’s annual reports, hardly amount to a coherent programme. They are overshadowed in the reports by a host of other concerns. Each year the museum issued a printed list of acquisitions, and it would be possible to work out from these lists what proportion of acquisitions was contemporary, as against historical. A quick scrutiny suggests that, each year, while acquisitions of historical art could be counted in hundreds (often exceeding 1000), contemporary pieces could be counted in tens (rarely exceeding 100).21 It might have seemed at first that Cole’s museum, in attempting to fulfil its mission of reforming British design, would acquire contemporary manufactures as its prime exhibits. Now its acquisitive zeal seemed to be directed towards the past. This is by no means surprising. It is clear from the debates that accompanied the founding of the School of Design that there was a widespread consensus that contemporary designers and manufacturers would naturally turn to the art of the past, from which they had much to learn; and historical items were prominent among the material acquired for the School of Design in the years before Cole took it over. Moreover, contemporary decorative art almost invariably made use of historical styles, so it would hardly have been possible for anyone, whether artisan, manufacturer, art teacher or member of the public, to develop a critical perspective on it without studying historical decorative art. When decorative art museums were founded in other countries, following the example of Cole’s museum, collecting to inspire

3

they too assembled historical collections. In the German museums, there was a constant debate about whether it was better to acquire historical or contemporary material. This essay now looks at how the early v&a kept, or failed to keep, a balance between the contemporary and the historical. III If the museum’s annual reports give only sparse coverage to contemporary acquisitions, they rejoice at greater length over acquisitions of historical art. A couple of examples will give the tone. In 1864, acquisitions included a casket in coloured enamel, the work of Jean Limousin; a missal case in gold, ornamented with translucent enamel, said to have been formerly the property of Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I.; a candlestick of Henri II. ware; the Syon cope, a remarkable example of early English needlework; a ‘retable,’ or altar piece, from a church, now destroyed, at Valencia, in Spain; and a collection of objects illustrative of Spanish work during the 15th and 16th centuries.

And in 1885 came ‘a damascened iron chess table and a fine Gubbio plate from the Beckett Denison collection [Abb. 4]; a large Palissy ware cistern and some Limoges enamels from the Fountaine Collection, a carved stone gateway from Brescia, an early lacquered and inlaid Chinese screen, and an interesting collection of Persian bookbindings’.22 It is hardly necessary to say more about the growth of the museum’s historical collections, since most of the museum’s effort has gone into cataloguing and displaying them. It is, however, worthwhile to try to find out how these collections were intended to be used.23 There was a confident assumption that they would influence contemporary design, but quite how this would work 13


1 ‘La Gloire’ vase Sèvres, c. 1850, London The Victoria and Albert Museum Inv.-Nr. 452-1852

2 Cup with lid probably made in Bidar, Karnataka, India. Purchased at the Great Exhibition of 1851, London The Victoria and Albert Museum Inv.-Nr. 151-1852

3

1

seemed to be directed towards the past. This is by no means surprising. It is clear from the debates that accompanied the founding of the School of Design that there was a widespread consensus that contemporary designers and manufacturers would naturally turn to the art of the past, from which they had much to learn; and historical items were prominent among the material acquired for the School of Design in the years before Cole took it over. Moreover, contemporary decorative art almost invariably made use of historical styles, so it would hardly have been possible for anyone, whether artisan, manufacturer, art teacher or member of the public, to develop a critical perspective on it without studying historical decorative art. When decorative art museums were founded in other countries, following the example of Cole’s museum, they too assembled historical collections. II Henry Cole appointed a curator to his museum in 1853, John Charles Robinson. In his annual report for 1855, Robinson noted that acquisitions had been made from three principal sources: ‘1, Purchases from public sales and dealers; 2, Purchases from sale of Bernal collection; 3, Purchases from Paris Universal Exhibition.’10 This shows how a pattern was established. Robinson was passionate to acquire historical art, and he looked for it from collectors and dealers. Contemporary material came in under the third heading. If the museum had wanted to acquire a representative collection of contemporary designed objects, it could presumably have gone out into the marketplace and bought them. But it preferred to acquire objects that had won prizes (e. g. the awards for Art-Workmanship bestowed by the Society of Arts), 11 or had figured in exhibitions, notably international exhibitions. As far back as 1844 the School of Design had purchased a batch of objects from the Paris Exhibition of that year. 12 Then came Cole’s purchases from the 1851 Exhibition. As we have just seen, another batch came from the Paris 12

2

1855 exhibition. The government made a special grant to the museum to make purchases from the London 1862 Exhibition.13 At the Paris Exhibition of 1867, purchases were made, and there were also some exchanges of material (mostly reproductions) with Prussia, Russia and Italy.14 It was not only at French and English exhibitions that acquisitions were made. In 1861 the Italians, inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851, mounted a national (not international) exhibition at Florence, which included historical as well as contemporary material. Robinson was granted funds to visit this in pursuit of medieval art, but then the funds were diverted to Cole, who bought contemporary material, to Robinson’s great chagrin.15 The museum’s holdings of Japanese contemporary art were boosted in 1876 by the acquisition of ‘an interesting collection of Japanese pottery, formed by the Japanese Government for the Museum, and first exhibited at the Philadelphia Exhibition’.16 At the Paris Exhibition of 1878, the museum was disappointed that ‘the continued reduction in the purchase votes of the Museum prevented any very considerable expenditure in the acquisition of objects […] showing novelty in manufacture and design, but some specimens of wrought-iron work, enamelling and furniture were purchased’. 17 Acquisitions from international exhibitions seem to have been less vigorous after this. As the above comment suggests, what was acquired from international exhibitions was not the typical. The aim was to catch the latest thing, and the latest thing was often very elaborate and expensive, such as (from the Paris 1855 exhibition) the cabinet made by Jackson & Graham, flashing with ormolu and porcelain mounts [v&a: 7247–1860]; and (from Paris 1867) the Fourdinois cabinet, a technical tour de force, studded with carved decoration [v&a: 721–1869].18 Sometimes individuals would make contributions. In 1870, A. H. Layard (British Envoy to Madrid, and a friend of museums) gave a collection of modern Spanish terracotta; and a collection of modern Italian peasant pottery was donated by the Roman jeweller Alessandro

Majolica dish Urbino, Italy, 1573/74, London The Victoria and Albert Museum Inv.-Nr. 8898-1863

Castellani (whose collection of jewellery had been purchased at the Paris 1867 Exhibition). 19 Such donations regularly occurred, but did not have a large impact on the formation of the collections. Sir George Donaldson’s gift of Art Nouveau furniture in 1900 created high-profile controversy [cat. 338-9]. Diplomatic gifts sometimes occurred. Examples of new ceramics from Sèvres were presented by the French Minister of Public Instruction in 1877, and in 1881 by the Under-Secretary of State for the Fine Arts.20 These instances, picked out of the museum’s annual reports, hardly amount to a coherent programme. They are overshadowed in the reports by a host of other concerns. Each year the museum issued a printed list of acquisitions, and it would be possible to work out from these lists what proportion of acquisitions was contemporary, as against historical. A quick scrutiny suggests that, each year, while acquisitions of historical art could be counted in hundreds (often exceeding 1000), contemporary pieces could be counted in tens (rarely exceeding 100).21 It might have seemed at first that Cole’s museum, in attempting to fulfil its mission of reforming British design, would acquire contemporary manufactures as its prime exhibits. Now its acquisitive zeal seemed to be directed towards the past. This is by no means surprising. It is clear from the debates that accompanied the founding of the School of Design that there was a widespread consensus that contemporary designers and manufacturers would naturally turn to the art of the past, from which they had much to learn; and historical items were prominent among the material acquired for the School of Design in the years before Cole took it over. Moreover, contemporary decorative art almost invariably made use of historical styles, so it would hardly have been possible for anyone, whether artisan, manufacturer, art teacher or member of the public, to develop a critical perspective on it without studying historical decorative art. When decorative art museums were founded in other countries, following the example of Cole’s museum, collecting to inspire

3

they too assembled historical collections. In the German museums, there was a constant debate about whether it was better to acquire historical or contemporary material. This essay now looks at how the early v&a kept, or failed to keep, a balance between the contemporary and the historical. III If the museum’s annual reports give only sparse coverage to contemporary acquisitions, they rejoice at greater length over acquisitions of historical art. A couple of examples will give the tone. In 1864, acquisitions included a casket in coloured enamel, the work of Jean Limousin; a missal case in gold, ornamented with translucent enamel, said to have been formerly the property of Henrietta Maria, consort of Charles I.; a candlestick of Henri II. ware; the Syon cope, a remarkable example of early English needlework; a ‘retable,’ or altar piece, from a church, now destroyed, at Valencia, in Spain; and a collection of objects illustrative of Spanish work during the 15th and 16th centuries.

And in 1885 came ‘a damascened iron chess table and a fine Gubbio plate from the Beckett Denison collection [Abb. 4]; a large Palissy ware cistern and some Limoges enamels from the Fountaine Collection, a carved stone gateway from Brescia, an early lacquered and inlaid Chinese screen, and an interesting collection of Persian bookbindings’.22 It is hardly necessary to say more about the growth of the museum’s historical collections, since most of the museum’s effort has gone into cataloguing and displaying them. It is, however, worthwhile to try to find out how these collections were intended to be used.23 There was a confident assumption that they would influence contemporary design, but quite how this would work 13


instruction […] Perhaps this flicker should be encouraged. The special lamp of wisdom from which it comes may require trimming.’31 Against such complaints can be set the view of the artist Walter Crane that the South Kensington Museum’s collection of ‘Mediaeval, Renaissance and Oriental design and craftsmanship of all kinds’ probably exercised ‘more far-reaching influence in its effect on designers and craftsmen than the more direct efforts of the Department [of Science and Art] to reach them through its school system’.32 To those who were concerned primarily with contemporary decorative art a disturbing moment came in 1880, when all the ‘modern examples of Art manufacture’ were excluded from South Kensington and sent (on a ‘temporary’ transfer which became permanent) to the museum’s branch at Bethnal Green. The modern examples included a tea service designed by Henry Cole himself: now retired and (as it turned out) quite near to death, he was mortified at its banishment, and thought that the museum ‘was going to the Devil’.33 For Cole and others, the purging of modern design from South Kensington in 1880 seemed to indicate that collectors and connoisseurs were now ruling the roost. Complaints persisted, and were still voiced in the twentieth century, when the museum had become the v&a. According to Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1926: ‘The primary purpose of the Victoria and Albert Museum is […] to provide materials for the education of art students, and on the whole it has carried out this purpose in an admirable manner; but there is always a tendency to slip over to the Collector’s point of view’.34 While students (or manufacturers, or consumers) could learn as much from historical as from contemporary objects, the predominance of historical decorative art in the museum inevitably inspired such comments. Against such complaints can be set the view of the artist Walter Crane that the South Kensington Museum’s collection of ‘Mediaeval, Renaissance and Oriental design and craftsmanship of all kinds’ probably exercised ‘more far-reaching influence in its effect on designers and craftsmen than the more direct efforts of the Department [of Science and Art] to reach them through its school system’. To those who were concerned primarily with contemporary decorative art a disturbing moment came in 1880, when all the ‘modern examples of Art manufacture’ were excluded from South Kensington and sent (on a ‘temporary’ transfer which became permanent) to the museum’s branch at Bethnal Green. The modern examples included a tea service designed by Henry Cole himself: now retired and (as it turned out) quite near to death, he was mortified at its banishment, and thought that the museum ‘was going to the Devil’. For Cole and others, the purging of modern design from South Kensington in 1880 seemed to indicate that collectors and connoisseurs were now ruling the roost. Complaints persisted, and were still voiced in the twentieth century, when the museum had become the v&a. According to Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1926: ‘The primary purpose of the Victoria and Albert Museum is […] to provide materials for the education of art students, and on the whole it has carried out this purpose in an admirable manner; but there is always a tendency to slip over to the Collector’s point of view’. While students (or manufacturers, or consumers) could learn as much from historical as from contemporary objects, the predominance of historical decorative art in the museum inevitably inspired such comments.

7

16

V In 1848, J. C. Robinson, when still an art teacher and not yet curator of the museum, had presciently remarked that if, in schools of design, ‘we were to occupy ourselves solely with antecedent art, if our lessons and teaching were but to illustrate the works of our predecessors, plagiarism could be the only result’.35 Exactly this problem came to the fore half a century later. collecting to inspire

By the end of the nineteenth century, the perceived success of the South Kensington Museum had prompted the foundation of other design museums throughout Europe – in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Budapest, Oslo, and many other capital cities. The German states, still competitive despite unification in 1871, were particularly vigorous in promoting design museums. The new design museums had adopted South Kensington’s policy of arranging their objects according to material and technique.36 But by the 1890s, doubts about this method had arisen and new ideas were in the air. The debate about the purposes of design museums was launched by Wilhelm von Bode, the director of museums in Berlin, in articles of 1891 and 1896. His ideas about museum display had a personal slant,37 but provoked various design museum directors to an admission that their collections of historical decorative art did not seem to have achieved the educational effect that was intended. An important statement came in the introduction to a new catalogue of the collections at the Hamburg museum, by its director Justus Brinckmann in 1894: The successes, which were expected to result from the example set by the historical works put on show in the collections, have turned out to be less striking and less widespread than anticipated. Insofar as the exhibited material, which the museums offered to the artists, has been welcomed and adopted by them as a convenient aid in throwing ever newer forms into the market, it has perhaps only induced the artists to distrust their own invention, and has driven them into the arms of a superficial eclecticism.

‘The imitation of historical forms,’ Brinckmann concluded, ‘gradually kills all fresh invention’ – thus unconsciously echoing Robinson’s opinion of 1848.38 If the display of historical works of art seemed only to encourage unimaginative plagiarism, what was to be done? The debate eventually gave rise to a new way of arranging exhibits, in mixed-media displays by period, so that design museums took to setting up galleries devoted to the art of the Middle Ages or of the Renaissance. It was thought that such arrangements would more truly reveal the sources of creativity to students, and would anyway appeal more to the general public than the old material/technical displays. The reception of such ideas was only a gradual process,39 but by 1927, an informed observer could hail ‘a marked change’ in museum display philosophy, which had been ‘generally adopted throughout Germany’. 40 The v&a, however, was not quick to adopt this new approach. It had a very good opportunity to do so, when its new extension was finished in 1909, and all the collections had to be re-arranged to fill the considerably enlarged gallery spaces. The museum’s then director was judged inadequate for this task, which was entrusted to a ‘Committee of Re-arrangement’, from which a new director, Cecil Smith, soon emerged. The Committee knew about, and investigated, the new display trends in Europe, but decided not to follow them at South Kensington. The material/technical display method was retained, until, after some agonizing reappraisal in the 1930s, a series of chronological mixed-media galleries was introduced in the 1950s. 41 It is possible to interpret the v&a’s decisions in 1909 as cowardly or obscurantist; but, on the other hand, it can be argued that the v&a adhered to its founding policy of design reform when other design museums were losing heart. ‘The imitation of historical forms,’ Brinckmann concluded, ‘gradually kills all fresh invention’ – thus unconsciously echoing Robinson’s opinion of 1848. If the display of historical works of art seemed only to encourage unimaginative plagiarism, what was to be done? The debate eventually gave rise to a new way of arranging exhibits, in mixed-media displays by period, so that design museums took to setting up galleries devoted to the art of the Middle Ages or of the Renaissance. It was 17


instruction […] Perhaps this flicker should be encouraged. The special lamp of wisdom from which it comes may require trimming.’31 Against such complaints can be set the view of the artist Walter Crane that the South Kensington Museum’s collection of ‘Mediaeval, Renaissance and Oriental design and craftsmanship of all kinds’ probably exercised ‘more far-reaching influence in its effect on designers and craftsmen than the more direct efforts of the Department [of Science and Art] to reach them through its school system’.32 To those who were concerned primarily with contemporary decorative art a disturbing moment came in 1880, when all the ‘modern examples of Art manufacture’ were excluded from South Kensington and sent (on a ‘temporary’ transfer which became permanent) to the museum’s branch at Bethnal Green. The modern examples included a tea service designed by Henry Cole himself: now retired and (as it turned out) quite near to death, he was mortified at its banishment, and thought that the museum ‘was going to the Devil’.33 For Cole and others, the purging of modern design from South Kensington in 1880 seemed to indicate that collectors and connoisseurs were now ruling the roost. Complaints persisted, and were still voiced in the twentieth century, when the museum had become the v&a. According to Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1926: ‘The primary purpose of the Victoria and Albert Museum is […] to provide materials for the education of art students, and on the whole it has carried out this purpose in an admirable manner; but there is always a tendency to slip over to the Collector’s point of view’.34 While students (or manufacturers, or consumers) could learn as much from historical as from contemporary objects, the predominance of historical decorative art in the museum inevitably inspired such comments. Against such complaints can be set the view of the artist Walter Crane that the South Kensington Museum’s collection of ‘Mediaeval, Renaissance and Oriental design and craftsmanship of all kinds’ probably exercised ‘more far-reaching influence in its effect on designers and craftsmen than the more direct efforts of the Department [of Science and Art] to reach them through its school system’. To those who were concerned primarily with contemporary decorative art a disturbing moment came in 1880, when all the ‘modern examples of Art manufacture’ were excluded from South Kensington and sent (on a ‘temporary’ transfer which became permanent) to the museum’s branch at Bethnal Green. The modern examples included a tea service designed by Henry Cole himself: now retired and (as it turned out) quite near to death, he was mortified at its banishment, and thought that the museum ‘was going to the Devil’. For Cole and others, the purging of modern design from South Kensington in 1880 seemed to indicate that collectors and connoisseurs were now ruling the roost. Complaints persisted, and were still voiced in the twentieth century, when the museum had become the v&a. According to Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1926: ‘The primary purpose of the Victoria and Albert Museum is […] to provide materials for the education of art students, and on the whole it has carried out this purpose in an admirable manner; but there is always a tendency to slip over to the Collector’s point of view’. While students (or manufacturers, or consumers) could learn as much from historical as from contemporary objects, the predominance of historical decorative art in the museum inevitably inspired such comments.

7

16

V In 1848, J. C. Robinson, when still an art teacher and not yet curator of the museum, had presciently remarked that if, in schools of design, ‘we were to occupy ourselves solely with antecedent art, if our lessons and teaching were but to illustrate the works of our predecessors, plagiarism could be the only result’.35 Exactly this problem came to the fore half a century later. collecting to inspire

By the end of the nineteenth century, the perceived success of the South Kensington Museum had prompted the foundation of other design museums throughout Europe – in Vienna, Berlin, Paris, Budapest, Oslo, and many other capital cities. The German states, still competitive despite unification in 1871, were particularly vigorous in promoting design museums. The new design museums had adopted South Kensington’s policy of arranging their objects according to material and technique.36 But by the 1890s, doubts about this method had arisen and new ideas were in the air. The debate about the purposes of design museums was launched by Wilhelm von Bode, the director of museums in Berlin, in articles of 1891 and 1896. His ideas about museum display had a personal slant,37 but provoked various design museum directors to an admission that their collections of historical decorative art did not seem to have achieved the educational effect that was intended. An important statement came in the introduction to a new catalogue of the collections at the Hamburg museum, by its director Justus Brinckmann in 1894: The successes, which were expected to result from the example set by the historical works put on show in the collections, have turned out to be less striking and less widespread than anticipated. Insofar as the exhibited material, which the museums offered to the artists, has been welcomed and adopted by them as a convenient aid in throwing ever newer forms into the market, it has perhaps only induced the artists to distrust their own invention, and has driven them into the arms of a superficial eclecticism.

‘The imitation of historical forms,’ Brinckmann concluded, ‘gradually kills all fresh invention’ – thus unconsciously echoing Robinson’s opinion of 1848.38 If the display of historical works of art seemed only to encourage unimaginative plagiarism, what was to be done? The debate eventually gave rise to a new way of arranging exhibits, in mixed-media displays by period, so that design museums took to setting up galleries devoted to the art of the Middle Ages or of the Renaissance. It was thought that such arrangements would more truly reveal the sources of creativity to students, and would anyway appeal more to the general public than the old material/technical displays. The reception of such ideas was only a gradual process,39 but by 1927, an informed observer could hail ‘a marked change’ in museum display philosophy, which had been ‘generally adopted throughout Germany’. 40 The v&a, however, was not quick to adopt this new approach. It had a very good opportunity to do so, when its new extension was finished in 1909, and all the collections had to be re-arranged to fill the considerably enlarged gallery spaces. The museum’s then director was judged inadequate for this task, which was entrusted to a ‘Committee of Re-arrangement’, from which a new director, Cecil Smith, soon emerged. The Committee knew about, and investigated, the new display trends in Europe, but decided not to follow them at South Kensington. The material/technical display method was retained, until, after some agonizing reappraisal in the 1930s, a series of chronological mixed-media galleries was introduced in the 1950s. 41 It is possible to interpret the v&a’s decisions in 1909 as cowardly or obscurantist; but, on the other hand, it can be argued that the v&a adhered to its founding policy of design reform when other design museums were losing heart. ‘The imitation of historical forms,’ Brinckmann concluded, ‘gradually kills all fresh invention’ – thus unconsciously echoing Robinson’s opinion of 1848. If the display of historical works of art seemed only to encourage unimaginative plagiarism, what was to be done? The debate eventually gave rise to a new way of arranging exhibits, in mixed-media displays by period, so that design museums took to setting up galleries devoted to the art of the Middle Ages or of the Renaissance. It was 17


264

265

Designed by Philip Webb (1831 – 1915). Made by John Garrett & Son · Altar table · 1897. Clapham, London · Oak. h: 95.5 cm, w: 145.7 cm, d: 66.2 cm · v&a (Given by Gilmore House Ltd.), Inv.-Nr. W. 4-2003

Designed by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941). Maker unknown, metalwork by W. B. Reynolds (1855 – 1935) · Desk · Designed 1895, probably made after 1898. England · Oak with copper hinges. h: 167.5 cm, w: 101.5 cm, d: 67 cm · v&a, Inv.-Nr. W. 6-1953

William Morris’s sister, Mrs Isabella Gilmore, commissioned Philip Webb to design a chapel for the Rochester and Southwark Diocesan Deaconess Institution in Clapham, South London. In her widowhood she became the leader of this religious community of Anglican women. The simple altar table, made of planks of solid English oak inset with pierced panels, demonstrates Webb’s absorption of the English vernacular tradition, and his belief that furniture should express the inherent quality of its material. He reflected the pattern of repeating squares in the altar cloth, woodwork and windows of the chapel. Webb’s style was influenced by frequent visits to the South Kensington Museum, sketching stained glass, tiles and painted decoration. In the 1860s he played a major role in the design by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. for one of the museum’s refreshment rooms. Although the museum authorities employed the firm as decorators during the 19th century, they did not acquire any furniture designed by Webb until 1906. Webb’s style was influenced by frequent visits to the South Kensington Museum, sketching stained glass, tiles and painted decoration. In the 1860s he played a major role in the design by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. for the refreshment rooms. Kate Hay

267

In its pared-down, supremely elegant design, this desk combines the lightness and verticality fashionable around 1900 with the plain unvarnished oak and polished copper panels more traditionally associated with Arts and Crafts furniture. A key member of the British Arts and Crafts movement, Voysey developed a distinctive personal style which could, as in this writing desk, achieve an almost geometric abstraction. A versatile architect and designer, Voysey is best known for the controlled simplicity of the country houses he designed for wealthy clients. Unusually, in this commission he designed interiors and furniture for an existing house, the London home of William Ward-Higgs, a successful solicitor, and his wife Haydee. Voysey evidently used some designs he had already produced. The design for this desk, which survives in the v&a’s collection (E. 274–1913) and is dated 1895, was published in The Studio magazine in 1896, two years before he received the commission for the house. Voysey’s colourful and flowing designs for textiles and wallpaper had a formative influence on Art Nouveau through his exhibits at the Expositions Universelles of 1889 and 1900 in Paris and through publication in The Studio, which was available in an international version across Europe. In Brussels his work was made known by Henry van de Velde who

265

264

published articles on his work in the magazines Emulation and L’Art Moderne. Voysey’s work was not collected by the v&a until much later: his textile designs were first acquired in 1928 and his furniture only after the exhibition Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts organized in 1953. This encouraged the opening of a permanent gallery of 19th-century decorative arts in 1964. This desk was purchased from the daughter of the original owners in 1953 and a dresser from the same house was acquired in 1963. In its pared-down, supremely elegant design, this desk combines the lightness and verticality fashionable around 1900 with the plain unvarnished oak and polished copper panels more traditionally associated with Arts and Crafts furniture. A key member of the British Arts and Crafts movement, Voysey developed a distinctive personal style which could, as in this writing desk, achieve an almost geometric abstraction. A versatile architect and designer, Voysey is best known for the controlled simplicity of the country houses he designed for wealthy clients. Unusually, in this commission he designed interiors and furniture for an existing house, the London home of William Ward-Higgs, a successful solicitor, and his wife Haydee. Kate Hay

266

lit. Hitchmough (1995), p. 144

267

266 Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857 – 1941) · Produced by Essex & Co. · The Iolanthe · Um 1897 Colour print from wood blocks. h: 75.4 cm, w: 53.2 cm · v&a (Given by Morton Sundour Fabrics Ltd.), Inv.-Nr. E. 1899-1953 Voysey was an architect but also a prolific designer of patterns for textiles and wallpapers. His work shows clear evidence of the pervasive influence of William Morris, both in his mastery of flat but complex patterns, and in his emphasis on stylized organic forms and motifs drawn from nature. Morris’s influence can also be seen in Voysey’s preference for a muted colour palette favouring subtle shades of blue, green, yellow and plum. Many of his wallpaper designs were produced by the London firm Essex & Co.: their advertisements promoted Voysey as ‘the Genius of Pattern’. Morris and Voysey were amongst the exemplars illustrated in an influential design manual, Floral Forms in Historic Design (1922) by Lindsay Butterfield, himself a designer of wallpapers. The motifs featured in the book were drawn largely from objects in the v&a. The preface and the descriptive notes were written by W. G. Paulson Townsend, who stressed the value of the v&a to designers, as did Butterfield. But

Townsend warned against mere copying, and singled out Morris and Voysey as two who had brought to applied art ‘new ideas and new conceptions, each distinct in style, but exhibiting a thorough knowledge of historic ornament, sound judgement in the selection and interpretation of these decorative elements, combined with their power of creation, which are the basic qualities of great art’. Voysey was an architect but also a prolific designer of patterns for textiles and wallpapers. His work shows clear evidence of the pervasive influence of William Morris, both in his mastery of flat but complex patterns, and in his emphasis on stylized organic forms and motifs drawn from nature. Morris’s influence can also be seen in Voysey’s preference for a muted colour palette favouring subtle shades of blue, green, yellow and plum. Gill Saunders

Christopher Dresser (1834 – 1904) · Diagram of Anatomical Structure of Flowers · to illustrate lectures on Botany given at Marlborough House in London · Um 1855 · Watercolour and bodycolour on paper, laid on canvas. h: 55 cm. w: 75.5 cm · v&a, Inv.-Nr. 3968 This drawing is one of the 72 diagrams that Christopher Dresser used to illustrate his lectures on botany as applied to ornament when teaching at the Government School of Design in London, 1854 – 6. In this clear drawing the elements of the flowers are depicted not naturalistically but scientifically: they are stylized and shown in a diagrammatic form. Dresser had originally started his career as a botanist and he believed that the underlying geometry of living organisms and the patterns they formed could be successfully applied to the design of decorative arts and ornament. Dresser fully engaged with the principles of the design reform movement articulated by Henry Cole, Richard Redgrave and Owen Jones. In 1856 he supplied Jones with a plate illustrating the ‘geometrical arrangement of flowers’ for his Grammar of Ornament (1856). Dresser’s designs were exhibited by both British and French manufacturers at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris. They played a significant role in the French appreciation of British design. In this drawing elements are naturalistically. Barbara Lasic lit. Lyons (2005); Whiteway & Morello (2001); Whiteway (2004)

34

catalogue

10 arts and crafts

35


264

265

Designed by Philip Webb (1831 – 1915). Made by John Garrett & Son · Altar table · 1897. Clapham, London · Oak. h: 95.5 cm, w: 145.7 cm, d: 66.2 cm · v&a (Given by Gilmore House Ltd.), Inv.-Nr. W. 4-2003

Designed by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857–1941). Maker unknown, metalwork by W. B. Reynolds (1855 – 1935) · Desk · Designed 1895, probably made after 1898. England · Oak with copper hinges. h: 167.5 cm, w: 101.5 cm, d: 67 cm · v&a, Inv.-Nr. W. 6-1953

William Morris’s sister, Mrs Isabella Gilmore, commissioned Philip Webb to design a chapel for the Rochester and Southwark Diocesan Deaconess Institution in Clapham, South London. In her widowhood she became the leader of this religious community of Anglican women. The simple altar table, made of planks of solid English oak inset with pierced panels, demonstrates Webb’s absorption of the English vernacular tradition, and his belief that furniture should express the inherent quality of its material. He reflected the pattern of repeating squares in the altar cloth, woodwork and windows of the chapel. Webb’s style was influenced by frequent visits to the South Kensington Museum, sketching stained glass, tiles and painted decoration. In the 1860s he played a major role in the design by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. for one of the museum’s refreshment rooms. Although the museum authorities employed the firm as decorators during the 19th century, they did not acquire any furniture designed by Webb until 1906. Webb’s style was influenced by frequent visits to the South Kensington Museum, sketching stained glass, tiles and painted decoration. In the 1860s he played a major role in the design by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. for the refreshment rooms. Kate Hay

267

In its pared-down, supremely elegant design, this desk combines the lightness and verticality fashionable around 1900 with the plain unvarnished oak and polished copper panels more traditionally associated with Arts and Crafts furniture. A key member of the British Arts and Crafts movement, Voysey developed a distinctive personal style which could, as in this writing desk, achieve an almost geometric abstraction. A versatile architect and designer, Voysey is best known for the controlled simplicity of the country houses he designed for wealthy clients. Unusually, in this commission he designed interiors and furniture for an existing house, the London home of William Ward-Higgs, a successful solicitor, and his wife Haydee. Voysey evidently used some designs he had already produced. The design for this desk, which survives in the v&a’s collection (E. 274–1913) and is dated 1895, was published in The Studio magazine in 1896, two years before he received the commission for the house. Voysey’s colourful and flowing designs for textiles and wallpaper had a formative influence on Art Nouveau through his exhibits at the Expositions Universelles of 1889 and 1900 in Paris and through publication in The Studio, which was available in an international version across Europe. In Brussels his work was made known by Henry van de Velde who

265

264

published articles on his work in the magazines Emulation and L’Art Moderne. Voysey’s work was not collected by the v&a until much later: his textile designs were first acquired in 1928 and his furniture only after the exhibition Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts organized in 1953. This encouraged the opening of a permanent gallery of 19th-century decorative arts in 1964. This desk was purchased from the daughter of the original owners in 1953 and a dresser from the same house was acquired in 1963. In its pared-down, supremely elegant design, this desk combines the lightness and verticality fashionable around 1900 with the plain unvarnished oak and polished copper panels more traditionally associated with Arts and Crafts furniture. A key member of the British Arts and Crafts movement, Voysey developed a distinctive personal style which could, as in this writing desk, achieve an almost geometric abstraction. A versatile architect and designer, Voysey is best known for the controlled simplicity of the country houses he designed for wealthy clients. Unusually, in this commission he designed interiors and furniture for an existing house, the London home of William Ward-Higgs, a successful solicitor, and his wife Haydee. Kate Hay

266

lit. Hitchmough (1995), p. 144

267

266 Charles Francis Annesley Voysey (1857 – 1941) · Produced by Essex & Co. · The Iolanthe · Um 1897 Colour print from wood blocks. h: 75.4 cm, w: 53.2 cm · v&a (Given by Morton Sundour Fabrics Ltd.), Inv.-Nr. E. 1899-1953 Voysey was an architect but also a prolific designer of patterns for textiles and wallpapers. His work shows clear evidence of the pervasive influence of William Morris, both in his mastery of flat but complex patterns, and in his emphasis on stylized organic forms and motifs drawn from nature. Morris’s influence can also be seen in Voysey’s preference for a muted colour palette favouring subtle shades of blue, green, yellow and plum. Many of his wallpaper designs were produced by the London firm Essex & Co.: their advertisements promoted Voysey as ‘the Genius of Pattern’. Morris and Voysey were amongst the exemplars illustrated in an influential design manual, Floral Forms in Historic Design (1922) by Lindsay Butterfield, himself a designer of wallpapers. The motifs featured in the book were drawn largely from objects in the v&a. The preface and the descriptive notes were written by W. G. Paulson Townsend, who stressed the value of the v&a to designers, as did Butterfield. But

Townsend warned against mere copying, and singled out Morris and Voysey as two who had brought to applied art ‘new ideas and new conceptions, each distinct in style, but exhibiting a thorough knowledge of historic ornament, sound judgement in the selection and interpretation of these decorative elements, combined with their power of creation, which are the basic qualities of great art’. Voysey was an architect but also a prolific designer of patterns for textiles and wallpapers. His work shows clear evidence of the pervasive influence of William Morris, both in his mastery of flat but complex patterns, and in his emphasis on stylized organic forms and motifs drawn from nature. Morris’s influence can also be seen in Voysey’s preference for a muted colour palette favouring subtle shades of blue, green, yellow and plum. Gill Saunders

Christopher Dresser (1834 – 1904) · Diagram of Anatomical Structure of Flowers · to illustrate lectures on Botany given at Marlborough House in London · Um 1855 · Watercolour and bodycolour on paper, laid on canvas. h: 55 cm. w: 75.5 cm · v&a, Inv.-Nr. 3968 This drawing is one of the 72 diagrams that Christopher Dresser used to illustrate his lectures on botany as applied to ornament when teaching at the Government School of Design in London, 1854 – 6. In this clear drawing the elements of the flowers are depicted not naturalistically but scientifically: they are stylized and shown in a diagrammatic form. Dresser had originally started his career as a botanist and he believed that the underlying geometry of living organisms and the patterns they formed could be successfully applied to the design of decorative arts and ornament. Dresser fully engaged with the principles of the design reform movement articulated by Henry Cole, Richard Redgrave and Owen Jones. In 1856 he supplied Jones with a plate illustrating the ‘geometrical arrangement of flowers’ for his Grammar of Ornament (1856). Dresser’s designs were exhibited by both British and French manufacturers at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris. They played a significant role in the French appreciation of British design. In this drawing elements are naturalistically. Barbara Lasic lit. Lyons (2005); Whiteway & Morello (2001); Whiteway (2004)

34

catalogue

10 arts and crafts

35

Art and Design for All  

Sample pages from Art and Design for All: The Victoria and Albert Museum

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you