The Arts & Crafts Movement Discussion essay
The Arts & Cra,s Movement
THE BRITISH ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT
“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beau>ful.” - - - William Morris
The drama>c changes to Western Europe brought by the Industrial Revolu>on were visible by the late 1850s. Many of these changes were discussed in Module 1. Many ar>sts and designers embraced these changes while others reacted against them. In Great Britain a group of like- minded designers were inspired by the philosophy of John Ruskin. He was an influen>al art cri>c and author. Ruskin not only advocated Medievalism, but a return to the guild system of the Medieval Period. This system esteemed high quality ar>sanship and honest labor. Ruskin and the members of the Arts & Cra,s Movement believed that the Industrial Revolu>on and its a,ermath had been detrimental to fine cra,smanship and collabora>on. And, both Ruskin and members of the Arts & Cra,s Movement shared a distrust of machines and the resul>ng industrial capitalism. By returning to the ideals of the medieval guild system an alterna>ve to industrializa>on could be offered. Those associated with the Arts & Cra,s Movement were united in the desire to produce objects in "good taste" that had been supplanted by those made by mass produc>on. At the heart of the Arts & Cra,s Movement were concerns with issues of declining social values and the ar>s>c quality of manufactured products created by industrial means.
The driving force in the Arts & Cra,s Movement was William Morris (1834-1896) an English writer, painter, designer, cra,sman, and social reformer. Morris intended for his designs and the
processes that created them to effect social change. As well, he wanted his designs to reach the working class. In 1862, the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was created. This design firm was also known as Morris and Company, and The Firm. Members included: William Morris, Peter Paul Marshall, Charles Faulkner, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Webb, and Dante Gabriel Rossec. Morris had met Burne-Jones while both were students at Oxford University. Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, and Rossec were also members of the Pre- Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters who also advocated a return to the ideals and spirituality of the Medieval Period. This group of painters was fascinated by medieval culture (pre- Raphael, a High Renaissance ar>sts of ca. 1500) as well as the poetry and art of the movement of Roman>cism. All of those men>oned above revolted against the mechaniza>on and eclec>cism of Victorian Period design and the decline in cra,smanship they agributed to industrializa>on. These ar>sts and designers were influenced by the English writer and art cri>c John Ruskin who advocated a return to the spirituality of the Medieval Period specifically the Gothic. Ruskin felt that the ornamenta>on and design of the Gothic period was an aid to the contempla>on of the divine wonders found in nature. Similar to Morris and his colleagues Ruskin also felt that individual skilled ar>sans should be noted for their designs, not unnamed manual workers in factories.
Figure 1. William Morris and Philip Webb. Red House. Bexleyheath, England, 1860.
The origins of the Firm were a result of the collabora>on that took place at the home purchased by William Morris in South London in 1859 as a wedding gi, for his new bride, Jane Burden. Known as Red House (Figure 1), the interiors were created with the beauty of nature and the ideal of the medieval guild in mind. Commissioned in 1859, the medieval style red brick exterior was Webb's crea>on while the interiors featured work created by Morris, Webb, and members of the ar>s>c coopera>ve men>oned above. All worked together to create a unity of design using local and natural materials as well as tradi>onal building techniques. Figure 2 shows an interior view with restrained design. Sussex Chairs, examples of handmade painted furniture were used
as well as a built-in cabinet. The focus is on the natural materials used: brick, wood, colors found in nature, and walls covered in a monochroma>c floral design. In other interior spaces, painted murals decorated the walls and embroidered wall hangings completed the interior designs. All of these objects took their inspira>on from nature and o,en used repeated designs of floral or geometric pagers. Completed in 1860, Red House was Morris' home un>l 1865. Red House remained a private residence un>l 2003. The Na>onal Trust of Great Britain currently owns the home.
Figure 2. William Morris and Philip Webb. Red House. Bexleyheath, England, 1860.
The interiors of Red House and other objects created by members of the Arts & Cra,s Movement follow the philosophy set forth by Morris, "Have nothing in your house that you do not find useful or to be beau>ful." Included among the many medieval-inspired handcra,ed items are pieces of handmade painted furniture and tex>les created from wood blocks. Trellis was Morris's first wallpaper design. Morris was inspired by the gardens at Red House (Figures 3 & 4). Webb collaborated with him on this design adding the birds. When comparing the design to the gardens it is easy to see how Morris surrounded himself with the beauty of the natural world. This is an important point to remember when looking at the designs of the Arts & Cra,s Movement - the simple beauty found in nature provided the designers their inspira>on. These designers were inspired by the surrounding them and u>lized it appropriately.
Figure 3. William Morris and Philip Webb. Trellis. 1862.
Figure 4. William Morris and Philip Webb. Red House. Bexleyheath, England, 1860.
Figure 5. Morris. Strawberry Thief. 1883
In addi>on to block-printed wallpapers Morris also designed tex>les. Kennet, an example of a Morris tex>le is at the top of the page. Designed in 1883, Kennet is an indigo discharged and block printed cogon. Strawberry Thief is another example of a cogon designed by Morris in 1883 (Figure 5). The interest in naturalism and pagerning is evident. While this is a two-dimensional object the emphasis on three-dimensionality is highlighted. This is successfully created via the rhythm and movement of the birds, flowers, and strawberries that are rendered in the design. Strawberry Thief and other block-printed cogons show the same keen agen>on to naturalism as noted in Kennet and Trellis. Morris focused on the vibrancy found in nature, and emphasized this in his repeated forms and colors. The specificity of forms found in nature is one of the key characteris>cs of Arts & Cra,s design.
Figure 6. Webb and Morris. Niebelungenlied Segle. 1860-65.
The use of literary sources provided subject mager for the handmade painted furniture created. These pieces of furniture were o,en painted by Morris or his colleagues. The decora>ve and u>litarian piece of furniture in Figure 6 contains a painted frieze with scenes f r o m a m e d i e v a l G e r m a n e p i c p o e m en>tled, Niebelungenlied (Figure 6). This poem, believed to be wrigen ca. 1200, tells of the princess named Kriemhild and Siegfried, a prince. The characters and plot were later featured in Wagner's 19th century adapta>on in the opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen (1853-74). This object features areas for storage and a seat. It is similar in
form and func>on to a Medieval segle: a bench that usually had a high back and arms. O,en, segles were carved, paneled, and richly decorated. Some>mes these pieces had a hinged seat over a chest. Here, no hinges are found. This piece has a clear architectural focus; taking its inspira>on from the Medieval period no>ce how the pointed top of the piece is similar to a building. Possibly, a nod to Gothic architecture (?). This connec>on would not be out of the ques>on with wri>ngs of the >me seeking a return to the spirituality inherently found in Gothic design.
Figure 8. John Robert Parsons. Jane Burden Morris. 1865
Returning for a moment to the Pre-Raphaelites.... this group of Bri>sh painters shared in their dismay what they viewed as a morbid state of Bri>sh pain>ng at the >me. Ar>sts such as Edward Burne-Jones, JWilliam Holman Hunt, John Evereg Millias, and Dante Gabriel Rossec sought to c re ate wo r k s t h at re c a pt u re d t h e g ra ce , naturalism, simplicity, and roman>cism of the Late Gothic and Early Renaissance periods. Each of these are "pre-Raphael" and pre the intellectual-These individuals shared in their dismay at the state of mind that they viewed as morbid. They sought to reasearch the soul's pain through various forms of art.
Figure 7. Dante Gabriel Rossec. Proserpine. 1874.
Classicism of High Renaissance art (think Leonardo and Michelangelo). Those who were part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were also involved in the Arts & Cra,s Movement not just as friends, but as colleagues who shared the same goals: to return to the simplicity and spirituality of a pre-industrial world. Morris's wife, Jane Burden Morris, also served as his muse and Rossec's. Jane Burden Morris acted as a model for many of Rossec's pain>ngs. Rossec, was both professionally and in>mately involved with Jane Burden for many years. The oil on canvas, Proserpine of 1874, features Jane Burden as the Empress of Hades (Figure 7). I have paired the pain>ng with a photograph taken of Jane Burden ca. 1865 (Figure 8). Jane was also an accomplished embroiderer working in the Arts & Cra,s aesthe>c. I found this short, yet interes>ng youtube video on her role in the Movement:
Figure 9. The Morris & Co x H&M collec>on. 2018
The legacy of the Arts & Cra,s Movement endures. This is proven by the >meless designs created by Morris and his collaborators. Suppor>ng this is the October 2018 release by H & M of the Fall / Winter Collec>on. Included were Morris's designs, Love is Enough, Lily Leaf, Marigold and Pimpernel (Figure 9). In addi>on to H & M, wallpapers and eight of Morris's iconic fabrics were reissued in the Pure Morris Wallpaper Collec>on using the original woodblock prin>ng techniques. The pagerns were updated in subdued and modern color paleges (Figure 10).
Our final object shows the influence William Morris and the Arts & Cra,s Movement had on design. The philosophy and ideals of the Arts & Cra,s Movement was to spread beyond Great Britain. In furniture, these ideals can be seen in the work of Gustav S>ckley (1857-1942). A furniture manufacturer in the United States, he is known for his impeccable cra,smanship and func>onal design. S>ckley was aware of Morris's wri>ngs and in 1898 founded The United Cra,s later known as the Cra,sman Workshops near Syracuse, New York. It was here that he was master cra,sman. He also published a journal, The Cra,sman, beginning in 1901. This journal was intended to promote his designs and further the ideals of the Arts & Cra,s Movement. S>ckley believed in honesty of design, ideas of comfort and simplicity, and the use of American materials. His pieces also reflect the influence of medieval, Shaker furniture, and Japanese forms. Characteris>c of his pieces are the use of oak, basic joinery techniques, and the absence of carved or inlaid decora>on. All of these characteris>cs can be seen in the Sideboard Table of ca. 1901 (Figure 11).
Figure 10. Morris & Co. Pure Morris Wallpaper Collec>on
Figure 11. Stickley. Sideboard Table. ca. 1901
What I find fascina>ng when scrolling through the images on this content page is that ALL of the designs show a faithfulness to the natural world. Whether it be in the source imagery, materials, or the techniques used, there is no abundance of superfluous decora>on or a prolifera>on of unnecessary ornamenta>on. The aforemen>oned were hallmarks of tradi>onal Victorian design; think = more is beger (Figure 12).-
When scrolling through the pages on this site, I find that all of the designs show fidelity to the natural world, not just the usual Victorian style.
Figure 12. Drawing Room from the Christensen Home. Copenhagen, Denmark. ca. 1890. Na>onal Museum of Denmark.
There were many who preferred the eclec>cism of Victorian design with all of its decora>on and ornamenta>on made possible via handbooks and mechaniza>on. The more is beger look was o,en associated with your social status, interests, and travels. Being able to have the newest in design was visible in an interior. Thus, highligh>ng the consumerism of the >me.
When I look at the interior in Figure 12 it is almost as if the owners wanted to shut out the world around them. The interior has no >e to the outside, no >e to the natural world. The design is full of lush tex>les, interes>ng pagerns, a plethora of materials, and lots of "stuff" to look at, but it seems removed from the natural world.
This is the type of interior those associated with the Arts & Cra,s Movement were revol>ng against. Most if not all of the objects in Figure 12 were products of industrializa>on. To William Morris and his followers there was nothing that was ar>s>cally designed. For the members of the Arts & Cra,s Movement there was also something to be said of having designs that were "..both beau>ful and useful...". -The objects in Figure 12 were all made by industrializa>on. Most of them were not designed by William Morris or his followers.
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