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Design in the Archives
Taste, copyright and the decorative arts
‘There is a morbid craving in the public mind for novelty as mere novelty, without regard to intrinsic goodness . . . We also believe that the rage for novelty is the main support of the piratical designer.’ So wrote a commentator in the first issue of the Journal of Manufactures in 1849, edited by Henry Cole and Richard Redgrave, two leading nineteenth-century design reformers. Concern about the quality of British design and its ability to compete in the markets led to the setting up in 1835 of a Select Committee to examine the issues. It made three key recommendations. Schools of design should be set up; museums and galleries should be made accessible to all sections of society; and a copyright system should be established for all ornamental designs. The National Archives has almost three million designs that were registered for copyright between 1839 and 1991 as a result of this third recommendation. It was believed that establishing a system of copyright would encourage manufacturers to invest in high-quality designs and well-trained designers, safe in the knowledge that their work would not be pirated almost immediately and the pirated designs sold more cheaply. Consumers would be exposed to more examples of well-designed products and start to demand them. Pasted into enormous leather-bound volumes at the Designs Registry, established by the Designs Registration Act of 1839, are ‘representations’ of designs submitted as part of the copyright application process – drawings, photographs, samples, or sometimes whole objects, like hats or gloves. They form a form a huge and unique resource for the study of design history. Separate registers record the name and address of the copyright holder, or proprietor, the registered design number and date of registration, and sometimes a brief description of the object registered. Wallpapers and textiles by designers associated with design reform vividly demonstrate their belief that everyday objects had as much right to be considered works of art as the ‘fine arts’ of sculpture and painting. By studying these designs, registered under the subsequent Ornamental Designs Act of 1842, covering the period up to 1883, we can see how their design precepts translated into practice; how ideas about ‘good’ or ‘correct’ design evolved and changed over that period; and reflect on issues around the attribution of design, since the names of the designers themselves were not entered as part of the registration process.
Wallpaper designed by A W N Pugin
about Wallpaper designed by A W N Pugin
Registered by Frederick Crace & Son on 12 October 1848. BT 43/84/54787. The architect and designer A W N Pugin was a pioneer of design reform and promoted a revival of Gothic art, which he associated with the Christian values of a pre-industrial age. He is perhaps now best known for his work with Charles Barry on the new Palace of Westminster, for which this wallpaper was made. It was inspired by fifteenth century Italian textile design, and reflects Pugin’s belief that three-dimensional effects in wallpaper should be avoided as ‘dishonest’. Instead the pattern should be flat, reflecting the flat surface of the wall and what he termed ‘truth to materials’.
Textile designed by A W N Pugin
about Textile designed by A W N Pugin
Registered by Frederick Crace & Son on 28 May 1850. BT 43/357/69572. This is one of the few printed, as opposed to woven, textiles designed by Pugin. The flat pattern is highly original, and combines ogee forms and fleur-de-lis motifs inspired by medieval art with flower forms and trailing leaves. Pugin was one of the first architect/designers to be involved in all aspects of the decorative arts, and regarded textiles as an important aspect of interior design. Registered as a furnishing fabric, this textile was used in the interior scheme of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire, and is thought to have been displayed in the Medieval Court at the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Wallpaper registered by Heywood, Higginbottom, Smith & Co on 22 May 1851
about Wallpaper registered by Heywood, Higginbottom, Smith & Co on 22 May 1851
BT 43/88/78974. This is an example of the kind of design the reformers deplored. In 1852 Henry Cole put on an exhibition at the Museum of Manufactures at Marlborough House called the ‘Gallery of False Principles in Decoration’. This provided examples of where British manufacturers were going wrong, the accompanying Catalogue explaining the various violations of the reformers’ principles of design. The wallpaper, intended to celebrate the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, showed great skill and complexity in its manufacture. However, it was exhibit number 28 in the Gallery of False Principles, condemned because it ‘falsified perspective’. Clearly it failed to meet other measures of ‘correct’ design, being neither ‘subdued’, ‘conventionalised’ nor ‘flat’.
‘Moresque’ wallpaper designed by Owen Jones
about ‘Moresque’ wallpaper designed by Owen Jones
Registered by John Trumble & Co on 23 June 1858. BT 43/97/114049. The principles of design set out by Pugin were taken up by the design reform movement based around the Government School of Design in South Kensington. A key figure in the movement was Owen Jones. Jones travelled widely, researching different styles of design which were brought together and categorised in his hugely influential book The Grammar of Ornament, published in 1856. He was particularly inspired by Islamic design, as can be seen in this wallpaper, and led the way in the nineteenth century revival of what was termed the Moorish style in architecture and decoration.
‘Persian sprig’ wallpaper designed by Owen Jones
about ‘Persian sprig’ wallpaper designed by Owen Jones
Registered by John Trumble and Company on 23 June 1858. BT 43/97/114061. ‘Persian Sprig’ again reflects Jones’ interest in Islamic design. It also demonstrates his design precepts. He said that ‘all direct representations of nature in paper hangings should be avoided’ but instead natural forms should be ‘conventionalised’, or stylised, and distributed across the surface using geometric principles. Jones was well-known as a colour theorist, and received high praise for his colour schemes for the interior of the Crystal Palace. For wallpapers, he said that colours should be blended so that from a distance they would present ‘a neutralised bloom’.
‘Daisy’ wallpaper designed by William Morris
about ‘Daisy’ wallpaper designed by William Morris
Registered by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co on 1 February 1864. BT 43/99/171341. ‘Daisy’ was the first wallpaper designed by William Morris to be put into production. Morris, like the Pre-Raphaelite painters with whom he set up Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, shared Pugin’s passion for medieval art, culture and design, as well as his belief in the intrinsic value of hand craftsmanship and dislike of contemporary British design. ‘Daisy’, formed of stylised floral motifs, is thought to have been inspired by an illustration in a fifteenth-century version of Froissart’s Chronicles, shown in an illuminated manuscript at the British Museum. By the 1870s Morris’s wallpapers were often regarded as key elements of an Aesthetic interior.
‘Anemone’ furniture fabric design by William Morris
about ‘Anemone’ furniture fabric design by William Morris
Registered by ‘William Morris trading under the style of Morris & Co’ on 8 February 1876. BT 43/372/298226. This original design is for a woven wool and silk fabric. It demonstrates Morris’ use of natural forms and motifs, which were the result of his careful study of the natural world, within flat, stylised patterns. Like Pugin, Morris believed in ‘truth to materials’, saying that he tried ‘to make woollen substances as woollen as possible, cotton as cottony as possible, and so on.’ At the time this design was registered, Morris was experimenting with different dyes, in particular indigo, as an alternative to the newer chemical dyes.
‘Peacock’ wallpaper dado designed by E W Godwin
about ‘Peacock’ wallpaper dado designed by E W Godwin
Registered by Jeffrey & Co on 18 February 1873. BT 43/100/270551E W Godwin helped to popularise the Anglo-Japanese style, one of the defining characteristics of the Aesthetic movement. He introduced one of the movement’s most popular symbols, the peacock, shown here in the highly stylised form of a Japanese crest or mon. The diagonal ‘H’ pattern in the background was also derived from Japanese ornament. This formal peacock design was intended for use as a dado, with another of his designs, ‘Bamboo’, an informal, asymmetrical design, as the filling, or main section of wallpaper. The three-part division of walls into a dado, filling and frieze became a distinctive feature of Aesthetic design.
‘Star’ wallpaper by designed by E W Godwin
about ‘Star’ wallpaper by designed by E W Godwin
Registered by William Watt on 21 July 1876. BT 43/101/302033. Godwin showed a strong interest in wallpaper design, providing patterns for several leading companies. He produced wallpapers in a wide range of styles, but while highly original, his work was in keeping with the precepts of the design reformers, with designs such as ‘Star’ – one of only a few surviving examples of his wallpapers – featuring flat, conventionalised natural forms. Asymmetry was closely associated with Anglo-Japanese design, and was in sharp contrast to the strict symmetry found in the work of designers like Owen Jones.
Swan, rush and iris design for a wallpaper dado by Walter Crane
about Swan, rush and iris design for a wallpaper dado by Walter Crane
Registered by Jeffrey & Co on 16 August 1877. BT 43/101/313051. This is one of Walter Crane’s earliest wallpaper designs, and was intended as a dado. Crane was the first President of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, and believed passionately that design and craftsmanship deserved to be regarded on an equal footing with the ‘fine arts’. This is reflected in the pictorial quality of designs such as ‘Swan, rush and iris’, which demonstrate his mastery of flat pattern design. Crane was introduced to Metford Warner, the proprietor of Jeffrey & Co, by the designer Bruce Talbert, and became one of their most important designers.
‘The Sleeping Beauty’ wallpaper designed by Walter Crane
about ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ wallpaper designed by Walter Crane
Registered by Jeffrey & Co on 21 August 1879. BT 43/103/338553Well-known as an illustrator of children’s books, Walter Crane designed a number of nursery wallpapers for Jeffrey & Co, including The Sleeping Beauty. Like William Morris, Crane believed that the decorative arts had symbolic potential. Morna O’Neill (2010) has discussed the way in which Crane returned to the theme of The Sleeping Beauty throughout his career. For example, in an essay of 1892 he refers to ‘the sense of beauty’ who, ‘like the enchanted princess in the wood, seems liable, both in communities and individuals, to periods of hypnotism’.
Woven silk fabric registered by William Fry & Co on 20 December 1876
about Woven silk fabric registered by William Fry & Co on 20 December 1876
BT 43/414/306159. This textile design was sold as a roller-printed cotton by Liberty’s department store in Regent Street, a key force in popularising the Aesthetic style, from the late 1880s onwards. It was revived in 1975 and is still used in a range of artefacts by the store under the name Hera. However, the design represents something of a mystery. It is usually attributed to Arthur Silver at the Silver Studio, but the sample at The National Archives was registered in 1876, several years before the Silver Studio was established in 1880, calling this attribution into question.
Textile sample registered by H C McCrea & Co on 1 June 1875
about Textile sample registered by H C McCrea & Co on 1 June 1875
BT 43/414/291681. This textile design in the Anglo-Japanese style uses decorative motifs associated with Japanese art, and geometric design has given way to an asymmetrical pattern. Although it is not possible to attribute the design, a number of Aesthetic designers were working in this style in the mid-1870s. Christopher Dresser undertook detailed studies of Japanese design and was particularly productive at this period, designing hundreds of textiles for a range of manufacturers. H C McCrea had connections with key designers, and it seems reasonable to speculate that this design might be by Dresser.
‘The Sunflower’ wallpaper designed by Bruce Talbert
about ‘The Sunflower’ wallpaper designed by Bruce Talbert
Registered by Jeffrey & Co on 22 January 1878. Bruce Talbert was one of the most prolific and influential designers of the nineteenth century, who designed furniture and metalwork as well as wallpapers and textiles. His ‘sunflower’ series of wallpapers were his most popular, and his style, with its use of flat patterns and sharply delineated flowers, fruit and leaves, was much imitated. This design was displayed at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1878, where it won a gold medal. The sunflower was perhaps the most popular and enduring motif of the Aesthetic movement, appearing in wallpapers, textiles, ceramics and even in the external brickwork of buildings.
‘Indian’ wallpaper designed by Christopher Dresser
about ‘Indian’ wallpaper designed by Christopher Dresser
Registered by Jeffrey & Co on 28 May 1879. Christopher Dresser was a prolific designer, working across most areas of the decorative arts. He wrote a number of influential works on design and design theory, but unlike proponents of the Arts and Crafts Movement embraced mass production. Like Pugin and other designer reformers, Dresser believed in using nature as the basis of ornament. Trained as a botanist, he pioneered the concept of ‘artistic botany’, contributing a plate to his former tutor Owen Jones’ book The Grammar of Ornament. Like Jones, Dresser believed that representations of nature should be ‘conventionalised’ rather than naturalistic, as shown in this design featuring stylised cornflowers.