A Selling Exhibition presented by The Antique Trader 2 to 27 June 2004
In memory of Gordon House 1932 – 2004
artist, designer, friend and mentor
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Rejecting the age of 'Gradgrind'.
"The last stage of decomposition had been reached, and a period of, perhaps, unexampled hideousness in furniture, dress and decoration set in…"
Walter Crane 1897
The poor quality of design on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851 marked the nadir not only of British design, but also of Victorian commercialism. Fortunately this degradation acted as a catalyst for the development of a critique that would produce, in the latter half of the nineteenth and first part of twentieth centuries, a philosophy and a movement that would profoundly alter how we think of our homes and how we live in them.
The writings of John Ruskin and later William Morris acted as the spur for this new movement. The ideal of a society regenerated by the values and skills of craftsmanship fired numerous architects, designers, artists and craft workers to act. What was needed was "… a return to simplicity, to sincerity; to good materials and sound workmanship; to rich and suggestive surface decoration, and simple constructive forms": the production of "good citizens' furniture".
William Morris' now famous plea to, "have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" became the watchwords for those who would forge the Arts & Crafts Movement.
Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, the firm he set up in 1861 (later known as simply Morris & Co), put his ideas into practice and was an impetus and example for others to follow. Branches of work offered by the firm included furniture, mural decoration, carving, stained glass, metal work as well as jewellery and embroidery.
The movement achieved added cohesion by following Ruskin's advocacy of the guild system and the forming of his Guild of St George. The first private guild to follow was established in 1882 by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo. The ambitions of this newly formed Century Guild were set out in the guild's magazine the Hobby Horse: "The aim … is to render all branches of Art the sphere, no longer of the tradesman, but of the artist. It would restore building decoration, glass painting, pottery, wood carving and metalwork to their rightful place beside painting and sculpture".
The Century Guild was followed by the foundation of the Art Workers Guild in 1884 and later the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society in 1886. Their annual exhibitions became showcases for numerous guilds, designers and commercial firms (they were allowed to exhibit as long as they named designers and craftsmen) whose work would transform liberal tastes.
To celebrate this development this exhibition has gathered an outstanding range of exhibits which capture the essence of the Arts & Crafts Movement, with the focus on the core years of the Movement – 1880 – 1914.
The selection of objects, with examples by Morris & Co, Liberty, Goodyers, Baillie-Scott, Heal and Voysey, will give you a clearer understanding of the aims of these pioneers.
Amongst the exhibits is a rare corner washstand probably designed by George Jack and stamped Morris & Co., Oxford Street; and a unique oak green-stained coffer with copper-patinated gesso panels depicting Diana the Huntress designed by Godfrey Blount (founder of the Peasant Arts Society located in Haslemere). This coffer is illustrated and commended in the Studio Magazine of 1893. The memorial trowel used to lay the foundation stone of theBirmingham Guild of Handicrafts will also be in the exhibition.
As the country's leading specialists in furniture designed by Ambrose Heal for Heal & Son the examples of his work are of particular note. A chestnut dresser c.1904 for the show house at Letchworth New Town is outstanding and the St Ives wardrobe and dressing chest are quintessential examples of the Arts & Crafts style.
Like so many other hopes and aspirations the movement's ideals and methods were brought to an abrupt halt by the tragedy of the First World War. However, their legacy was continued and championed by individual craftspeople such as Gimson, the Barnsley's and Peter Waals in and around the Cotswolds.
The tenacity and invention of those like Ambrose Heal, Gordon Russell, Betty Joel and others who battled to build commercial organisations that developed, in practical ways, the movements' ideals ensured that this legacy was not wasted. As Nikolaus Pevsner has noted, "the history of artistic theory between 1890 and the First World War proves the assertion … Morris laid the foundation for the modern style …"
To view the illustrated catalogue and with a full list of exhibits follow this link through the white doors
Illustrated catalogue £5 plus p&p from firstname.lastname@example.org