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Week 5 - The Arts & Crafts Movement

The Arts & Crafts Movement was a reaction against the ostentatious, pompous style of High Victorian. In many ways it was a form of nostalgia, a desire to return to the past, but it was also a very gentle attempt to start a social revolution.

Various branches spontaneously developed within the Arts and Crafts Movement. Each had it's own character, style, specialisation and leaders. The major branches in the United Kingdom included The Guild of Handicraft, The Glasgow School and the Cotswold School. The Arts and Craft Movement also thrived in the United States of America:

The beginnings of the Arts and Crafts Movement were political rather than artistic, although over the fifty years or so that the Movement survived it became far more commercialised and production based rather than meeting the high ideals of it's founders to make the world a better place.

As the Arts & Crafts Movement idealised pre-Industrialised society, it follows that their style preference was also based very much on days gone by. This "cult of the Medieval" became fashionable throughout society, and somewhat ironically ended up decorating the houses of the wealthy "new money" Industrialists who the Movement so hated.

William Morris (1834-1896)

Writer, designer and central figure of the Arts & Crafts Movement. William Morris was a passionate socialist who wanted to improve the lives of the poor in Victorian England. Perhaps unrealistically, he believed that it was possible to accomplish this through a return to traditional craftsmanship, since he and his group blamed industrialisation and mechanisation for many of the social problems in England at that time.

When he couldn't find satisfactory furnishings for the home he was having built, The Red House, William Morris developed the idea of forming a collective to produce such designs. He founded a company William Morris & Co that manufactured tapestries, furniture and stained glass.
Google.com image search for William Morris

The Red House epitomises all that the Arts & Crafts Movement represented. It was recently acquired by the National Trust and has been restored as a museum. I will feature The Red House in a demonstration Tutorial Presentation.

Some other prominent figures in the Arts & Crafts Movement included:

William De Morgan (1839-1917)

A ceramicist who experimented and developed new techniques, borrowing both stylistically and technically from the Near East. Much of his work has a Moorish, Persian or oriental style. He was a friend of William Morris and the major tile designer in the Arts & Crafts Movement. He was also a painter of some note in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Jacquard woven wool doublecloth
by C.F.A. Voysey

Charles (C.F.A.) Voysey (1857-1941)

Architect and designer of furniture and furnishings.

After finding it difficult to obtain work as an architect, Voysey took the advice of his friend A. H. Mackmurdo and began to design textiles and wallpapers. Many of these were produced by Liberty & Co (featured in last week's page). Later on, Voysey returned to architecture and furniture design. His Gothic Revival training as an architect always showed in his work, which has a slightly austere and yet homely feel, very indicative of the Arts & Crafts Movement.

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

Philosopher, artist and art critic who developed the ideas that Morris and his followers applied in practice. He painted very traditional watercolours himself, and disliked anything approaching Impressionism.

If you fancy buying some exact reproductions of William Morris designed furniture and furnishings have a look at:
achome.co.uk or sanderson-online.co.uk/morrisandco/main.htm

There is much in common between the Art & Crafts Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherood, a society of artists whose works were also based upon a nostalgic glorification of the past.
Google Directory - Arts Movements - Pre-Raphaelites

  • The opulence and excess of the worst of High Victorian Style as typified by the Great Exhibition in 1851 resulted in a backlash by designers. They wanted simplicity and meaning rather than over the top, pompous and showy design.
  • Relationship between literature, art and design

Some key technical innovations:

  • Philosophy as a basis for design.
  • Ceramic techniques, glazes etc brought back from Japan.

Meanwhile, in Fine Art:

  • Romanticism and Classicism continue
  • Pluralism, including: Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1890's): Millais, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, William Morris; Symbolism (1890's): Boecklin, Redon
  • Impressionism (1870-80's): Monet, Degas, Renoir - influenced by Ukiyo-e
  • Post Impressionism (1890's): Van Gogh, Gaugin

Next Week: Art Nouveau in the UK, Vienna & Germany

retrokat.com quite nice sites

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