In the latter half of the 19th Century, on the heels of the Industrial Revolution, decorative arts were characterized by the ready availability of mass-produced objects that lacked style or craftsmanship. Around 1860, stimulated by the paucity of quality in design and manufacture, a group aesthetes emerged to challenge a perceived lack of public taste.
In 1861, poet, designer and social reformer, William Morris (1834-1896) founded a firm of interior decorators and household manufacturers, later to become known as “Morris and Company.” As a reaction to the machine-made products displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, which were seen as overly ornate and artificial, Morris’ aim was to recapture the essence of quality as demonstrated by medieval craftsmen. He believed that craftsmen should received pleasure from the fruits of their work.
The predominance of simple and manually executed forms combined with folk, Gothic or romantic styles and techniques were core to the Arts and Crafts Movement but of equal importance was a reaction against the squalid condition that factory workers endured.
Morris’ ideas, formed at Oxford University, lay in a fervent committment to social reform and his view that a the designer needed to be instrumental to the manufacturing process. Morris made his furniture and decorative objects commercially available from the early 1860’s both his philosophy and designs were very successful such that by the late 19th century, Arts and Crafts design in houses and domestic interiors was the dominant style in Britain. The Movement stimulate demand for the skills of craftspeople and it’s influence in architecture, sculpture, woodwork, ceramics and home furnishings is particularly evident.
The term “Arts and Crafts”, was first used by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, at an inaugural meeting of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1887. A close friend of Morris’, and a Barrister turned book-binder, he later ran the Dove Bindery in Hammersmith (West London) taking its name from the nearby pub, “The Dove” – (Ed. a particular favourite, charming Riverside pub). As can be seen in our featured image, a first exhibition was held a year later at London’s New Gallery – now the site of Burberry’s flagship store at 121 Regent Street London – at which Morris’ products were prominent.
The Society still exist but now known as “the Society of Designer Craftsmen”.
The Movement’s was equally inspired by the ideas of architect and designer, Augustus Pugin (1812–1852) and the writer John Ruskin (1819–1900) – a social reformer who stressed that products should be crafted and desired by contented craftsman.
Founded in 1875, Liberty & Co., – based in London’s Regent Street – became prominent retailer of goods in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement.
The influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement has been profound and enduring with the likes of Robert “Mouseman” Thompson, a Yorkshire oak furniture maker who was active in the 1920’s, an era that saw an Arts and Crafts revival, carving a mouse on almost every piece – seen here on an early cheese board.
The Arts and Crafts Movement clearly led to the establishment of the Art Nouveau style and commentators have detected elements of the Movements influence in the 1951 Festival Of Britain and in the works of respected designers such as Sir Terence Conran see our previous post Bibendum -The Michelin Man