Antoni Gaudí

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Living in Southern Europe I embrace a regular tendency to want to visit those national memorials celebrating the icons of local culture. One of the finest examples of this is the work of the Catalan Modernist architect, Antoni Gaudi. I am not talking solely about the trophy building, the outstanding and outrageous – if a little claustrophobic if you’ve ever tried to climb one of the spires – La Sagrada Família – but whilst magnificent there is much more to his wonderful work.

Gaudi’s place in the history of Architecture and his influence in a pantheon of modern art, including the likes of the fourteen year old Picasso, who moved to Barcelona in 1896 and into Gaudi’s circles, was immense. Gaudi’s work – much of which is now classed as World Heritage Sites stems from an era of the Renaixença (or Renaissance) in Barcelona of prosperity and vision. His work remains much appreciate by the likes of the writer Lorca and the artist, and fellow Catalan, Salvador Dali, as a vibrant legacy to this era.

Born 25 June 1852  the son, grandson and great-grandson of boiler workers from the Baix Camp (Catalonia). Growing up appreciating the fusion of copper and iron enabled Gaudi to claim that when he imagined in three dimensions, which became core to his fluid and evolutionary work. Indeed, he rarely created detailed plans preferring models of his proposed buildings. Similarly, he was enraptured by the perhaps conflicting mysteries of nature, especially that of his beloved Mediterranean coast, vegetarianism and his profound Roman Catholic faith.

After school, where he excelled in art, in 1868 Gaudi moved to Barcelona to study teaching followed by some time of compulsory military service which was punctuated by ill-heath. In 1878 Gaudi graduated from the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture having funded his training by working as a draftsman to various notable but local architects.

Gaudí rise was meteoric. His first important commission was Manuel Vicens i Montaner, the Casa Vicens, a Moorish revival palace, which, after 130 years as private home, recently reopened to the public.

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Over the subsequent thirty years his work and Barcelona were synonymous. The City changed, and under the patronage of Eusebi Güell, Count Güell – a Catalan industrialist – fine examples of Gaudi’s best work can be seen including:

The Parc Güell:

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The Crypt at Colonia Güell

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Palau Güell

 

Casa Batlló – commissioned in 1904, by Josep Batlló, Gaudi’s task was to design and renovate this extraordinary property, to create a house like no other. Gaudi completed the project in 1906, becoming a masterpiece on Barcelona’s, Passeig de Gracia.

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The Casa Milà commissioned in 1906 by Pere Milà – a developer – and his wife, Roser Segimon, the widow of a wealthy Indiano coffee plantation owner.

In 1883, at the age of 31 Gaudi was appointed to the Sagrada Família project, after original designer quit, becoming Architect Director in 1894. From 1915 until his death on 10th June 1926, following being struck by a tram at the age of 73, Gaudí focussed his entire creative energy on the development and construction of this amazing building.

See below a model of the finished Basilica. Please also see this amazing video compiled for the UK newspaper The Daily Mail highlighting what the Sagrada Familia will look like at completion – please click the link – Sagrada Familia – Completed

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Said to be the most important piece of Gothic architecture in Europe since the Middle Aged, Gaudi combined Gothic and Art Nouveau forms together in the Sagrada Familia with naturalistic and flowing details of plantlife and cleaver uses of light throughout.

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I am also a massive fan of another Modernist Architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, about whom I posted on Aestheticons before, celebrating his body of iconic work – see here our previous post – Charles Rennie Mackintosh 

One of the few projects that Gaudi undertook away from Catalonia was the minaret-like country lodge – a fine example of his oriental influences – of El Capricho in Comillas (Cantabria, Northern Spain). It was built between 1883-85 as a summer home for a returning Indiano Maximo Diaz de Quijano (The Marquis of Comillas and Father in Law of Count Güell). Atypically for Gaudi’s work the stained glass, wood rafters and metal work are exemplary. The emblematic flowers, oriental and stylised ceramics look like they may have come straight from the pallet of Mackintosh. It’s thought that Gaudi and Mackintosh never met, though they died two years apart, but their naturalistic work replendent with great drama, vision and charm is firmly rooted in the same Modernist and Art Nouveau movements.

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Whilst we learn in Dan Brown’s excellent “Origin”, set almost exclusively in Gaudi’s Barcelona, that the Roman Catholic Church has not funded either Gaudi’s final resting place nor the building surrounding it, the Sagrada Família. The work on this fine building has been halted over the years whilst additional funds were collected. It is anticiapated that construction will be finally complete by 2026 to coincide with one hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

My hope is to have whetted your appetite to know more about Gaudi and his work. Two very useful resources are the following books, please click the Amazon link below the image in each case.

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Antonio Gaudi: Master Architect

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Gaudi: A Biography

Enjoy Dan Brown’s page-turner “Origin” by clicking the Amazon link below the image of the book 

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Origin: (Robert Langdon Book 5)

STOP PRESS: 

In April 2019 it was reported, after a two year dispute, that the Sagrada Famila, which has seen over 139 years of construction and is visited annually by 4.5m, had now received its final planning permission from Barcelona’s City Hall!

Ironically, the City Hall only agreed to pass the final permission for the Basilica, provided that the Catholic Church, which owns the site in Central Barcelona and has spectacularly failed to contributed towards the development costs of the wonderful Basilica, paid €34m towards local community projects.

The predictions are that 2026 is still an achievable completion date for the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Status building.

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Image Credits – with grateful thanks http://www.archdaily.com/Rory Stott, The Barcelona Tourist Association, The Gaudi Foundation and The Daily Mail

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AesthetIcons – Happy New Year

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For this, my 250th AesthetIcons’ post and first of the New Year, I am going to be a little self indulgent, introspective and, perhaps, somewhat overly analytical. Many of you will have read my praises of the “aesthetic” and the “iconic” – often both – but I want to regroup in order to further develop Aestheticons.com.

What may be aesthetic and/or iconic, is probably in the eye of the beholder. Clearly, it’s primarily subjective. Indeed, I am happy that not all of us with love the same designs. Conversely, it is entirely possible to appreciate something that we don’t particularly like. The Toyota Prius, whilst I recognise it may be iconic – in a curiously evolutionary way – it’s just not particularly aesthetic!

Not all will appreciate my almost clinical devotion to the products produced for over seventy years by the Stuttgart based Porsche AG, from the earliest incarnations of the 1950’s with 356 to the most recent iterations of the Porsche Targa. To me, Porsche cars are the very definition of what is both Aesthetic and Iconic.

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The use over many hundreds of years of Icons by the Russian Orthodox religion gives us much of the substance to our present day usage of the expression – although the etymological root of the word itself comes from the Greek “eikōn” meaning “image”. Whether worship of icons is entirely sound is a matter of personal faith but they do present a focus for devotion.

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The word “iconic” is often used in the media as short-hand for “famous”. Is David Beckham an “icon” – possibly – he was certainly was an amazing footballer who is now using his brand equity for commercial and philanthropic purposes. Coco Chanel, the originator of the Little Black Dress and the wonderful No. 5 perfume, is often described as an icon and her creations are equally titled. She also very ably ticks the box that spells ”Aesthetic”.

Kim Kardashian is described as having her own “Aesthetic” aside from her charms I struggle to see this as being more than “style”. This may result from the relationship between the host of a Twitter or Instagram account and their legion of followers, who, sadly, are unlikely to ever see yet alone meet their icon! For me Aesthetic is adjacent to “Art”. Essentially, the viewer’s reaction that confirming the objects status – again entirely subjective.

It seems that an adopted definition of an “Icon” is that the subject acquires its title through familiarity, use and enjoyment, especially, over a number of years.

Whilst New York’s Chrysler Building – see our previous post here Chrysler Building, New York City– or the Guggenheim Museum – see our previous post here Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and London’s Battersea Power Station – see our previous post here Battersea Power Station are undisputed icons of world architecture and they enjoy substantial praise for their aesthetic values. Is it time alone that has cemented these giants into the public’s consciousness, appreciation and nostalgia? Can London’s The Shard by Renzo Piano, The Gherkin by Foster and Shuttleworth or Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao see our previous post here Guggenheim Museum Bilbao hope to stand shoulder to shoulder with these masterpieces? Obviously yes, but it is much more than a question of  merely adding time.

It seems that there are certain icons that are loved and cherished that fail, taking their brand equity with them. Some of the familiar brands that have disappeared recently include: The US airline, once the emblem of the “Jet Set” international travel, Pan Am collapsed into bankruptcy in 1994. Hummer, once the Schwarzenegger of SUVs, in 2008 General Motors sensing the end of the road for conspicuous consumption tried to sell the brand but due to a lack of commercial interest in 2010 the doors were shut. Woolworths, the Home of Pic’N’Mix, largely due to the 2007 Credit Crunch, filed for Administration in November 2008, closing all stores within a couple of months. Athenasee our previous post here – Tennis Girl and Friends – founded in 1964, the home of student poster decoration, entered administration in 1995.

Some truly iconic brands have been saved and thrive, evolving into new markets whilst ensuring the continued affection of fans. These include: Falcon Enamel Wear see our previous post here – Falcon Enamelware Bugatti was founded in 1909 by Ettore Bugatti, following years at the leading edge of motor racing the factory was bombed in WWII and with Bugatti’s death the business was eventually acquired by Volkswagen in 1990s today producing £2.0m supercars. Moleskinesee our previous post here – Moleskine Notebook the original manufacturer, a France-based family, ceased production in 1986 following the death of its principal. The brand was very successfully revived eleven years later by Italian publisher Modo & Modo.

I am particularly determined to revive – see our previous post here – Woods & Sons “Beryl Ware” crockery – quite simply the most familiar crockery that you have known for years, as used in all manner of cafes and, I suspect, you’d love to own. Do you remember the Husky Quilted Jackets? Loved by English Princesses and Milanese businessmen – with the corduroy collar and cuffs that came in fire-engine red, marine blue and Hunter welly’s green – see our previous post here – Hunter Green Wellington Boots My research has shown the brand was acquired in a corporate buy-out but I challenge you to find a new Husky jacket.

My interests in the Aesthetic and Iconic are unlimited by genre, item or product type. There are the new and old, the familiar and less familiar. As we evolve, our core philosophy remains constant – to celebrate beautiful things. We will continue to curate and to introduce our audience to iconic designs. I relish the journey!

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Image Credits with thanks: Porsche AG, Volkswagen, Falcon Enamel Wear, Hunter Wellingtons, Moleskine, Tudor Watches, Chanel.

Battersea Power Station

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City skylines usually evolve by way of demolition, often to the regret of the local population. I am delighted to say that the iconic Battersea Power Station is being  restored and integrated into an exciting riverside development.

For those who have never visited London but have only ever seen the great city as depicted in mid-last century’s movies they would believe that a “peasouper” – a dense fog that ground London to a wheezing halt – was typical.

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Sadly, meteological conditions alone were not entirely responsible for the London’s fogs, the unabated burning of fossil fuels, particularly coal, was a major contributor. London’s  Great Smog of 1952 led to the 1956 Clean Air Act.

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Battersea Power Station is a decommissioned coal fired power station – that burned around 1m tons of coal annually – located on London’s south bank at Nine Elms. It was designed Sir Giles Gilbert Scott – the designer of London’s famous red-telephone boxes – and built of brick. It comprises two buildings: A Station – containing many Art Deco influences including Italian marble and parquet floors – was being built in the 1930s and B Station – slightly to the East – was built Post WWII in the austerity of 1950s.

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In 1983, as direct response to the need for more careful environmental management the station ceased to generate electricity thus leading to a nearly thirty-five year long struggle to maintain the stunning Grade II listed building whilst trying to decide what and who should be entrusted with its future.

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Various attempts were been made to purchase the building with a view to redeveloping the site. In 1983 it was thought that a Theme Park might be a bright idea, planning permission was granted in 1986 and work stared including the removal of the roof. Costs rose astronomically and development was halted in 1989. In 1993 a Hong Kong based consortium started a decade long journey to try to develop the site. Further attempts in 2004 stalled and a sale in 2006 collapsed when loans were called in.

In 2012  a Malaysian consortium purchased with the restoration of the Grade II Power Station as a centre piece. A combination of  shops, leisure facilities and office space would sit alongside residential homes and a new Northern Line tube extension. Construction commenced in 2013 with an intended completion in 2017. The Northern Line extension will take until 2020, with Frank Gehry – see previous post – Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and Foster & Partners being appointed joint architects of this latter stage.

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In September 2016, Apple announced plans to relocate 1,400 employees to the station by 2021.

Battersea Power Station is not only a world famous London landmark it has appeared in many films including Albert Hitchcock’s “Sabotage” (1936) – before B Station was built, The Beatles’ “Help”, Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” and the 2007 Batman movie “The Dark Night”.

Perhaps the most celebrated artistic uses of Battersea Power Station was on the cover photo of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” album in 1977 which was loosely based on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. The band’s Roger Waters commissioned artist Jeffrey Shaw and Ballon Fabrik to design, “Algie”, an inflatable pig which was tied to one of the Station’s southern chimneys. The pig broke loose and caused consternation as it drifted into Heathrow’s flightpath eventually landing in Kent.

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Buy your own copy of Pink Floyd’s “Animals” – in formats including vinyl by clicking the following AMAZON link Animals (2011 Remastered Version)
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Put an “Animals’  mug in the Christmas stocking of a Pink Floyd fan by clicking the following AMAZON link

Pyramid International “Pink Floyd (Animals)” Official Boxed Ceramic Coffee/Tea Mug, Multi-Colour, 11 oz/315 ml

Images courtesy of Pink Floyd/Jeffrey Shaw/Warner Music Group/The Telegraph

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Gugenheim Bilbao

Canadian born Frank Owen Gehry has been called by Vanity Fair “the most important architect of our age”. If you are looking for iconic building in cities around the world his contemporary roster is hugely impressive including the new home for The Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris (France) and his Deconstuctivist, primarily residential tower comprising 76 floors of stainless steel and glass, at 8 Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan (new York City) which upon completion in 2011 stood at 265 metres and was the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere.

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Gehry’s is perhaps, curiously, best-known for his titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. It was opened in 1997 and is already regarded as amongst the world’s most contemporary iconic structure. Built of titanium, glass, and limestone the museum features exhibitions organized by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and comprises elements from the permanent collection of the Guggenheim museums – please see our earlier post on the equally spectacular Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City – Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

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Plans for a new museum in Bilbao date to the late 1980s, when the Basque regional authorities began formulating a major redevelopment of this previously highly industrialised region. It was not until 1991, however, that the authorities proposed the idea for a local Guggenheim Museum to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

A site of 32,500 m2 by Nervión River was identified and three architects—Arata Isozaki, Coop Himmelb(l)au and Frank Gehry — were invited to submit conceptual designs.

The finished Museum was opened in 1997. The museum sits harmoniously alongside the River in the old industrial heart of the city. There are 11,000 m2 of exhibition space constituted of nineteen galleries. Ten classic galleries – the largest 30m x130m that is use as a temporary exhibition space – and nine irregularly shaped ones.

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao represents a pinnacle in Gehry’s career. It is a classic blend of art and aesthetic architecture that is, arguably as compelling as the piece displayed within.

Like many of Spain’s autonomous regions, the Basque region has so much to offer from compelling scenery, to surfing, amazing art galleries, tapas called ‘pintxos’ and museums. Whilst many are drawn to the more familiar South and South Eastern coasts of Spain, I’d recommend a visit from the UK/near Europe for a long weekend trip to the Bilbao and Santander regions – but remember the weather can be a “bit Cornwall” so bring a raincoat!

Since posting this piece, in later 2017 Dan Brown, the celebrated author released “Origin” – a real page turner. Much of the opening action in this compelling story takes place in or around The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Get your copy of Dan Brown’s “Origin” by clicking the following AMAZON link Origin: (Robert Langdon Book 5)

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Images courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

 

London Transport roundels

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Apparently there is no word that succinctly expresses the emotion of  “love for your home city”. Words are so often replaced by symbols; iconic emblems that partner generations to become enduringly locked in a collective’s civic pride or psyche. One such iconic logo is the London Transport’s roundels – as the instantly recognisable image is known.

First used in a trademark for the London General Omnibus Company and registered in 1905, the roundel first outing on the Underground was in 1908 when the Underground Electric Railway of London (UERL) – as the Tube’s operator was then known – used a solid red circle behind a station’s name-board on a platform at stop now called St James’ Park to highlight the station’s name. An example of the original logo is still in use at Ealing Broadway.  In 1912, in posters designed by Charles Saarland and Alfred France, the word “Underground” was itself used in a roundel.

Frank Pick, the then Publicity Manager, who was to become the boss of UERL, was very  interested in design and thought the solid red disc appeared too heavy. So, in 1915 Pick asked Edward Johnston, a typographer, to develop a new typeface – later called the “Johnston” – and a revised symbol to incorporate a red ring and a blue bar for the station’s name – in his new typeface. The result was registered as a trademark in 1917.

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In the late 1920’s, Pick, by then General Manager, recruited architect Charles Holden to design certain new Underground stations and reconstruct existing ones. Holden incorporated the roundel logo into many exteriors – see South Wimbledon Station that dates from 1926 – platforms and bus stop shelters.

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In 1933, the words “London Transport” were added inside the ring to allow the symbol to be used for tubes, buses, trams etc. In the same year, an Underground electrical draughtsman, Harry Beck, was asked to devise the now iconic Tube map. His mission was accomplished with wonderful simplicity – note the use of the Underground roundel.

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By your vintage Underground Map by clicking the following AMAZON link Transport For London 60 x 80 cm London Underground Vintage 1936 Map Canvas

Despite attempts over the years to update or change the roundel in the interest of “modernisation”, by and large the original 1908 logo is still in use. The only material change came in 1983 when after some consideration a new typeface called “New Johnston” was adopted. It has been the official TfL and Mayor of London typeface ever since.

From 2013, forms of the roundel, with differing colours for the ring and bar, were used by the current trademark holder Transport for London (TfL) for its services including London Buses, Tramlink, London Overground, London River Services and Docklands Light Railway.

The huge civil engineering project known as “Crossrail”, which has now been re-named the Elizabeth Line, which runs through the Capital, from Reading in the West to Shenfield in the East, is due to open in 2018 has already been awarded its own roundel – recently unveiled by Her Majesty – of course, in regal purple.

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Photos and images credit courtesy of Transport for London

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

CRM Painting Tea Rooms

There can be few who have visited Glasgow and have failed to be impressed by enduring legacy of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928).  Evident in  locations around the city are the iconic result of his work as an architect, designer and artist.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born into a large middle class Glaswegian family. An able student, in 1890 he won the Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship to study ancient classic architecture. Thomson, an eminent Glaswegian architect, known for his stunning churches, his influence has been traced to places around the world including New York City and the works of Frank Lloyd Wright.

His first major architectural project, the Glasgow Herald Building (now known as The Lighthouse) was in 1899.

In 1913, having resigned from a previous partnership, Honeyman & Keppie, he attempted to open his own practice.

Given Glasgow’s heritage and reputation in international shipbuilding, various Japanese engineers were sent to be learn their trades in Scotland bringing with them oriental artefacts. Japanese art and culture caught Mackintosh’s imagination and influenced his style. He was fascinated by simple forms, natural materials, the use of texture and light and shadow.  Japanese arts, furniture and design particularly stressed the quality of the space. Combining an Asiatic influence with new warmer aspects of Modernism and Art Nouveau, that were then arriving from Europe, Mackintosh drew on and blended these influence with his upbringing and traditional Scottish architecture with stunning results.

The Glasgow School of Art sealed his reputation as an influential architect.

An extensive amount of his architectural detailing was almost certainly designed by his wife and fellow artist, Margaret MacDonald

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His architectural output was small, but influential. He was commissioned by the publisher, Walter Blackie, to design Hill House in Helensburgh, to the west of Glasgow.  Blackie stipulated that the construction should include no bricks, plaster, wooden beams or a red-tiled roof.  He wanted grey rough cast walls and a slate roof but otherwise Mackintosh was given a free rein. Mackintosh spent time with the Blackie and his family so as to ensure that his design would suit the needs of the family.

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Mackintosh, his wife, her sister, Frances and his architectural colleague, Herbert MacNair, became known a “The Glasgow Four”. They exhibited widely in Glasgow, London and Vienna – influencing a number of contemporaries – and became leaders in the development of the “Glasgow Style” of the 1890’s.

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Mackintosh’s interior design work is particularly beautiful with the Willow Tea Room and the Ingram Street tea room (now demolished) both being fine examples.

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His fine and detailed work is also seen in his furniture, in addition to his signature ladder back chairs he and his wife designed glazed cabinets and screens.

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Having become disillusioned with architecture, Mackintosh and his wife moved to the Suffolk village of Walberswick in 1941 and there continued to paint, particularly watercolours.

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In 1923 the couple moved to Port-Vendres in the South of France where their work as artists continued but sadly returned to London in 1927 when Charles was diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer.

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The Arts & Crafts Movement

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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