Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Dr Christopher Dresser - Intro

These days most collectors who have an interest in applied art and design will be familiar with the name Christopher Dresser as much as say Clarice Cliff. You do not need to like their style but you have to agree that they have both had a lasting influence on design even into the 21st Century. Pastiches of Clarice Cliff designs are still made and Christopher Dresser designs have been made recently by Alessi !

I will not spend too much time on the biographical details of his life as I am more interested in the objects he design. Having said that, it is always nice to have a few facts about the character behind the design as it all adds to the history and the whole "worth" of the work of art.

Christopher Dresser was born in Glasgow in 1834, his father was an excise officer. He was educated at Bandon Grammer School in County Cork before studying at the School of Design in London aged just 13 in 1847. He was there for 7 years and in that time would have come under the influence of Richard Redgrave, Henry Cole, George Wallis and the effects of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

His interest in the design of patterns and ornamentation led to the study of Botany, regarded at the time as fundemental to ornamentation. This study in turn led to him giving lectures titled "Botany applied to Ornamentation" which led to his appointment as full time lecturer in Botany at Central School of Design in South Kensington. His career as an educator reach a peak when the German University of Jena  conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Philosophy as result of submitting two books an additional paper on botanical subjects.

From the early 1860's he appears to be more and more interested in commerical applied design rather than education and during 1962 he published two books on design; "The Art of Decorative Design" and "The Development of Ornamental Art at the International Exhibition"

His earliest commerical designs were probably for fabrics and wallpapers before commisions from the companies we now associate with his name; Minton, Wedgwood, A Kenrick, Coalbrookedale, Linthorpe, Ault, Hukin & Heath, James Dixon, Elkington and the rest.

His design career continued right up to his death in 1904 when he died whilst on a business trip to Germany. Sadly he death was largely overlooked as he was probably considered yesterday's man and out of fashion by 1904.

This posting is meant as an introduction and skips quite lightly over his life. I will return with further postings on his works and influence in the coming months. This is a surprisingly large subject and whilst I did at one time have lots of pictures of items by him I now find the many weren't by him at all. There was a time a few years back when the merest whiff of Dresser was enough !! 

There are many beautifully illustrated books on the subject - here are just a few.

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