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Applied Arts - Expo Ghent 1913

Applied Arts at the Exhibition Expo Ghent 1913

The highlight of the English Section was the Decorative Arts section, which included many series, from pottery to printing, decorative painting and sculpture, wall ornamentation, weaving and printing of fabrics, embroidery, lace, repoussé, goldsmithing, enamelling, stained glass, wallpaper, drawing, engraving, book illustration, illumination.

The whole, considerable in value as well as in the number of participants, was presented according to a methodical and clear plan; it was an easily grasped exposition of the trends and developments of English decorative art.

Under the high guidance of Mr. Wintour, the General Curator, and his distinguished secretary, Mr. Alfred Longden, the organisation was entrusted to a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Cecil Harcourt Smith, assisted by Mr. Walter Crane, the distinguished president of the Arts and Crafts exhibition Society.

The importance of this artistic event justifies the inclusion in this Golden Book of some considerations borrowed from the introduction to the catalogue and written by the eminent English artist whose name is worth a programme.

The aesthetic movement," writes Walter Crane, "known in Great Britain as the Revival of the Decorative Arts, is a movement of a very special character and quite considerable scope; it is the first time that under the auspices of the Y Exhibition branch of the Board of Trade, an art exhibition has been intended to represent the Decorative Arts of Great Britain.

In its early days, this movement was in some ways a protest against the ordinary classification of the arts into "fine art" and "industrial art". It was a protest against the general indifference shown to the decorative arts and also against the excessive tendency to commercialise artistic productions. Under such a regime the individuality of the artist and the craftsman is concealed under a corporate name and artistic responsibility is entirely disregarded.

The styles in vogue, more or less related to the classical or renaissance genre, which enjoyed general favour until the middle of the nineteenth century, had favoured this state of affairs; they could not, however, prevent an artist of the calibre of the late Alfred Stevens from making his influence felt.

A change occurred when public attention turned to medieval art and its methods and studied them with enthusiasm. Architects such as Pugin, Burges and Butterfield were among the pioneers of this generative movement; but it is generally accepted that the practical revival of the art industries in England originated between i860 and 1870, in the studio of William Morris and his colleagues; among these should be mentioned F. Madox Brown, E. Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Napier Henny and Frank Brangwijn.

However, the revival of art industries such as weaving, dyeing, hand-printing on cloth, stained glass, decorative painting, furniture, wallpaper, embroidery, calligraphy, illumination and finally printing can be traced directly to the personal initiative and practical experiences of an exceptionally gifted artist, William Morris.

His influence was perhaps even greater than his work; nor can we forget his poetic talent; he placed himself in the forefront of the world of letters, independently of his merits as an artist and craftsman. Outside the immediate circle of W. Morris's influence, groups were formed among decorators, architects and draughtsmen for the study of the applied arts and the various branches of industrial design; meetings were held to hear the reading of memoirs and to witness demonstrations on these various subjects.

Societies, such as the Art Workers' Guild, were formed for the same purpose; artists engaged in the most different lines of work thus found an opportunity to meet and learn from each other.

Nothing in modern art has been so detrimental to the unity of this effect (where artists and workers of different industries are involved, as in the construction of public buildings) as the disastrous separation of the trades; under our industrial, capitalist and commercial system of mechanical production, the inventing artist is separated from the producing worker; One of their fundamental principles was to create a close union between the decorative arts and the main art of architecture; the latter is intimately linked to the former; they complement each other; one cannot rationally conceive of a decorative art independent of architecture and its materials.

It has been said, not without reason, that the object of this new renaissance was "to make craftsmen of our artists, and artists of our craftsmen". It was under the inspiration of these ideas that the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was founded in London in 1888. Until then, designers and craftsmen in the decorative arts had had little opportunity to show their work to the public, who had been encouraged to believe that real art, in the academic sense, did not exist outside painting and sculpture.

The periodic exhibitions organised by this society have revealed the existence of a host of charming crafts, renewed and revived with the greatest success. They have shown the necessity of a close union between conception and execution, the need for the draughtsman to know the manual processes, the qualities and imperfections of the materials which are to serve for the reproduction of his design, and the advantage which he gains by being himself an accomplished craftsman. While endeavouring to give workers as many opportunities as possible to collect the product of their work individually, they have always opened their doors to industrial establishments willing to give the names of the artists and workers responsible for the objects they wish to exhibit, for Von cannot expect to find artistic distinction without artistic responsibility. This is also the principle that has guided the present exhibition.

It is true that, as a result of the extremely complex cooperative conditions of modern production, it becomes very difficult in some cases, as in glass and printing, to apportion with precision the exact share of artistic responsibility attaching to a given object, the production of which has occupied in one way or another a score of different hands or brains. We believe, however, that it is possible in most cases to point to the responsible executors, those who actually did lace, repoussé, goldsmithing and enamelling, stained glass and its cartoons, wallpaper, drawing, engraving, book illustration, calligraphy and illumination.

Such a varied collection was bound to show traces of numerous influences and the most diverse sources of inspiration in its composition. The Morris school, which is particularly English, was well represented by the collection of objects produced by the house of the same name, by the beautiful embroideries assembled for this exhibition, thanks to the care of Miss May Morris, author of a notice on this distinguished branch of English decorative art, and by the books of the Kelmscott Press.

Mr. George Jack, architect, draughtsman and craftsman, exhibited, in association with Morris, a magnificent marquetry cabinet and a characteristic fireplace of
There are only considerations of merit in the work of art. Only commercial considerations can prevent this from being done.

The section of the British Arts and Crafts therefore included objects supplied by manufactures who accepted conditions, as well as works by independent artists and craftsmen.

It ranged from pottery to printing and included decorative painting and sculpture, wall ornamentation, weaving and printing of cloth, embroidery and the dining room, whose stove was among the items exhibited by the Carron Iron Company.

Mr. Allan Vigers exhibited a splendid illuminated manuscript in his own hand, as well as drawings by Burne-Jones and Madox Brown, so that the collection was not lacking in certain links of retrospective interest between the works of artists of the contemporary English school and those of their predecessors.

There was a tendency towards greater severity and sincerity among the more recent designers, particularly in furniture and decoration in general. There was a reaction against wall drawings, and so all ornament was abandoned for paper, and uniform colours were preferred.

On the other hand, if the richness of design and colour was banished from the walls, it seems to have reappeared in fabrics and cretonnes; the latter were characterised by the vigour of their colour. In terms of design, there was a search for reaction in richly shaded flowers and bold relief effects; this reaction shows a decline in refinement and beauty of line since the days of William Morris.

On the other hand, beautiful colour effects have been achieved by some craftsmen who have revived the use of the handloom. The rich brocades and silk fabrics of Mr. Edmond Hunter are to be noted, as well as the soft moiré and blended hues which characterise the fabrics exhibited by Miss Brown and Miss Garnett.
Among the exhibitors in this section are also weaving establishments of the highest order, such as Warner and Sons, Turnbull, and Stockdall, to whom the late Lewis F. Day has supplied the designs for many of their products. The strange grace and originality of Mr. Voysey's designs for cloth and wallpaper were noted. A remarkable collection of lace was assembled by Miss Trevelyan and Mr. Alan Cole; the latter had written a special article for the catalogue on this subject.

In spite of the present tendency towards uniform colours, plate-printed wallpaper is still produced, with designs of great merit and by distinguished artists and craftsmen, as was shown by the large collection exhibited by Jeffrey and C°.

It was difficult to exhibit important types of decoration and mural painting, but the works of Professor Moira, Mrs. Sargant Florence, and others, were sufficient to show that these arts are seriously studied in England, though the opportunities for their practice are few and far between in these days.
Decorative sculpture occupies a more important place, and here the classical and renaissance influences predominate.

The important relief of Mr. Derwent Wood and the magnificent works of Sir George Frampton, Messrs. Gilbert Bayes, Gillick, and others, occupied a prominent place in this section; and the fine design of plaster models for bronze doors, by Messrs. Reid and Jagger, who were taught by Professor Lanteri of the Royal College of Art, was noted.

The exhibition of goldsmiths', jewellers' and enamellers' wares afforded an opportunity of appreciating the qualities of the work of English craftsmen; the revival of activity in the latter two industries was one of the most remarkable features of the complex movement already noted, and emphasised by Mr. R. Rathbone in a notice inserted in the catalogue.

Even more remarkable were the works of calligraphy and illumination, especially those of Mr. Graily Hewitt, and those of artistic typography and book decoration, which occupied an important place in this section. Book illustration and decoration, as well as typography and bookbinding, were the subject of interesting entries by Mr. Emery Walker and Mr. Douglas Cockerell.

The art of stained glass is one that has been most remarkably revived by the return of artists to manual practice and by the immense progress made in the quality of the glass at their disposal.

Table glass was represented above all by the collection of James Powell and Sons, which occupies a unique place in this industry.

Looking at the artistic renaissance of Great Britain as a whole, one would be tempted to recognise that pottery attracts more attention than any other industry; in Ghent it was fortunate to bring together products from our best manufacturers and craftsmen, among them Messrs Pilkington, Howson, Taylor, Doulton and C°, Cowlishaw, Bernard Moore, and Martin Brothers; retrospective interest attaches to the remarkable works of Mr William de Morgan. Mr. Alfred Powell, who is himself among the principal exhibitors, treats this subject in an article of the highest interest.

The Arts and Crafts section marked the official recognition of the decorative arts by the British Government, as it was organised by the Department of Exhibitions of the Ministry of Trade and Industry; it also inaugurated a new direction in the presentation of an exhibition of this nature.
For the first time an attempt was made to bring together the various expressions of the decorative arts into a harmonious whole, and to place the different groups in a more definite relation to each other.

Great are always the difficulties presented by the arrangement of such a varied collection of objects of different kinds, produced under many different conditions and influences; it is chiefly to the ingenious talent of Mr. Henry Wilson, the author of the chapel, that this is due. It is mainly to the ingenious talent of Mr. Henry Wilson, author of the chapel at one end of the gallery, that we owe the fact that we have been able to group into a harmonious whole such varied works as the cartoons for stained glass and wall paintings, the stained glass windows themselves, the examples of monumental sculpture, the various forms of artistic metalwork and weaving applied to religious decoration.

The more personal arts of adornment and objects for individual use, such as embroidery and lace, were added to the gold and jewellery.

The central hall was laid out as a kind of garden with sculptures grouped among trees and flowers and walls decorated with paintings and reliefs.

Rooms were devoted to arts contributing to the embellishment and charm of the home and hearth, in particular arts relating to the production and illustration of books, art typography and bookbinding, calligraphy and illumination, pottery and glassware, and furniture, tapestry, hangings and domestic decoration in general. In a word, the visitor was led from the Temple to the House through the Garden.

Can we not hope to see, in the future, arrangements of this nature become more widespread under the inspiration of artists working together to produce a harmonious and coordinated whole?

This wish will be ratified by all visitors to the admirable English Decorative Arts section; Walter Crane's participation in the Ghent Exhibition was for artists and friends of the arts a joy as well as a lesson.

It was indeed an admirable lesson to be learned from this considerable collection of numerous and beautiful objects, exhibited according to a logical, clear and methodical plan. Foreign writers have paid a tribute to it which it is right to underline in this Golden Book; the directors of the Ghent Exhibition owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Wintour, the general commissioner, and to Mr. Walter Crane, the brilliant artist, for their participation which was as attractive as it was instructive.

The English section, admirably situated in front of the Court of Honour and the Avenue des Nations, was a legitimate success; it owes this to its perfect organisation, but even more to the beauty of the products and their artistic value.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913