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Title: Ideals in Art - Papers Theoretical Practical Critical
Author: Crane, Walter
Language: English
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  THE BASES OF DESIGN. With 200 Illustrations, many drawn by the
      author. _Third Edition._ Crown 8vo, 6s. net.

  LINE AND FORM. A Series of Lectures delivered at the Municipal
      School of Art, Manchester. With 157 Illustrations. _Third
      Edition._ Crown 8vo, 6s. net.

      Illustrations. _Fourth Edition._ Crown 8vo, 6s. net.









The collected papers which form this book have been written at
different times, and in the intervals of other work. Most of them
were specially addressed to, and read before the Art Workers’ Guild,
as contributions to the discussion of the various subjects they deal
with; so that they may be described as the papers of a worker in design
addressed mainly to art workers. They are not, however, wholly or
narrowly technical, and the point of view frequently bears upon the
general relation of art to life.

Some of the papers were delivered as lectures to larger audiences, and
others have appeared as articles, mostly in journals devoted to art.

Of the former, the one upon the Arts and Crafts movement was prepared
for and read as one of a series of lectures given during a recent
exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, and is now for
the first time printed in its entirety.

The “Thoughts on House-Decoration” was read before the convention of
the National Association of Master Painters and Decorators recently
held at Leicester.

“The Influence of Modern Social and Economic Conditions on the Sense of
Beauty” was the substance of an address at the opening of a debate on
that question at a meeting of the Pioneer Club.

The paper on “The Progress of Taste in Dress” was written for “The
Healthy and Artistic Dress Union,” and appeared in their journal
“Aglaia.” The article on Mr. Chesterton’s book appeared in “The
Speaker”; that on “The Teaching of Art” in “The Art Journal.”

The notes on “Gesso” work appeared in an early number of “The Studio,”
and I have to thank the editor, Mr. Charles Holme, for kindly allowing
me to reprint it here, and also for the loan of the blocks used for the
illustrations, both for this and others of the papers.

My best thanks are also due to Mr. Ernest Gimson for the loan of
photographs of his cottage at Stoneywell; to the Earl of Pembroke for
enabling me to obtain those of the double cube room at Wilton; to Mr.
Charles Rowley, and Mr. Charles W. Gamble of the Municipal School of
Technology, Manchester, for photographs of the Madox Brown frescoes; to
Mr. Augustus Spenser and Mr. FitzRoy, the Principal and the Registrar
of the Royal College of Art, for their help in obtaining for me the
examples of the work of the students given; and to Mr. Arthur P. Monger
for the care he took in photographing them; also to Mr. Kruger of the
Royal College, for the use of his admirable drawing of the decorations
of Westminster Bridge, which appeared in “The Magazine of Art,” and is
now reproduced by permission of Mr. M. H. Spielmann and Messrs. Cassell.

I should like to add a note or two on some of the illustrations, on
other points not commented upon in the papers.

The sketch plan and elevation of a collective dwelling (at page 116),
for which I am indebted to my architect-son, is offered as a suggestion
of what could be done in this way on very simple lines. Each tenant in
such a collective dwelling would have his private house or cottage,
with the advantage of the use of the common dining-hall, and the
service of a collective kitchen; also a general reading-room, and to
these rooms a vaulted way with an open arcade on the side next the
quadrangle would enable each tenant to reach this part of the building
under cover from his own dwelling, which comprises a private garden, as
well as the use of the common quadrangle.

From the architectural point of view grouped dwellings, upon some
such principle as here suggested, would undoubtedly lend themselves
to artistic and pleasant treatment, and would mitigate the depressing
effect of the monotonous rows of squat dwellings intended for our
workers’ homes, and the mean sameness of the streets, which are
spreading around our great towns in every direction, only, it is to be
feared, to form slums in the future.

In regard to Manchester, spoken of on page 119, another practical step
has been taken in the much-needed direction of school-decoration.
Through the public spirit of Mr. Grant, one of her citizens, who has
found money enough to start the work, students of the Municipal School
of Art are enabled to carry out on a large scale mural paintings upon
the upper walls of the class-rooms in one of the principal primary
schools. The subjects have been enlarged from some of my coloured book
designs such as “Flora’s Feast.” Such work might not only be made to
bear most helpfully on the general work of education, but in itself be
an important side of school influence, since by means of large simple
typical mural designs great historical events and personages, as well
as natural form, might be made familiar to the eyes of children at the
same time that their sense of beauty and imaginative faculties were
appealed to.

Local history might in this way be preserved also. In this connection
one was glad to see the other day at Hoxne (the ancient Eagles-dune)
in Suffolk the school-house connected with the history of the place by
having a figure of St. Edmund carved as a finial of the chief gable,
with a relief in stone let into the wall beneath, illustrating the
incident of the saintly king being taken by the Danes at the bridge,
while an inscription mentions that the building marks the spot, and the
date of his death in 870.

                    WALTER CRANE.

      _September, 1905_.



    POSSIBLE OUTCOME                                                   1

  OF THE TEACHING OF ART                                              35

  OF METHODS OF ART TEACHING                                          58

  NOTE ON TOLSTOI’S “WHAT IS ART?”                                    69

    THE SENSE OF BEAUTY                                               76

  OF THE SOCIAL AND ETHICAL BEARINGS OF ART                           88

  OF ORNAMENT AND ITS MEANING                                        102

  THOUGHTS ON HOUSE-DECORATION                                       110


  OF TEMPORARY STREET DECORATIONS                                    192


  OF THE DESIGNING OF BOOK-COVERS                                    225

  OF THE USE OF GILDING IN DECORATION                                237

  OF RAISED WORK IN GESSO                                            247


  A GREAT ARTIST IN A LITERARY SEARCHLIGHT                           273

  INDEX                                                              283



  Page from Blake’s “Songs of Experience”                              5

  Page from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence”                               6

  Wood engravings by Edward Calvert                                 7, 8

  Illustrations to Tennyson:
      The Ballad of Oriana, by Holman Hunt                             9
      The Palace of Art, by D. G. Rossetti                            10
      The Bride (from “The Talking Oak”), by Sir J. E. Millais        11

  Manoli, by Frederick Sandys                                         13

  Royal College of Art, Students’ Designs:
      Figure Composition, Frederigo Barbarossa, by Lancelot Crane     37
      Time Studies, by H. Parr                                    38, 39
      Time Studies of Figures in Action                               41
      Design and Plan of a Domed Church, by A. E. Martin              42
      Design for Tapestry, by E. W. Tristram                          43
      Design for Embroidery, by Miss E. M. Dunkley                    45
      Museum Studies in Embroidery, by Miss E. M. Dunkley             46
      Sheet of Heraldic Studies, by Miss C. M. Lacey                  47
      Studies in Counterchange, by W. G. Spooner                      49
      Studies of Scroll Forms, by W. G. Spooner                       51
      Studies of Plant Forms, by W. G. Spooner                        53
      Pen Drawings, by H. A. Rigby                                55, 57
      Cabinet, designed and decorated in Gesso, by J. R. Shea         59
      Group of Pottery, designed and executed by the Students         60
      Wood Carving, by J. R. Shea                                     61
      Stained Glass Panel, designed and executed by A. Kidd.          62
      Frieze, by James A. Stevenson.                                  63
      Page of Text, written by J. P. Bland                            65
      Panel by Vincent Hill                                           67

  Wentworth Street, Whitechapel                                       79

  Egyptian Hieroglyphics as a Wall Decoration (Temple of Seti,
          Abydos)                                                     89

  Greek Cylix (Peleus and Thetis)                                    105

  Sketch for Collective Dwelling, by Lionel F. Crane                 116

  Plan of Collective Dwelling, by Lionel F. Crane                    116

  Frescoes by Ford Madox Brown in the Town Hall, Manchester     118, 119

  View in Bournville                                                 123

  Cottages at Bournville, designed by Alex. W. Harvey                123

  Interior, 1a, Holland Park, designed by Philip Webb                131

  Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk (from Drawings by W. T. Cleobury)
                                  133, 134, 135, 137, 138, 139, 141, 143

  Lucas van Leyden, “The Annunciation”                               145

  Carpaccio, “The Dream of St. Ursula”                               147

  Cottage in the Garden City, Letchworth, Herts, designed
          by Lionel F. Crane                               149, 150, 151

  Stoneywell Cottage, designed by Ernest W. Gimson              153, 155

  Old English Farmhouse Interior (from a Sketch by Walter Crane)     157

  Combe Bank, Sevenoaks, the Saloon, decorated by Walter Crane       159

  Printed Cretonne Hangings, designed by Walter Crane           160, 161

  Wall-papers, designed by Walter Crane     163, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169

  Greek Drapery (Temple of Nike Apteros, Athens)                     173

  Types of Artistic Dress                                            177

  Types of Children’s Dress                                          179

  Types of Working Dress                                             181

  Hungarian Peasant Costumes                                    182, 183

  A Contrast. Modern and Mediaeval Simplicity                        187

  Decoration of Westminster Bridge, by the Students of the Royal
          College of Art (from a Coloured Drawing by G. E. Kruger)   195

  Suggestion for a Temporary Gatehouse at Temple Bar, by
          Walter Crane                                               197

  Temporary Street Decoration                                   199, 201

  Royal Mantle from the Treasury of Bamberg                          205

  Chasuble from the Cathedral of Anagni                              206

  Sicilian Silk Patterns (XIVth century)
                                  207, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214

  Embroidered Tabard in the Archaeological Museum at Ghent

  Details from the Embroidered Tabard                      216, 217, 218

  Robe of Richard II (from the picture at Wilton House)              219

  The Lions of England, designed by Walter Crane                     220

  Heraldic Lion, designed by Walter Crane                            221

  The Lions of England (from the Tomb of William de Valence,
          Earl of Pembroke, Westminster Abbey)                       222

  Equestrian Figure with Heraldic Trappings (from the Tomb of
          Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster, Westminster Abbey)   223

  Binding in black morocco, with Medallions and Coat of Arms,
          by Thomas Berthelet                                        227

  Binding in black morocco, with Arms of Edward VI, by Thomas
          Berthelet                                                  229

  Binding in stamped calf, with emblematical designs                 231

  Binding of oak boards covered with stamped calf, by John Reynes    233

  Binding in brown calf, inlaid, by the Wotton Binder                235

  Appartamenti Borgia, Vatican, showing Pinturicchio’s
          “Salutation,” etc.                                         238

  Detail from Pinturicchio’s “Salutation,” with enrichments in
          Gesso                                                      239

  Palermo, Cappella Reale (from a Water-colour Sketch by Walter
          Crane)                                                     241

  The Double Cube Room, Wilton House                            243, 245

  Method of Working with the Brush in Gesso                          249

  Filling for Picture Frame in Gesso Duro, designed by Walter
          Crane                                                      250

  Design for a Bell-pull, modelled in Gesso, by Walter Crane

  Gesso Panel, design for the Art Workers’ Guild, by Walter Crane    253

  The Dance (Frieze Panel in Gesso), designed by Walter Crane

  Picture Frame in Oak with Gesso filling, designed by Walter
          Crane                                                      255

  Treatment of Form in Gesso Decoration, by Walter Crane             256

  System of Modelling with the Brush in Gesso                        257

  Gesso Decoration at 1a, Holland Park, by Walter Crane, the
          woodwork by Philip Webb                     258, 259, 260, 261

  Panel in Gesso, tinted with lacquers and lustre paint, designed
          by Walter Crane                                            262

  Panel in Gesso, tinted with lacquer, designed by Walter Crane      263

  Pictorial Decoration (Ducal Palace, Venice)                        271

  “Love and Death,” by G. F. Watts, R.A.                             275

  “Sir Galahad,” by G. F. Watts, R.A.                                277

  “Hope,” by G. F. Watts, R.A.                                       279



It seems a strange thing that the last quarter of the nineteenth--or
what I was going to call our machine-made--century should be
characterized by a revival of the handicrafts; yet of the reality of
that revival there can now be no manner of doubt, from whatever point
we date its beginnings, or to whomsoever we may trace its initiation.

Indeed, it seems to me that the more we consider the characteristics
of different epochs in the history of art, or of the world, the less
we are able to isolate them, or to deal with them as phenomena by
themselves, so related they seem to what has gone before them, and to
what succeeds them, just as are the personalities associated with them;
and I do not think this movement of ours will prove any exception to
this rule.

Standing as we do on the threshold of a new century--which so often
means a new epoch in history, if not in art--it may, perhaps, be
allowable to look back a bit, as well as forward, in attempting a
general survey of the movement. Like a traveller who has reached a
certain stage of his journey, we look back over the region traversed,
losing sight, in such a wide prospect, and in the mists of such a far
distance, of many turns in the road, and places by the way, which at
one time seemed important, and only noting here and there certain
significant landmarks which declare the way by which we have come.

To take a very rapid glance at the phases of decorative art of the past
century, we see much of the old life and traditions in art carried on
from the eighteenth century into the early years of the nineteenth,
when the handicrafts were still the chief means in the production of
things of use or beauty. The luxurious excess of the later renascence
forms in decoration, learned from France and Italy (though adopted in
this country with a certain reserve), corrected by a mixture of Dutch
homeliness, and later by French empire translations of Greek and Roman
fashions in ornament, often attained a certain elegance and charm in
the gilded stucco mirror frames and painted furniture of our Regency
period, which replaced the more refined joinery, veneer, and inlaid
work of Chippendale and his kinds.

Classical taste dominated our architecture, striving hard to become
domesticated, but looking chilly and colourless in our English gray
climate, as if conscious of inadequate clothing.

This Greco-Roman empire elegance gradually wore off, and turned
to frigid plainness in domestic architecture, and to corpulency in
furniture, as the middle of the century was approached, when the old
classical tradition in furniture, handed on from Chippendale, Sheraton,
and Hepplewhite, seemed to be suddenly broken into by wild fancies and
fantastic attempts at naturalism in carving, combined with a reckless
curvature of arms and legs supporting (or supported by) springs and
padding. Drawing-rooms revelled in ormolu and French clocks, vast
looking-glasses, and the heavy artillery of polished mahogany pianos,
while Berlin-wool-work and anti-macassars in crochet took possession of
any ground not occupied by artificial flowers, and other wonders, under
glass shades.

The ’51 Exhibition was the apotheosis of mid-nineteenth century
taste, or absence of taste, perhaps. The display of industrial
art and furniture then, to judge from illustrated catalogues and
journals of the period, seemed to indicate that ideas of design and
craftsmanship were in a strange state. The new naturalism was beginning
to assert itself, but generally in the wrong place, and in all sorts
of unsuitable materials. Those were the days when people marvelled
at the skill of a sculptor who represented a veiled figure in marble
so that you could almost see through the veil!--but that was “Fine
Art.” Industrial art was in a very different category, yet it was
influenced by fine art, and, generally, greatly to its disadvantage. We
had vignetted landscapes upon china and coalboxes, for instance, and
Landseer pictures on hearth-rugs--and our people loved to have it so.

These things were done, and more also, in the ordinary course of trade,
which flourished exceedingly, and no one bothered about design. If
furniture and fittings were wanted, the upholsterer and ironmonger did
the rest.

Yet was it not in the “fifties” that Alfred Stevens made designs
for iron grates? so that there must have been _one_ artist, at any
rate, not above giving thought to common things. Designers like
Alfred Stevens, and his followers Godfrey Sykes and Moody, certainly
represented in their day a movement inspired chiefly by a study of
the earlier renascence, and an honest desire to adapt its forms to
modern decoration. Their work, though suffering--like all original
work--deterioration at the hands of imitators, showed a search for
style and boldness of contour and line, touched with a certain refined
naturalism which gives the work of Alfred Stevens and his school a very
distinct place. It was mainly a sculptor’s and modeller’s movement, and
represented a renascence revival in modern English decorative art; and
through the work of Godfrey Sykes and Moody, in association with the
government schools of art, it had a considerable effect upon the art of
the country.

But I think many and mixed elements contributed to the change of
feeling and fashion which came about rather later, in which perhaps may
be traced the influence of modes of thought expressing themselves also
in literature and poetry, as well as the study of different models in

[Illustration: Page from Blake’s “Songs of Experience”]

[Illustration: Page from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence”]

[Illustration: Wood Engravings by Edward Calvert

The Return Home]

[Illustration: Ideal Pastoral Life]

[Illustration: The Chamber Idyll]

[Illustration: Wood Engravings by Edward Calvert

The Flood]

[Illustration: The Lady and the Rooks]

[Illustration: The Brook]

One cannot forget that the early years of the nineteenth century
were illuminated by the inspiration and clearness of inner vision
were expressed in so individual a form with such fervour of poetic
feeling and social aspiration, both in verse and design, in the books
engraved and printed by himself which remain the remarkable monument
of his neglected genius.

[Illustration: Illustrations to Tennyson

“The Ballad of Oriana.” By Holman Hunt]

The group of artists associated with him, too, such as Edward Calvert
and Samuel Palmer, marked an epoch in English poetic illustration,
associated with wood engraving and printing, of very distinct character
and beauty, the influence of which may be seen at the present day in
some of the woodcuts of Mr. Sturge Moore.

The more conscious classical designs of Flaxman and Stothard were
colder, but graceful, and mark a period from which we seem more widely
separated than from others more remote, yet seemingly nearer in

[Illustration: Illustrations to Tennyson

“The Palace of Art.” By D. G. Rossetti]

Quite a different kind of sentiment was fostered by the writings of
Scott upon which so many generations have been fed, but they had
their effect in keeping alive the sense of romance and interest in
the life of past days, still further enlightened by the researches of
antiquarians, and the increased study of the Middle Ages, and above
all of Gothic architecture. All these must be considered as so many
tributary streams to swell the main current of thought and feeling
which carried us on to the artistic revival of our own times.

[Illustration: Illustrations to Tennyson

The Bride (from “The Talking Oak”). By Sir J. E. Millais]

The poetry of Tennyson, with its sense of colour, sympathy with art and
nature, and the romance of the historic past, its thoroughly English
feeling, and its revival of the Arthurian Legend, and its association
(in the Moxon edition of 1857) with the designs of some of the leading
pre-Raphaelite painters must be counted if not as a very strong
influence upon, at least as an evidence and an accompaniment of that

The names of Ford Madox Brown, of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, of William
Holman Hunt, at once suggest artists of extraordinary individuality,
remarkable decorative instinct, and carefulness for, and scholarly
knowledge of, beautiful and significant accessories of life, of which
all have not only given evidence in their own craft of painting, but
also as practical designers.

The name of another remarkable artist must be mentioned, that of
Frederick Sandys, contemporary with the pre-Raphaelites, imbued
with their spirit, and following their methods of work. A wonderful
draughtsman and powerful designer, who in all his work shows himself
fully alive to beauty of decorative design in the completeness, care,
and taste with which the accessories of his pictures and designs are
rendered. His powers of design and draughtsmanship are perhaps best
shown in the illustrations engraved on wood which appeared in “Once a
Week,” “The Cornhill Magazine,” and elsewhere, which were shown with
the collections of the artist’s work at the International Society’s
last exhibition at the New Gallery, and at the Winter Exhibition at
Burlington House in the present year (1905).

[Illustration: Manoli. By Frederick Sandys

From “The Cornhill Magazine”]

In some quarters it appears to be supposed that the pre-Raphaelite
movement consisted entirely of Rossetti, and that to explain its
development you have only to add water--or caricature. It is
extraordinary to think in what uncritical positions professional
critics occasionally land themselves.

I cannot understand how any candid and fairly well-informed person can
fail to perceive that the pre-Raphaelite movement was really a very
complex movement, containing many different elements and the germs of
different kinds of development in art.

If it was primitive and archaic on one side, it was modern and
realistic on another, and again, on another, romantic, poetic, and
mystic; or again, wholly devoted to ideals of decorative beauty.

The very names of the original members of the brotherhood, to say
nothing of later adherents, suggest very marked differences of
temperament and character, and these differences were reflected in
their art.

The stimulating writings of Ruskin must also be counted a factor in the
movement, in his recognition of the fundamental importance of beautiful
and sincere architecture and its relation to the sister arts: in his
enthusiasm for truer ideals both in art and life: in the ardent love of
and study of nature so constantly, so eloquently expressed throughout
his works.

Despite all controversial points, despite all contradictions--mistakes
even--I think that every one who has at any time of his life come under
the influence of Ruskin’s writings must acknowledge the nobility of
purpose and sincerity of spirit which animates them throughout.

It is the fashion now in some quarters to undervalue his influence, but
at all events it was at its best a wholesome and stimulating influence,
provocative of thought, and no man must be held accountable for the
mistakes or misapplications of his followers--the inevitable Nemesis of

It was an influence which certainly had practical results in many ways,
and not least must be counted its influence upon the life, opinions
and work of the man to whose workshop is commonly traced the practical
revival of sincere design and handicraft in modern England--I need
hardly say I mean William Morris.

It is notable that at the outset the initiation of that practical
revival was due to a group of artists, including the names already
mentioned, and although in later days the practical direction of
the work fell into the hands of William Morris, the fact that the
enterprise had the sympathy and support of the leading artists of the
pre-Raphaelite School must not be forgotten.

Indeed, it is said that the initiative or first practical proposal
in the matter came from D. G. Rossetti, and it must be remembered
that originally the main object of the firm was to supply their own
circle with furniture and house decorations to suit their own tastes,
though the operations were afterwards extended to the public with
extraordinary success. The work, too, of the group was strengthened on
the architectural side by such excellent designers as Mr. Philip Webb,
who, in addition to architectural and constructive work of all kinds
is remarkable for the force and feeling of his designs of animals used
in decorative schemes, both in the flat and in relief.

The hare and hound in the frieze of the dining-room at South Kensington
Museum are early works of his, as well as the woodwork of the room.

The study of mediaeval art had, however, been going on for many years
before, and books of the taste and completeness of those of Henry Shaw,
for instance, had been published, dealing with many different provinces
of decorative art, from alphabets to architecture. The well engraved
and printed illustrations of these works afforded glimpses even to the
uninitiated of the wonderful richness, invention and variety of the
art of the Middle Ages--so long neglected and misunderstood--while
the treasures of the British Museum in the priceless illuminated
manuscripts of those ages were open to those who would really know what
mediaeval book-craft was like.

Then, too, the formation of the unrivalled collections at South
Kensington, and the opportunities there given for the study of
very choice and beautiful examples of decorative art of all kinds,
especially of mediaeval Italy and of the earlier renascence, played a
very important part both in the education of artists and the public,
and helped with other causes to prepare the way for new or revived
ideas in design and craftsmanship.

The movement went quietly on at first, confined almost exclusively to a
limited circle of artists or artistically-minded people. It grew under
the shadow of the atrocious Franco-British fashions of the sixties, now
(or recently) so much admired, crinolines and all, in some quarters,
because I suppose they are so old-fashioned.

Independent signs of dissatisfaction with current modes, however, were
discernible here and there. It was, I think, about this time that Mr.
Charles L. Eastlake (late Keeper of the National Gallery) who was
trained as an architect, published a book called “Hints on Household
Taste,” in which he says somewhere: “Lost in the contemplation of
palaces we have forgotten to look about us for a chair.” This seemed to
indicate a reaction against the exclusive attention then given to what
were called “the Fine Arts.”

Associations were formed for the discussion of artistic questions of
all kinds, and I mind me of a certain society of art students which
used to meet in the well-known room at No. 9, Conduit Street, the
existence of which indicated that there were thought and movement in
the air among the younger generation and new ideas were on the wing,
many of them carrying the germs of important future developments. Even
outside Queen Square there were certain designers of furniture and
surface decorations not wholly absorbed by trade ideals, who maintained
a precarious existence as decorative artists.

There were architects, too, of such distinction and character as Pugin,
William Burges, and Butterfield, who were fully alive to the value of
mediaeval art, and were bold experimenters as well as scholars and
enthusiasts in their revival of the use of mural decoration in colour.

Mr. Norman Shaw’s work, which has so much influenced the newer
architectural aspects of London, comes later, and is more distinctly
and intimately related to our movement, which it may here be said has
owed much of its strength to its large architectural element.

There were, of course, builders and decorators in those days, but
the genus “decorative artist” was a new species as distinct from the
painter and paper-hanger.

While these, and the historic, the landscape, the animal, and _genre_
painter had their exhibitions, were recognized, and some of them duly
honoured at times, decorative artists and designers may be said to have
had nowhere to lay their heads--in the artistic sense--so they laid
their heads together!

The immediate outcome of this sympathetic counsel took the form of
fireside discussions by members of a society of decorative artists
founded by Mr. Lewis F. Day, strictly limited in number, called “the
Fifteen.” This small society was in course of time superseded, or
rather absorbed, by a larger body known as the Art Workers’ Guild,
which contained architects, painters, designers, sculptors, and
craftsmen of all kinds, and grew and increased mightily; it has since
thrown out a younger branch in the Junior Art Workers’ Guild.

Guilds, or groups of associated workers were also formed for the
practice and supply of certain handicrafts, and societies like that of
the Home Arts and Industries Association organized village classes in
wood-carving, pottery, metal-work, basket-making, turning, spinning,
and weaving linen, embroidery, and other crafts.

These efforts, mostly due to a band of enthusiastic amateurs, must
all be counted, if not always satisfactory in their results, yet as
educational in their effects, and as creating a wider public interested
in the handicraft movement, and therefore as adding impetus to that
movement, which in 1888--the year of our own society’s foundation--even
rose to the height of--or extended to the length of--a “National
Association for the Advancement of Art in Relation to Industry” (such
was its title) which actually held congresses in successive years in
Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Birmingham--as if they were scientists or
sectarians. Members of our society were more or less connected with
these developments.

All this time we had, as we still have, a Royal Academy of Arts. But
somewhere in the early eighties arose certain bold, bad men who--not
satisfied with an annual picture-show of some two thousand works or
so, always fresh--desired to see a national exhibition of art which
should comprise not only paintings, sculpture, and architectural
water-colours, but some representation of the arts and handicrafts of

Another plank in this artistic platform was the annual election of
a selection and hanging committee out of and by the whole body of
artists in the kingdom. This movement attracted a considerable number
of adherents, largely among the rising school of painting, until it
was discovered that several of the leaders desired to belong to the
garrison of the fortress they proposed to attack.

The Arts and Crafts section of this movement, mostly members of the
Guild aforesaid, seeing their vision look hopeless in that direction,
then withdrew, and formed themselves into the present Arts and Crafts
Exhibition Society, with power to add to their number. And I think they
gathered to themselves all the artists and craftsmen of standing who
were sympathetic and willing to subscribe to their aims.

We may note here that since the directors of the Grosvenor Gallery in
its Winter Exhibition of 1881 arranged a collection of designs for
decoration, including cartoons for mosaic, tapestry, and glass, no
attempt to show contemporary work of the kind had been made.

We were, however, but few at first, and but few of us widely known, and
with limited influence. William Morris and Burne-Jones did not join
us until we had fairly organized ourselves and defined our programme,
though their works from the first have enriched our exhibitions.

The initial steps were laborious and difficult and the process of
organization slow, each step being carefully debated. Suitable premises
seemed at one time impossible to procure, the demands of an ordinary
picture-gallery being by no means suited to the mixed displays of an
arts and crafts exhibition, so little so, indeed, that it was proposed
to hire a large old-fashioned London mansion in order to group our
exhibits in better relation.

Time, however, seemed to help us somewhat, as, during the period of our
formation the New Gallery was opened--emerging in marble and gilding
from its whilom dusty chrysalis as an abandoned meat market--and here,
in the autumn of 1888, as may be remembered, supported by a courageous
list of guarantors we opened our first exhibition.

I think we were fully conscious that an exhibition is at the best
necessarily a very imperfect thing, and should probably even agree
that it was a necessary evil. An exhibition of such various elements
as an arts and crafts show brings together has its own particular

One cannot place fragmentary pieces of decorative art in their proper
relation, and relation is of the essence of good decorative art.

We are driven to a sort of compromise, finding practical difficulties
in the way of logical systems--such as the grouping according to
_kind_, or the grouping according to _authorship_--and have resorted
to a mixed method with a view to the best decorative ensemble with the
materials at hand--with the result, I fear, of hurting the feelings of
nearly everybody concerned--but that is the common fate of exhibition

Having had the honour of being president during the first three years
of the society’s existence I had occasion to state its objects and
principles as far as I understood them, and as these are set forth in
our Book of Essays it does not seem necessary to repeat what is there
written, but a short re-statement of the chief points may not be out of
place here.

We desired first of all to give opportunity to the designer and
craftsman to exhibit their work to the public for its artistic interest
and thus to assert the claims of decorative art and handicraft to
attention equally with the painter of easel pictures, hitherto almost
exclusively associated with the term art in the public mind.

Ignoring the artificial distinction between Fine and Decorative art,
we felt that the real distinction was what we conceived to be between
good and bad art, or false and true taste and methods in handicraft,
considering it of little value to endeavour to classify art according
to its commercial value or social importance, while everything
depended upon the spirit as well as the skill and fidelity with which
the conception was expressed, in whatever material, seeing that a
worker earned the title of artist by the sympathy with and treatment
of his material, by due recognition of its capacity, and its natural
limitations, as well as of the relation of the work to use and life.

We sought to trace back ornament to its organic source in constructive

We asserted the principle that the Designer and Craftsman should be
hand in hand, and work _head_ with hand in both cases, so that mere
redundancy of ingenious surface ornament on the one hand, or mechanical
ingenuity in executive skill on the other, should not be considered as
ends in themselves, but only as means to ends, neither the one nor the
other being tolerable without controlling taste.

But how assign artistic credit to nameless workers? One can
hardly expect artistic judgement and distinction without artistic
responsibility, and, according to the usual methods of industrial
exhibitions, individual designers and craftsmen were concealed under
the general designation of a firm.

We therefore asked for names of responsible executants--those who had
contributed in any way to the artistic character of the work.

This seemed a simple and obvious request, but there has probably
been more difficulty over this one point than over any other of our

But here we encounter the sharp corner of an economic question, as
is so often the case in pursuing a question of principle in art--a
question touching the position and artistic freedom of the workman.
A workman, one perhaps of many who contribute to the production of
a piece of modern craftsmanship, is in the hands of the firm that
exhibits the work. It is to the commercial interest of the firm to be
known as the producer of the work, and it must be therefore out of good
nature or sense of fairness, or desire to conform to our conditions,
when the name of the actual workman is given, who so long as he is in
the employ of a firm is supposed to work exclusively in that firm’s
interest. Complaints have been made that the workman whose name is
given on an exhibited work may be tempted away to work for a rival
firm,--an interesting illustration of the working of our system of
commercial competition.

Yet, if a workman is worthy of his hire, the good craftsman is surely
worthy of due personal credit for his skill, and if superior skill
has a tendency to increase in market value, we need not be surprised,
either as employers or private artists, seeing that in either case _we_
should consider it fair to avail _ourselves_ of such increase.

I think the question must be honestly faced. As it is, owing to
accidents, intentional omissions, or inadvertencies, our cataloguing
in this respect has not been so complete as one could wish, and we
are necessarily dependent in respect to these particulars upon our

Our exhibition for the first three years was _annual_. With the
election of William Morris as President a change of policy came in,
and it was considered advisable to limit ourselves to triennial
exhibitions. This was partly because the organization of a yearly
exhibition put a considerable strain and responsibility upon a
voluntary executive, and consumed a considerable amount of the thought
and time of working artists; partly also from the consideration that
more interesting shows would result if held after a three years’
interval, giving time for the production of important work. It must be
said, however, that artistic production of constructive and decorative
work was then in fewer hands, and it was impossible to foresee the
increase of activity in the arts and crafts, or the steady support of
an interested, if comparatively limited, public which we have enjoyed.

Looking back at the general character of our exhibitions, it is
interesting to note certain lines of evolution in the development of
design and the persistence of certain types of design. Now even in
the work of a single artist, the character of his design is seen to
undergo many changes in the course of his career, as he comes under
various different influences. Some are more, some are less variable,
but a man’s youthful work differs considerably from his mature work, as
his later work will again differ from his mature work. While there is
life there must be movement, growth, and change, let us tie ourselves
down as narrowly as we will. But even apart from this, the process of
evolution may be seen and felt in the conception and construction of
a design before it finally leaves our hands. We get the germ of an
idea, and in adapting it to its material and purpose it is necessarily
modified. Even in the character and quality of its line and mass it is
added to or taken away from in obedience to our sense of what is fit
and harmonious.

If, then, this process takes place with the individual, how much more
with many individuals developing either on one line or many? How much
more shall we discern this trend of evolution in the sum and mass of
work after the passage of years?

To the superficial observer the work of a group of men more or less in
sympathy in general aim is apt to be labelled all alike, whereas among
that very group we may discern tendencies and sympathies in reality
most diverse.

Now it seems as regards general tendencies in design in our movement
that, after a period of a rich and luxuriant development of ornament, a
certain reaction has taken place in favour of simplicity and reserve.
It is probably a perfectly natural desire for repose after a period of
excitement. And even where pattern is used the character of the form is
much more restricted and formal as a rule. There is a tendency to build
upon rectangular or vertical lines and to allow larger intermediary

The same desire for severity and simplicity in a more marked degree
is to be observed in furniture design and construction. In fact,
throughout all the recent work in the larger kinds of decoration
and craftsmanship, this aim at simplicity and severity of line and
general treatment is pronounced. This probably reflects the same
feeling observable in recent domestic architecture, wherein a search
for proportion and style, with simplicity of line and mass seem to
influence the designer, and an appropriate use of materials rather
than ornamental detail. But in one direction richness and artistic
fancy seems to have found a new field, and it is a province which in
our earlier exhibitions had hardly any representation at all, I mean
jewellery and gold and silversmith’s work and the art of enamelling,
which show an extraordinary development, and may be claimed as a
distinct and direct result of the new artistic impulse in the
handicrafts. In these arts there is obviously very great scope for
individuality of treatment, for invention, for fancy, and taste.

It was in the year 1887 that, at the invitation of Mr. Armstrong (the
then Director for Art at the Science and Art Department) a French
artist-craftsman (the late M. Louis Dalpeyrat of Limoges[1]) gave a
series of demonstrations in enamelling at the South Kensington schools.
Among the band of interested students was Mr. Alexander Fisher, who
took up the work seriously; his accomplishment is so well known and
so many workers in enamelling owe their first instruction to him that
he has been called the father of the recent English revival in this
beautiful craft.

    [1] I am indebted to Mr. Armstrong for some interesting
        particulars as to this. It appears that M. Louis Dalpeyrat
        was employed to make copies of some of the pieces of
        enamel in the South Kensington Museum, which he did very
        skilfully, and these copies were used for circulation
        among provincial museums and schools of art. Mr. Armstrong
        obtained sanction for M. Dalpeyrat to give a series of
        demonstrations in enamelling to a class of twelve students
        from the National Art Training School (now the Royal
        College of Art), and these were given in the metallurgical
        laboratory in the College of Science, where the plaques
        were fired, Prof. Roberts Austen having given permission.
        There was no grant at that time for technical instruction.

I ventured to say on some occasion in the early days of our movement
that “We must turn our artists into craftsmen, and our craftsmen into

Well, certainly the first part of the sentence has been fulfilled
in a remarkable way, since the movement is chiefly notable for the
number of artists who have become craftsmen in a variety of different

In the second, transformation has not taken place to the same extent,
which may, perhaps, be more or less accounted for by the consideration
of those economic questions before spoken of, in so far as they apply
to the workman.

As a rule the workman has been specialized for a particular branch of
work, or a particular subdivision of a branch of workmanship; he seldom
can acquire an all-round knowledge of a craft, and is seldom able to
take a complete or artistic view of his work, as a whole, as he never
produces a complete whole under the conditions of the modern workshop
or factory.

Then, too, English workmen have been trained to look upon mechanical
perfection and mechanical finish as the ideal, and it is impossible to
set up a different ideal in a short time.

It must be remembered, also, that, as a class, the modern workman is
engaged in a great economic struggle--an industrial war, quite as
real, and often as terrible in its results as a military one--to raise
his standard of life, or even to maintain it amid the fluctuations of
trade, and, as a rule, he is not in a position to cultivate his taste
in art.

Let us hope that the new schools of design under the Technical
Education Board will have their effect, as they undoubtedly offer new
and better practical opportunities to young craftsmen than have been
available before.

Such schools as the Central School of Arts and Crafts, under the
London County Council, may be regarded as a direct outcome of the
movement, and it is a remarkable fact that its teachers are composed
principally of members of our society and committee, to whom the
organization of the classes was due.

Besides, if the artist has learned of the craftsman, there must be a
good deal of education going on quietly in the studios and workshops of
those aforesaid artist-craftsmen, wherein the craftsman learns in his
turn of the artist, and here again must spring good results.

Sound traditions of design and workmanship should be of enormous help
in starting students on safe paths, and preventing that painful process
of _un_learning from which so many earnest students and artists have
suffered in our days. Such traditions, however, should never be allowed
to crystallize or hinder new thought and freedom of invention within
the limits of the material in which the designer works, for living art
exhibits a constant growth and evolution; and though in some cases the
process of evolution in an artistic life may appear to take rather the
form of degeneration, the important thing is to preserve life with its
principle of growth, without losing balance, and above all, sense of
fitness and beauty.

If beauty and utility are our guides in all design and handicraft, we
can hardly go wrong. If our design is organic both in itself and in
its incorporation with constructive necessity--if it, springing out of
that necessity, expresses the joy of the artist, and is truly the crown
of the work, making the dumb material vocal with expressive line and
form, or colour, it must at least be a thing having life, character,
sincerity, and these are important elements in the expression of new

Along with the formation of discussion clubs and societies of designers
and craftsmen, the tendency to form Guilds of Handicraft, whether they
are a new form of commercial enterprise, or consist, as they frequently
do, in the first place, of a group of artists and craftsmen in genuine
sympathy working together with assistants, must be noted as another
sign of the influence of the movement; as also the influence of certain
types of design upon ordinary trade production.

It is even asserted that--I quote from a trade journal on a recent
Arts and Crafts exhibition--“the arts and crafts movement has been the
best influence upon machine industry during the past ten years”--that
“while we have sought to develop handicrafts beside it on sound and
independent lines, we have succeeded in imparting something of the
spirit of craftsmanship to the best kind of machine-work bridging
over the former gulf between machinery and tools, and quickening
machine-industry with a new sense of the artistic possibilities that
lie within its own proper sphere.”

Let us hope so, indeed.

Certainly we cannot hope that the world, just yet, will beat its swords
into ploughshares, or its spears into pruning-hooks, still less that
it will return to local industry and handicraft for all the wants
of life, or look solely to the independent artist and craftsman to
make its house beautiful. The organized factory and the great machine
industries will continue to work for the million, as well as for the
millionaire, under the present system of production; but, at any rate,
they can be influenced by ideas of design, and it must be said that
some manufacturers have shown themselves fully alive to the value of
the co-operation of artists in this direction. Those who desire and can
command the personal work of artists in design and handicraft are now
able to enlist it, and this demand is likely to increase, and therefore
industrial groups or guilds of this kind may increase.

If such groups of workers, or workers in the different handicrafts
could by combination in some way still further counteract or control
purely commercial production, by raising certain standards of
workmanship and taste, and in the special branches of handicraft look
after the artistic interests of their members generally, their power
and influence might be much extended, especially if such guilds could
be in some sort of friendly relation, so that they could on occasion
act together, combining their forces and resources, for instance, for
special exhibitions, or representations, such as masques and pageants,
of the kind recently presented by the Art Workers’ Guild at the
Guildhall of the City of London.

Such shows, uniting as they do all kinds of design and craftsmanship in
the embodiment of a leading idea, are a form of artistic expression
which may be regarded as the latest outcome of the movement, and may
have a future before it.

I think that by such means, at all events, artistic life would
be greatly stimulated, and artistic aims and ideals better
understood--especially in their relation to social life.

And, surely, art has a great social function, even though it may have
no conscious aim but its own perfecting.

Even in its most individual form it is a product of the community--of
its age, and it is always impossible to say how many remote and mixed
elements are combined to form that complex organism--an artistic

Every age looks eagerly in the glass which art and craftsmanship hold
up, even if it is only to find itself reflected there. But it not only
seeks reflection, it seeks expression--the expression of its thought
and fancy, as well as its sense of beauty, and the successful artist is
he who satisfies this search.

It seems, too, that every age, probably even each generation, has a
different ideal of beauty, or that, perceiving a different side of
beauty, each successively ever seeks some new form for its expression.
This is the movement of growth and life, the sap of the new idea rising
in the spring-time of youth through the parent stem, bursting into new
branches and putting forth leaves; the green herb springing from the
dead leaves--the new ever striving with the old.

It is always possible for a society to narrow down, or to widen. It may
consider its true work lies in the exposition chiefly of the work of
one school, and would be perfectly justified in so thinking, so long as
that school maintained its vitality and power of growth.

On the other hand, it might determine to have no prejudices on the
subject of school or style, but welcome all good work after its kind.

Such points are largely controlled by considerations of available space
and determination of scope, and are usually settled by the effective
strength of the view which has the majority. There might even be
something to be said, given unlimited space, and security against
financial loss, for placing every work sent in to such exhibitions, but
keeping the _selected_ work in a distinct section.

“_Here_,” we might say, “is the material we had to deal with, and
_here_ is our selection,” and so make the exhibition an open court of
appeal. These are questions for the future. We have, as a society, even
in our comparatively short life, lived long enough to see great gaps
in the ranks of English design. Great names, great leaders have passed
from the roll of our membership, but not their memory, or the effect
and value of their work.

We are left to carry on the twin-lamp of Design and Handicraft as
best we may. If we bear that lamp with steady hands, fully alive to
the necessity of continual life and freedom of movement in art, while
conscious of the value of preserving certain historic traditions,
founded upon real artistic experiences, and the necessities of material
and use, we may yet, I hope, be of service in our exhibition and other
work, if we succeed in comprehending within our membership the best
elements of both new and old, in maintaining the highest standard of
taste and workmanship, and in placing, so far as we are able, the best
after its kind, in our honest opinion, before the public.


The teaching of Art! Well, to begin with, you cannot teach it. You can
teach certain methods of drawing and painting, carving, modelling,
construction, what not--you can teach the words, you can teach the
logic and principles, but you cannot give the power of original thought
and expression in them.

Of course a man’s ideas on the subject of teaching necessarily depend
upon his general views of the purport and scope of art.

Is Art (1) a mere imitative impulse--a record of the superficial facts
and phases of nature in a particular medium? or, is it (2) the most
subtle and expressive of languages, taking all manner of rich and
varied forms in all sorts of materials, under the paramount impulse of
the selective search for beauty?

Naturally, our answer to the question what should be taught, and
how to teach it depends upon our answer to these questions. But the
greater includes the less, and, though one may be biassed by the second
definition given above, it does not follow that the first may not have
its due place in a course of study.

The question, then, really is, what is the most helpful course of study
towards the attainment of that desirable facility of workmanship, that
cultivation of the natural perception, feeling, and judgement in the
use of those elements and materials in their ultimate expression and
realization of beauty?

And here we have to stop again on our road, and ask what is this
quality of beauty, and whence does it come?

Without exactly attempting a final or philosophical account of it, we
may call it an outcome and efflorescence of the delight in life under
happy conditions. The history of art and nature shows its evolution
in ever varying degree and form, constantly affected by external
conditions, and modified by place and circumstance, following, in the
development of the sensibility to ideas and impressions of beauty,
through the refinement of the senses and the intellect, much the same
course as the development of man himself as a social and reflective

As we cannot see colour without light, neither can we expect
sensibility to beauty to grow up naturally amid sordid and depressing

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Painting School under Prof. Gerald

Sketch for Figure Composition. “Frederigo Barbarossa.” By Lancelot
Crane, A.R.C.A.]

To begin with, then, before we can have art we must have sensibility
to beauty, and before we can have either we must have conditions
which favour their existence and growth. We must have an atmosphere.
A condition of life where they come naturally, with the colours of
the dawn and the sunset; where the common occupations are not too
burdensome, and the anxiety for a living not too great to leave any
surplus energy or leisure for thought and creative impulse; where the
cares of an empty life, and the deceitfulness of riches do not choke
them; where art has not to struggle, as for very life, for every breath
it draws, and ask itself the why and wherefore of its existence.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Painting and Life School under
Prof. Moira

Time Study. By H. Parr]

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Painting and Life School under
Prof. Moira

Time Studies of Figures in Action. By H. Parr]

For art is not an independent accidental unrelated phenomenon, but is
the result, as we find it in its various manifestations, of long ages
of growth, and co-operative tradition and sympathy.

Seeking beautiful art, organic and related in all its parts, we turn
naturally to places and periods of history which are the culminating
points in such a growth. To Athens in the Phidian age, for instance; to
almost any European city in the Middle Ages; to one of our own village
churches, even, where the nineteenth-century restorer has not been;
to Venice or Florence in the early renascence, rather than to modern
London or Paris. But even limiting ourselves to our own day we have
got to expect far more from the man who has worked from his youth up
in what we call “an atmosphere of art,” even if it is only that of the
modern painter’s studio, than from a mill hand, say, trained to some
one special function, perhaps, in some process of machine industry,
whose life is spent in monotonous toil and whose daily vision is
bounded by chimney-pots and back-yards.

A pinch of the salt of art and culture at measured intervals, will
never counteract the adverse and more prominent influence of the
daily, hourly surroundings on the eye and mind. It is hopeless if one
hour of life’s day says “yes,” if all the other twenty-three say “no”

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Painting and Life School under
Prof. Moira

Time Studies of Figures in Action]

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Architectural School under Prof.
Beresford Pite


[Illustration: Design and Plan of a Domed Church. By A. E. Martin]

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Design for Tapestry. By E. W. Tristram]

Our fundamental requirements then, are a sympathetic atmosphere, a
favourable soil and climate for the raising of the seed of art in its
fullest sense; which means, practically, a reasonable human life,
with fair play for the ideas and senses, and good for the drama of the
eye. To how many is this now possible?

Granting this, however, would go a long way towards solving the next
problem--What to teach? for we should then find that art was not
separable from life.

Children are never at a loss what to learn, or what to teach
themselves, when they see any manner of interesting work going on
and have access to tools and materials. They gather at the door of
the village blacksmith, or at the easel of the wayside painter.
Demonstration is the one thing needed--demonstration, demonstration,
always demonstration. This is, perhaps, at the bottom of the present
strong determination to French modes on the part of our younger
painters. You can learn this part of the painting business because you
can see it done. You could learn any craft if you saw it done, and had
ordinary aptitude. But it does not follow that there is no art but
painting, and that impressionism is its prophet.

It might be said almost that the modern cabinet or competitive gallery
picture, unrelated to anything but itself, and not always that, has
destroyed painting _as an art of design_.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Design for Embroidery. By Miss L. M. Dunkley]

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Museum Studies in Embroidery. By Miss L. M. Dunkley]

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Sheet of Heraldic Studies. By Miss C. M. Lacey]

I would, therefore, rather begin with the constructive, and adaptive,
side of art. Let a student begin by some knowledge of architectural
construction and form. Let him thoroughly understand the connection,
both historic and artistic, between art and architecture. Let him
become thoroughly imbued with a sense of the essential unity of
art, and not, as is now so often the case, be taught to practise some
particular technical trick, or meaningless elaboration; or be led to
suppose that the whole object of his studies is to draw or paint any or
every object from the pictorial point of view exclusively. Let the two
sides of art be clearly and emphatically put before him, which may be
distinguished broadly as: (1) Aspect, or the imitative; (2) Adaptation,
or the imaginative. Let the student see that it is one thing to be able
to make an accurate presentment of a figure, or any object, in its
proper light and shade and relief in relation to its background and
surroundings; and quite another to express them in outline, or to make
them into organic pieces of decoration to fit a given space.

Then, again, he should perceive how the various media and materials
of workmanship naturally determine the character and treatment of his
design, while leaving ample range for individual choice and treatment.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Studies in Counterchange. By W. G. Spooner]

The constructive and creative capacity may exist in a high degree
without any corresponding power of drawing in the pictorial sense,
and considerable proficiency in some of the simpler forms of various
handicrafts, such as ornamental modelling in relief, wood-carving, and
repoussé work, is quite possible of attainment by quite young people;
whereas the perception of certain subtleties in pictorial methods of
representation, such as perspective, planes, and values, and the highly
selective sense which deals with them are matters of matured mental
perception, as well as technical experience and practical skill. The
same is true as to power of design. It is a question of growth.

So that there are natural reasons for a primary training in some forms
of handicraft, which, while affording the same scope for artistic
feeling, present simpler problems in design and workmanship, and give a
tangible and substantial foundation to start with.

In thus giving the first places in a course of study in art to
architecture, decorative design, and handicraft we are only following
the historic order of their progress and development. When the arts of
the Middle Ages culminated in the work of the great painters of the
earlier Renascence, their work showed how much more than makers of
easel pictures they were, so that a picture, apart from its central
interest and purpose was often a richly illustrated history of
contemporary design in such things.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Studies of Scroll Forms. By W. G. Spooner]

Now, my contention is, that whereas a purely pictorial training, or
such a training as is now given with that view, while it often fails to
be of much service in enabling a student to paint a picture, unfits him
for other fields of art quite as important, and leaves him before the
simplest problem of design helpless and ignorant; while a training in
applied design, with all the forethought, sense of beauty and fitness,
ingenuity and invention it would tend to call forth, would not only be
a good practical education in itself, but would enormously strengthen
the student for pictorial work, especially as regards design and
the value of line, while he would get a clear apprehension of the
limitations of different kinds of art, and their analogies.

In studying form, if we model as well as draw, we enormously increase
our grasp and understanding of it, and so it is as regards art
generally that studies in every direction will be found to bear upon
and strengthen us in our main direction.

I should, therefore, endeavour to teach relatively--to teach everything
in relation not only to itself, but to its surroundings and conditions;
design in relation to its materials and purpose; the drawing of form in
relation to other forms; the logic of line; pictorial colour and values
in relation to nature but controlled by pictorial fitness.

The ordinary practice of drawing and study from the human figure--the
Alpha and Omega of all study in art--does not seem sufficiently alive
to the help that may be gained by comparative anatomy. We should study
the figure, not only in itself and for itself, but in relation to the
forms of other animals, and draw the analogous parts and structures,
side by side, not from the anatomist’s point of view but the artist’s.
We should study them in life and action no less.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Studies of Plant Form. By W. G. Spooner]

Now a word as regards action. We have been recently told that artists
have been fools since the world began in their manner of depicting
the action of animals, or rather animals in action, but it was by
a gentleman who (though I fully acknowledge the value and interest
of Mr. Muybridge’s studies and discoveries) did not appear to have
distinguished between moments of arrested action, and the action
represented, which is the sum of those moments. Instantaneous
photographs of animals in action will tell you whereabouts their legs
are found at a given moment, but it is only when they are put in a
consecutive series, and turned on the inside of a horizontal wheel
before the eye that they represent action, and then it is illusion,
not art. Now the artist has to represent or to suggest action without
actual movement of any kind, and he has generally succeeded not by
arresting the literal action of the moment, but by giving the sum of
consecutive moments, much as the wheel does, but without the illusory
trick. His business is to represent, not to imitate. Art after all is
not science or analysis, or we might expect fidelity to the microscope
on the part of our painters and draughtsmen. Until we all go about
with photographic lenses in our heads instead of eyes, with dry plates
or films instead of retinas, we shall, I fancy, still be interested
in what artists have to say to us about nature and their own minds,
whether instantaneous impressions, or the long result of years.

This is only one of the many questions which rise up at every step in
the study of art, and I know of no system of teaching which adequately
deals with them. No doubt our systems of teaching or attempting to
teach art want constant overhauling, like most other systems. When we
are overhauling the system of life itself, it is not wonderful.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Pen Drawing. By H. A. Rigby]

I do not, of course, believe in any cast-iron system of education
from any point of view. It must be varied according to individual wants
and capacities. It must be made personal and interesting or it is of
little good; and no system, however efficient, will manufacture artists
in anything: any more than the most brilliant talents will do away with
the necessity of passionate devotion to work, careful thought, close
observation and constant practice which produce that rapid and intimate
sympathy of eye and hand, and make them the responsive and delicate
interpreters of that selective and imaginative impulse which results in

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School under Prof. Lethaby

Pen Drawing. By H. A. Rigby]


Methods of teaching in art are, I take it, like most other human
methods, of strictly relative value, depending at all times largely
upon the current conception of the aims, purpose, and province of art.

As this conception necessarily alters from time to time, influenced
by all sorts of subtle changes in the social organism (manifesting
themselves in what we call Taste), as well as by fundamental economic
conditions, so the ideas of what are the true methods in art teaching
change also.

Naturally in a time when scepticism is so profound as to reach the
temerity of asking such a question as “What is art?” there need be no
perceptible shock when inquiries are instituted as to the best methods
of art teaching. As important witnesses in the great case of the
position of art in general education, or _commercial interests_ v. _the
expansion of the human mind and the pleasure of life_--methods of art
teaching have to be put in the box. What do they say?

Well, have we not the good old (so-called) Academic methods always with

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School Craft Classes,
Gesso, under Mr. G. Jack

Cabinet designed and decorated in Gesso. By J. R. Shea]

The study of the antique by means of shaded drawings, stumped or
stippled “up to the nines” (if not further), leading on to equally
elaborate life-studies, which somehow are expected to roll the
impressions of eight, ten, or more sittings into one entirety--and
wonderfully it is done, too, sometimes.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School Craft Classes,
Pottery under Mr. Lunn

Group of Pottery designed and executed by the Students]

Are we not led to these triumphs through the winsome defiles of
freehand and shaded drawing from the cast, perhaps accompanied
by cheerful model drawing, perspective puzzles, and anatomical
dissections, and drawings of the human skeleton seen through antique
figures, which seem to anticipate the Röntgen rays?

“The proper study of mankind is man,” but according to the Academic
system it is practically the _only_ study--study of the human frame and
form isolated from everything else.

No doubt such isolation, theoretically at least, concentrates the
attention upon the most difficult and subtle of all living organisms;
but the practical question is, do these elaborate and more or less
artificial studies really give the student a true grasp of form and
construction? Are they not too much practically taken as still-life
studies, and approached rather in the imitative spirit?

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School Craft Classes,
Wood-Carving, under Mr. G. Jack

Wood-Carving by J. R. Shea]

Then, again, such studies are set and pursued rather with the view to
equipping the student with the necessary knowledge of a figure painter.
They are intended to prepare him for painting anything or everything
(and generally, now, _anything_ but something classical) that can be
comprehended or classified as “an easel picture”--that is to say, a
work of art not necessarily related to anything else. It is something
to be exhibited (while fresh) in the open market with others of
a like (or dis-like) nature, and, if possible, to be purchased and
hung in a gallery, or in the more or less darkness of the private
dwelling--“to give light unto them that are in the house.”

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School Craft Classes,
Stained Glass, under Mr. C. W. Whall

Panel designed and executed by A. Kidd]

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Modelling School under Prof.

Frieze by J. A. Stevenson]

Works of sculpture (or _modelling_ as she is generally practised) may
not fare any better (privately) in the end, when one remembers the
busts placed back to the windows, or the marble statue forced to an
unnatural whiteness by purple velvet hangings--but, certainly, the
methods of teaching seem more in relation to the results.

To begin with, a sculptor’s or modeller’s figure (unless a decorative
group or an architectural ornament) is isolated and has no background;
and it is undoubtedly a severe test of skill and knowledge to model a
figure in clay in the round from the life. Some are of the opinion that
it is more difficult to model perfectly a basso-relievo, but there is
no end to the work in the round.

I am really inclined to think that ever since the Italian Renascence
the sculptor’s and modeller’s art and aims have dominated methods of
art teaching generally, and have been chiefly responsible for what I
have termed the Academic method, which seems mainly addressed to the
imitation of solid bodies in full relief, or projection in light and
shade on a plane surface, which method indeed in painting, at least, is
quite opposed to the whole feeling and aim of Decorative art.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Design School, Instructor in
Lettering Mr. Johnson

Page of Text, written by J. P. Bland]

In architecture, on the classical and Academic method, the young
student is put through the five orders, and is expected to master
their subtle proportions before he can appreciate their artistic value,
and with but a remote chance of making such knowledge of practical
value, in a country and climate to which such architectural features
are generally unsuitable.

Our methods of art teaching have sailed along in this stately way from
time immemorial. Does not Burlington House stand where it did?

At all events a new spirit is abroad, since the arts and handicrafts of
design have asserted themselves.

Methods of art teaching in relation to these must at any rate be
definite enough. Each craft presents its own conditions and they must
be signed, sealed, and delivered at the gate, before any triumph or
festival is celebrated within.

Such conditions can be at least comprehended and demonstrated;
materials can be practised with and understood, and even if invention
in design can never be taught, on the negative side there are certain
guides and finger-posts that may at least prevent lapses of taste, and
loss of time.

The designer may learn what different means are at his disposal for
the expression of line and form; for the colour and beauty of nature,
recreated in the translucent glass or precious enamel, or speaking
through the graphic printed line or colour of the wood-block--eloquent
in a thousand ways by means of following the laws of certain materials
in as many different arts.

What are the qualities demanded of a designer in such arts? quickness
of invention and hand, power of direct definition of form. The
expressive use of firm lines; sensitive appreciation of the value
of silhouetted form, and the relief and effect of colours one upon
another; perception of life and movement; knowledge of the growth
and structure of plants; sense of the relation of the human form to
geometric spaces, and power over its abstract treatment, as well as
over the forms of the fowls of the air and beasts of the field.

[Illustration: Royal College of Art: Modelling School under Prof.

Panel by Vincent Hill]

This is a glimpse of the vista of the possibilities of teaching methods
opened up by the arts of design, and in so far as those arts are
understood and practised and sought after as important and necessary to
the completion of a harmonious and refined life, so will our methods of
art instruction have to adapt themselves to meet those new old demands.


Count Tolstoi’s book is, for the most part, a very fierce and trenchant
attack upon modern, as well as some ancient art, from the point of view
of a social reformer and an ascetic and iconoclastic zealot. In a true
Christian spirit he denounces nearly everybody and everything, and
indeed, metaphorically speaking, and to his own satisfaction at least,
first sacks and burns the houses of the aesthetic philosophers from
Baumgarten to Grant Allen, flinging their various definitions of beauty
to the winds; and he proceeds to make a bonfire of the most eminent
names and works, both ancient and modern, and including Sophocles,
Euripides, Æschylus, Aristophanes, Dante, Tasso, Milton, Shakespeare;
Raphael, Michael Angelo’s “Last Judgement,” parts of Bach and
Beethoven; Ibsen, Maeterlinck, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Puvis de Chavannes,
Klinger, Böcklin, Stück, Schneider, Wagner, Liszt, Berlioz, Brahms,
and Richard Strauss;--no English need apply, I was about to say, but
he includes Burne-Jones. And then, waving his torch, he points to the
regeneration of art in the re-organization of Society, tempered by the
opinion of the plain man and--leaves the question still burning.

Of an ideal of beauty in art he will have none. Beauty appears to his
ascetic mind (or mood) as something synonymous with pleasure, and
therefore more or less sinful and to be avoided: yet, realist as he
appears to be at times, he is quite as vague and idealistic as the
idealists he scorns when he speaks of a “Christian art” which is to
take the place of modern corruptions. Tolstoi’s view of art, too, is
practically limited to literature, the drama, music, painting, and
sculpture. (I am afraid he did not know of the Art Workers’ Guild when
he wrote his book, and seems ignorant of William Morris and the English

Only towards the end of the work (p. 171) does he mention “ornamental”
art, or rather he speaks of “ornaments” (including “China dolls”)
and remarks that such as these “for instance, ornaments of all kinds
are either not considered to be art, or considered to be art of a
low quality. In reality” (however, he says), “all such objects, if
only they transmit a true feeling experienced by the artist and
comprehensible to everyone (however insignificant it may seem to us to
be) are works of real good Christian art.”

He then becomes aware, recalling his denial of “the conception
of beauty” as supplying “a standard for works of art” that he is
in an inconsistent position, and turns round and says that “the
subject-matter of all” kinds of ornamentation consists not in the
beauty, but in the feeling (of admiration of, and delight in, the
combination of lines and colours) which the artist has experienced
and with which he infects the spectator. This seems to be a cumbrous
and roundabout way of saying that the thing is admired because it is

Tolstoi, however, seems to have a rooted idea that there is something
essentially selfish and narrow about the conception and ideal of
Beauty and that it must be something necessarily exclusive, appealing
only to a privileged or cultured class. He condemns the beauty which
only appeals to a few, but admits that which appeals to many, though
not because of its beauty, but because it unites so many in a common
feeling of admiration.

The horrible word “infection” is constantly used. I do not know how far
this may be the fault of the translation, and whether it is the exact
equivalent for the Russian phrase, but somehow it has not a pleasant
association as applied to the reception of ideas of art. Tolstoi says:
“Art remains what it was and what it must be--nothing but the infection
by one man of another, or of others, with the feelings experienced by
the infector.”

This is his main point throughout--the communicable power of art, and
he values it, apparently, solely for this power.

But this power of infection, as he calls it, is not the exclusive
possession or distinctive characteristic of art. A man with a
disease may “infect” another, but you don’t call it art. A fire may
communicate some of its warmth to those who are cold, but we don’t call
it art. An angry man may punch you and infect you with his anger, so
that you punch him in return, but we don’t call it art--unless the art
of self-defence is allowed to be an art.

It is true one is aware of the sort of physical test of good
poetry--that it causes a shiver down the spinal column; and it is
generally a true one, but whether it represents the shiver felt by the
poet in writing one is not quite certain.

Besides, surely a work of art may communicate or suggest something more
than was actually in the mind or emotions of the artist at the time,
as by the power of association it may awaken different thoughts and
feelings in many different minds.

To limit fine art only to those forms which are capable of appealing to
everybody, and which communicate feelings and ideas which can be shared
by humanity at large, must necessarily limit it to few and simple forms
and types. No doubt Tolstoi fully realizes this, and he even recognizes
that the art of the most universal appeal at the present day is apt
to be rather trivial in form, such as “a song, or an amusing jest,
intelligible to every one, or a touching story, or a drawing, or a
little doll” (p. 165), and he elsewhere says that the producer of such
things is doing far more good than the elaboration of a work to be
appreciated only by a few.

Historic, romantic, or poetic art seems to have no attractions for
Tolstoi. In fact, he jumps upon what he terms poetic art with immense
vigour, and reserves his greatest vials of scorn for some of its modern
exponents. He seems to have little perception of the law of evolution
either in life or in art, which accounts for its very varied forms,
and different spirit in different ages, and among different races and
social conditions. Nor does he seem to recognize that every age demands
a fresh interpretation of life in art. Form, spirit, and methods in art
all change with the different temper of the times.

Tolstoi plays havoc with the critics, and his exposure of the shams,
imitations, and pretentiousness in many forms of modern art is
unsparing and often too true; and one feels in hearty sympathy with
his desire for spontaneity and sincerity in art, as well as for a
social state, a true co-operative commonwealth in which again might be
realized that unity of purpose and sentiment upon which all forms of
art depend for their widest appeal.

Tolstoi’s ideal of a state in which all contribute to the useful labour
of the community is a fine one, and, of course, this would condemn none
to a life of monotonous toil or drudgery; but would afford leisure for
thought and cultivation of the arts by those who had the real capacity
in them; no one being attracted by commercial advantage or material
profits, since, under these conditions, arts would be the spontaneous
outcome of life, and freely offered for the good of the community in
the joy of producing it.

Tolstoi’s real strength lies in his zeal for and advocacy of such a
simple communal life, and this gives the real force to his arguments
for a corresponding simple and universal art; and, indeed, one feels
that it is this conception and his religious views that are always
dominant in his mind, and existing forms of art are frankly condemned
or approved so far as their influence is unfavourable or favourable to
such views of life.

In a remarkable footnote on p. 170, however, he allows that he is
“insufficiently informed” in all branches of art, and that he belongs
to the class of people whose taste is “perverted,” that “old inured
habits” may cause him to “err,” and he goes on to consign certain works
of his own to the category of “bad art.”

His deeply rooted idea that all good art must convey a definite message
which can be universally understood gives the impression that he only
values art in so far as this definite message can be read in it; and,
by his denial of the validity of beauty as an ideal and object in art,
he removes himself, curiously enough, from where his sympathies lie
really, from the acknowledgment and appreciation of the far-reaching
influence of beauty in the commonest things of daily life--things of
use which the touch of art makes vocal--things without which even the
Tolstoian ideal of simple useful life would be impossible, to which the
spontaneous and traditional handicraft art of the peasant in primitive
countries has so largely contributed, and which reveal more definitely
the character and artistic capacity and feeling of a people than whole
galleries of self-conscious painting and sculpture.


That modern conditions of life are destructive to the sense of
beauty I do not doubt, yet I am by no means sure that sensitiveness
to beauty--or to its absence--in our daily surroundings is so very
common (or even that there is a common understanding as to the idea of
beauty), that such a proposition would obtain general assent without
further explanation, and, as I have undertaken to open the case for the
prosecution, if I may so term it, I will try to make clear my reasons
and conclusions on the matter.

My first witness shall be London, as London is typical and focuses most
of the effects of modern, social, and economic conditions. Now we hear
a great deal of the beauty of London, but probably those who talk of
her beauty are really only thinking of certain beauty-spots. Vast as
London is, most of us really live for the most part in a comparatively
small London. Outside our usual haunts lies a vast unknown region, of
which, indeed, we obtain occasional glimpses on being obliged to travel
across or through the multi-county city.

Those whose London is bounded on the west by Kensington Gardens and
on the east by Mayfair, do not figure to themselves Clerkenwell
or Ratcliff Highway, Bethnal Green or Bow, and would not care to
embrace the vast new suburbs spreading over the green fields in every
direction, or even the comparatively select slums in the shadow of
Belgravian mansions.

Supposing we approached our metropolis by any one of the great railway
lines--there is nothing to indicate we are entering the greatest
and wealthiest city in the world. We pass rows and rows of mean
dwellings--yellow brick boxes with blue slate lids--crowded close
to the railway in many places, with squalid little backyards. We
fly over narrow streets, and complex webs and net-works of railway
lines, telegraph and telephone wires, myriad smoking chimney-pots,
steaming, throbbing works of all kinds, sky-signs and the wonders of
the parti-coloured poster-hoardings, which pursue one into the station
itself, flaring on the reluctant and jaded sight with ever-increasing
importunity and iteration, until one recalls the philosopher who
remarked: “Strange that the world needs so much pressing to accept such
apparently obvious--and sometimes startlingly obvious--advantages.”

All sense of architectural proportion inside the station, however
large, is lost by the strident labels of all sorts and sizes; and
images of all sorts of scales and colours, stick, like huge postage
stamps, wherever likely to catch the eye.

The same thing meets us in the streets; in the busier commercial
quarters, too, it is a common device to hang the name of the firm
in gigantic gilt letters all over the windows and the upper stories
of the shops; while the shops themselves become huge warehouses of
goods, protected by walls of plate-glass, upon the edges of which
apparently rest vast superstructures of flats and offices, playfully
pinned together by telegraph poles, and hung with a black spider’s web
of wires as if to catch any soaring ideas of better things that might
escape the _mêlée_ of the streets.

In the streets themselves a vast crowd of all sorts, sizes, and
conditions is perpetually hurrying to and fro, presenting the sharpest
contrasts in their appearance and bearing. Here the spruce and
prosperous business man, there the ragged cadger, the club idler and
the out-o’-work. Here the lady in her luxurious carriage in purple and
fine linen, and there the wretched seller of matches. Modern street
traffic, too, is of the most mixed and bewildering kind, and the
already perilous London streets have been made much more so by the
motor in its various forms of van and bus, business or private car.
The aspect of a London street during one of the frequent blocks is
certainly extraordinary, so variously sorted and sized are the vehicles
wedged in an apparently inextricable jumble; while the railways and
tubes burrowed underground only add fresh streams of humanity to
the traffic instead of relieving it. Yet it has been principally to
relieve the congested traffic of London that the great changes have
been made which have practically transformed the town, sweeping away
many historic buildings and relics of the past, and giving a general
impression of rapid scene-shifting to our streets.

[Illustration: Wentworth Street, Whitechapel

From a Photograph by F. Frith and Co.]

The most costly and tempting wares are displayed in the shops in
clothing, food, and all the necessities of life, as well as fantastic
luxuries and superfluities in the greatest profusion--“things that
nobody wants made to give to people who have no use for them”--yet,
necessities or not, removed only by the thickness of the plate glass
from the famished eyes of penury and want.

The shops, too, are not work-shops. The goods appear in the windows
as if by magic. Their producers are hidden away in distant factories,
working like parts of a machine upon parts of wholes which perhaps they
never see complete.

Turning to the residential quarters we see ostentation and luxury on
the one hand and cheap imitation, pretentiousness, or meanness and
squalor on the other. We see the aforesaid brick boxes which have
ruined the aspect of most of our towns; we have the pretentious villa
with its visitors’ and servants’ bells; we have the stucco-porticoed
town “mansion,” with its squeezy hall and umbrella stand; or we have
the desirable flat, nearer to heaven, like the cell of a cliff-dweller,
where the modern citizen seeks seclusion in populous caravansaries
which throw every street out of scale where they rear their Babel-like

I have not spoken of the gloom of older-fashioned residential quarters,
frigid in their respectability, which, whatever centres of light and
leading they may conceal, seem outwardly to turn the cold shoulder to
ordinary humanity, or peep distrustfully at a wicked world through
their fanlights.

Many of the features I have described are found also in most modern
cities in different degrees, and are still more evident in the
United States, where there is nothing ancient to stem the tide of
modern--shall we say progress? In justice to New York, however, one
must note that there is an important movement there among artists and
architects and people interested in municipal affairs in the direction
of checking the excesses of commercialism and in favour of dignity and
beauty in the streets and public places. Such publications as “The
Municipal Journal” bear witness to this, so that there is hope for the
future. So may it be here.

Turning from the aspects of houses to humans--take modern dress--in
our search for the beautiful! Well National if not distinctive
costume--except of the working and sporting sort, court dress,
collegiate robes and uniforms--has practically disappeared, and, apart
from working dress in working hours, one type of ceremonial, or full
dress, is common to the people at large, and that of the plainest kind,
with whatever differences of cut and taste in detail. I mean for men,
of course. Among the undisputed rights of woman the liberty to dress as
she pleases, even under recognized types for set occasions, and with
constant variety and change of style, is not a little important, and
one that has very striking effects upon the aspects of modern life we
are considering. It is true this liberty may be checked by the decrees
of eminent modistes and limited by the opinion of Mrs. Grundy, or the
frank criticism of the boy-in-the-street; and it is more than probable
that the exigencies of trade have something to do with it also.

It is, however, too important an element in the ensemble of life to be
ignored or under-valued in any way, as women’s dress affords one of the
few opportunities of indulging in the joy of colour.

Men suffer the tyranny of the tall hat, as the outward and visible sign
of respectability--surely far more so than Carlyle’s gig. Instead of
“gigmanity,” it has become tophatmanity. The “stove-pipe” is the crown
of the modern king, the financier--the business man--he who must be
obeyed. (I understand it is as much as a city clerk’s place is worth
for him to appear in any other head gear.) Ladies, too, encourage
it--with the black frock coat and the rest of the funereally festive
attire of modern correct man. I suppose the garb is considered to
act as an effective foil to the feast of colour indulged in by the
ladies--as black frames to fair pictures--black commas, semi-colons, or
full-stops agreeably punctuating passages of delicate colour!

The worst of it is that the beauty of women’s dress when it happens
to be beautiful in modern times--as at present--seems to be a matter
of accident and entirely at the mercy of fashion (or commerce!)
here to-day and gone to-morrow, and, alas--tell it not among the
pioneers!--lovely woman, our only hope for variety in colour and form
in modern life, in her determination to descend into the industrial and
professional arena and commercially compete with men, not unfrequently
shows a tendency to take a leaf out of his tailor’s pattern-book, and
to adopt or adapt more or less of the features of modern man’s prosaic,
possibly convenient and durable, but certainly summary and unromantic

Well, I think, on the whole, the pictures which modern life in London,
or any great capital displays, may be striking in their contrasts,
weird in their suggestions, dramatic in their aspects--anything or
everything in fact, except _beautiful_.

The essential qualities of beauty being harmony, proportion, balance,
simplicity, charm of form and colour, can we expect to find much of it
under conditions which make life a mere scramble for existence for the
greater part of mankind?

Bellamy, in his “Looking Backward,” gives a striking and succinct
image of modern, social, and economic conditions in his illustration
of a coach and horses. The coach is capitalism; it carries a minority;
but even these struggle for a seat and to maintain their position,
frequently falling off, when they either go under, or must help to
pull the coach with the majority, toiling in the traces of commercial

However these conditions may, among individuals, be softened by human
kindness, or some of its aspects modified by artistic effort, it does
not change the cruelty and injustice of the system or its brutal and
ugly aspects in the main. But, if modern civilization is only tolerable
in proportion to the number and facility of the means of escape from
it, we may find, at least, the beauty of the country, and of wild
nature unimpaired?

Do we? We may escape the town by train, or motor--running the risk, in
either case, of a smash--but we cannot escape commercial enterprise.
The very trees and houses sprout with business-cards, and the landscape
along some of our principal railways seems owned by vendors of drugs.
Turning away our eyes from such annoyances, commercial competition
again has us, in alluring us by all sorts and sizes in papers and
magazines, which, like paper kites, can only maintain their position
by an extensive tail. The tail--that is, the advertisements--keeps
the kites flying, and the serial tale keeps the advertisements going
perhaps, and the reader is obliged to take his news and views, social
or political, sandwiched or flavoured with very various and unsought
and unwanted condiments, pictorial or otherwise, which certainly ruin
artistic effect. Thus public attention is diverted and--nobody minds!
But it is in these ways that the materials of life--whereof the sense
of beauty and its gratification is no unimportant part--are destroyed,
as it were, in getting our living--well, perhaps it would be truer to
say, in some cases, a substantial percentage on our investments.

In obedience to the rule of the great God Trade, too, whole districts
of our fair country are blighted and blackened, and whole populations
are condemned to mechanical and monotonous toil to support the
international race for the precarious world-market.

Under the same desperate compulsion of commercial competition,
agriculture declines and the country-side is deserted. The old country
life with its festivals and picturesque customs has disappeared. Old
houses, churches, and cottages have tumbled into ruin, or have suffered
worse destruction by a process of smartening-up called “restoration.”
The people have crowded into the overcrowded towns, increasing the
competition for employment, the chances of which are lessened by the
very industry of the working-classes themselves, and so our great
cities become blindly huger, dangerous, and generally unlovely, losing,
too, by degrees, the relics of historic interest and romance they once

Even in the arts and among the very cultivators of beauty we detect
the canker of commercialism. The compulsion of the market rules supply
and demand. The idea of the shop dominates picture shows, and painters
become as specialized as men of science, and genius requires as much
puffing as a patent medicine. Every one must have his trade label, and
woe to the artist who experiments, or discovers capacities for other
things than his label covers.

Every new and promising movement in art has been in direct protest and
conflict with the prevailing conditions, and has measured its success
by its degree of success in counteracting them, and, in some sense,
producing new conditions. The remarkable revival of the handicrafts
of late years may be quoted as an instance. But it is a world within
a world; a minority producing for a minority, although it has done
valuable work even as a protest, and has raised the banner of handwork
and its beauty in an age of machine industry.

Other notable movements of a protesting or protective or mitigating
nature are at work in the form of societies for the protection of
ancient buildings--for the preservation of the beauty of natural
scenery, for the abolition of smoke, for checking the abuse of
advertising, for the increase of parks and gardens and open spaces.
Indeed, it would seem as if the welfare of humanity and the prospects
of a tolerable life under modern conditions were handed over to such
societies, since it does not seem to be anybody’s business to attend to
what is everybody’s business, and we have not even a minister to look
after such interests. The very existence of such societies, however, is
a proof of the danger and destruction to which beauty is exposed under
modern conditions.

Social conditions are the outcome of economic conditions. In all
ages it has been mainly the system under which property is held--the
ownership of the means of production and exchange--which has decided
the forms of social life. The expansion of capital and the power of
the financier are essentially modern developments, and unrestricted
commercial competition seems to lead direct to monopoly--a hitherto
unexpected climax. Modern life becomes an unequal race, or scramble
for money, place, power, or mere employment. The social (or rather,
unsocial) pressure which results, really causes those sordid aspects,
pretences, and brutal contrasts we deplore. Private ownership is
constantly opposed to public interest, and the narrow point of view
of immediate individual profit as the determining factor in all
transactions obscures larger issues and stultifies collective action
for the public good.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, perhaps I have said enough to support
the case of Beauty against modern, social, and economic conditions. I
do not ask for damages--they are incalculable. She stands before you, a
pathetic figure, obscured in shreds and patches, driven from pillar to
post, disinherited, a casual, and obliged to beg her bread, who should
be a welcome and honoured guest in every city, in every house, bearing
the lamp of art, and bringing comfort and joy to all.


The very existence of art in any form among a people is itself evidence
of some kind of social life; and, indeed, as regards pre-historic or
ancient life, is often the only record left of life at all.

From its earliest dawn in the pre-historic etchings of the
cave-dweller, to the hieroglyphics of the Egyptian; the sculptured
slabs of the Ninevite and the Persian; from the treasury of Athens,
and the spoils of Troy, to the refinement and monumental beauty of the
Parthenon marbles--everywhere art (at first identical with language,
or picture-writing) is eloquent of the mode of life; the ideas and
ideals which have held sway in the human mind, until they have become
precipitated, or crystallized, for us in antique architecture and
sculpture, and painting, and the sister arts of design. Until every
fragment of woven stuff, every bead and jewel, every fragment of broken
pottery still speaks to us out of the past with its “half-obliterated
tongue” of the life and thought which have gone away, of buried hopes
and fears, of the loves and strife, of the pride and power, which
have left but these frail relics to tell their tale.

[Illustration: Egyptian Hieroglyphics on a Wall Decoration

Abydos: Temple of Seti]

The keen, observant eye of the primitive hunter noted down unerringly
the outlines of the fierce animals he stalked and slew. The same
unerring perception of typical form reappears formalized, and more and
more abstracted, in the hieroglyphic, which, using the familiar animals
and objects of Eastern life as symbols, becomes finally cast, by use
and wont, in the course of evolution, into the rigid abstractions of
the alphabet. This, though in calligraphic and typographic art entering
another course of development, has become quite distinct from the
graphic and depicting power which appears to have been its origin;
but they are still closely and constantly associated together in our
books and newspapers, which form so large a part of, and so intimately
reflect, our social life, and which have carried picture-writing into
another and more complex stage.

The early Assyrian reliefs, too, in another way may often be considered
as a series of emphatic historic statements--a graven writing on the
wall. Their object, to record the conquests of kings or their prowess
as lion-hunters, their battles and sieges, their prisoners taken, their
weapons and munitions of war, the attributes of their symbolic deities.
Their value was perhaps as much their descriptive and recording power
as their decorative effect.

The archaic Greek passed through the same stage, only gradually
evolving that exquisite artistic sense, until the monumental beauty
and heroic ideality of the Phidian work is reached to pass away
again with the spirit and the life which gave it birth. The wave of
Greek civilization rises to the crest of its perfection, and breaks
and falls, yet spreads its influence, and leaves its impress upon
all lands; unextinguished by the power and pomp of the Roman which
succeeded, over which, indeed, in the artistic sense it triumphs,
springing to new life in Italy, until it is found wandering among the
ruins and trivialities of Pompeii, where the last stage of ancient life
has been preserved, as it were, in amber.

We may drop some natural tears over the death of paganism, feeling
that at all events, with all its corruptions, it has placed on record
for us in art that joy of life, and the frank acknowledgement of man’s
animal nature (which no religion or philosophy can afford to leave out
of account) and has reconciled them in forms of enduring refinement and
beauty. A great deal must be set down to persistence of sunshine, but
anyone glancing at what has been left us in various beautiful forms of
art from the classical times and countries must feel how much larger
an external part art must have played in that life; how constant and
intimate must have been its appeal--from the storied pediment and
frieze of the temple, to the gilded statues and bronze fountains in the
public streets and squares--walls whereon the painter’s fancy is let
loose--everywhere colour, and overhead the blue sky of Italy or Greece.
There was at any rate no room for monopoly in the pleasure of such
an external life. The _eye_ of the slave was, at least, as free as
that of his master, and the mere common possession of the spectacular
pleasure of life is something. We feel too that the ancient wealth of
beautiful art was the direct efflorescence of the life of the time.
Everywhere the artist’s and craftsman’s eye must have been stimulated,
the forms of man and woman moving without the restraint of formally cut
costume, but freely draped according to the taste of the individual or
the demands of the season, or circumstance. He could see the athlete
in the arena, the beauty on her terrace, the philosopher in his grove,
the colour and glitter of the market-place, the slave at his toil, the
warriors clanging out to battle, and all these in the broad and full
light of a southern sky. What wonder that his art took beautiful forms.
Even the grave was robbed of its gloom by the Greek artist, and death
was figured as a gentle and painless leave-taking between friends.

It is impossible to doubt that impressions of external beauty and
harmony have a softening and humanizing effect upon the mind. I believe
that we are unconsciously affected by such influences--that we are
unconsciously happier when we live in pleasantly proportioned rooms,
for instance, with harmoniously coloured and patterned walls and
furniture. The nerves are soothed through the gentle stimulus of the
eye dwelling on happy and refined forms and colours.

With the advent of Christianity, with the spiritual eye fixed upon
another world, the form, with the spirit, of art naturally changed,
and though the main current of the new teaching was to make man
indifferent to externals, after its first timid falterings in the dying
traditions of classical design, we know that Christian art became one
of the most powerful exponents of its creeds, and by the awe-inspiring
influence of the solemn and mystic splendour of the Byzantine and early
Gothic churches so impressed the imagination of men’s minds that,
other causes contributing, the Church became the great depository of
artistic skill and inspiration, and used its power of emotional appeal
to the utmost, by means of noble and impressive architectural form and
proportion, afterwards heightened by every decorative means at the
command of the Gothic craftsman in painted glass, carving, mosaic,
painting and work of gold and silver and precious stones.

A great church was inscribed within and without with Bible history, and
the lives of saints were enshrined for an ensample to all in the living
language of the painter or the carver.

The evil-doer was terrorized by presentments of the torments of a
very realistic hell, while the saint was lifted by ecstatic visions
of angelic choirs and flower-starred meads of Paradise. Art in the
Catholic Church was indeed a preacher and teacher of unparalleled
eloquence and moral force. The unlettered could read its open book, the
poor and the lame and the halt--and even the blind might be moved by
the “full-voiced choir” and “pealing organ.”

The splendour and beauty of a mediaeval cathedral must have had what
we should now call quite an incalculable educational effect upon the
people from the aesthetic and emotional side.

Besides this, the ordinary aspect of the towns must have been full of
romance and interest: the variety, and quaint richness of the citizens’
houses; the colour and fantastic invention in costume and heraldry;
the constant shows and processions, such as those organized by the
crafts’ guilds, full of quaint allegory and symbolic meaning. A street
might be solemn with the black and white gowns of monks and priests,
or gay with flaunting banners and the flashing armour of knights, or
the panoply of kings and queens. Great gilded wagons, bright with brave
heraldry--instead of our black, varnished, respectable carriages,
with a modest lozenge on their panels--though these have of late been
rather put out of countenance by the more daring and dangerous motor
car with its mysteriously veiled and masked occupants, a vehicle lately
described by a wit as “a cross between a brougham and a battleship.”

Well, between the ordinary wonders of its mixed and perpetual traffic,
we in London have now nothing left as a free popular spectacle but the
Lord Mayor’s Show, or the Oxford and Cambridge boat-race. There is the
poster, it is true--that cheap and generally nasty “popular educator.”
Not always so cheap, either, since one hears of Royal Academicians
being secured for the service of pushing commerce at the price of
a thousand pounds or so--though the result is generally not a good
_poster_, but only an oil picture spoiled.

Human life, however disguised or uglified with unnatural and
inharmonious surroundings, must, of course, always remain intensely
interesting. If we all took to wearing sandwich boards to announce our
personal tastes or wants to save trouble, I suppose a certain amount
of drama would still be possible, and I have no doubt we should soon
have aesthetic persons declaring that it was as fine a costume as a
mediaeval herald’s or Joseph’s coat of many colours.

It does not seem as if we could take art and beauty naturally in
this country, since the puritan frost came over us. We have suffered
from stiffness in our aesthetic limbs ever since. A certain pedantry
and affectation which have attached themselves to some parts of the
question of art, seem to have created mistrust in the ordinary mind.
The ordinary mind has been too much inured to ugliness, perhaps--and
habit is dear to all of us. Conscious efforts to produce things of
beauty are not always convincing, and even a thing of beauty does not
look comfortable without harmonious environment. If Venus were to
suddenly rise from the Serpentine (or from New York Harbour) she might
be misunderstood.

If we are ever to have beauty in our common life again, beauty must
spring naturally from its ordinary conditions, just as beautiful art
always is inseparable from its material. Now, it is often said that
art has always been the minister to wealth and power, that it has
been the private possession of the rich, and its dwelling-place the
precincts of courts and the shelter of great houses. If, however, the
results of art (so far as the art which appeals to the eye can ever be
monopolized) have often become forms of private property, this is only
so in a limited degree, and is only partially true; and in regard to
the later detached or pictorial forms of art, or in the case of antique

Art, in its nobler monumental forms, by the necessity of its existence,
has appealed to the whole people of a city or state from a Greek temple
to a Gothic cathedral with all the arts of design in retinue.

If, in later days, artists were pressed into the service of kings,
great nobles, merchant princes or millionaires, and art became largely
tributary to their pomp and magnificence, it was at least at the
_expense_ of the whole people. And as, by degrees, partly owing to
commercial and mechanical evolution, and partly to the inducement of
greater personal credit, social distinction and sympathy (which, after
all, are parts of commercial evolution or rather, perhaps, some of
its effects) the artistic faculty was drawn more and more into purely
pictorial channels, and partook more and more of the nature of portable
and private property, its actual possession became a matter, more or
less, for the rich. Even in this stage, however, it has made possible
splendid public and national collections--as our own National Gallery,
for instance, where the very choicest works of the greatest painters of
all time are the actual possession of each and all of us.

Where there has been monopoly of art, and large masses of the people
(the workers whose “surplus value” really pays for it) have been
excluded from, or deprived of, its enjoyment and socializing influence,
is it wonderful that monopoly in art should follow monopoly of land
and the means of subsistence? or that those who refuse to recognize,
or to respect, common rights in land, and common participation in the
pleasures and refinements of life, should refuse to recognize common
rights in art also?

The growing enlightenment and demand for justice on the part of
the workers, and their growing power and capacity for combination
under democratic institutions, will insist upon the abolition of
such monopolies; and the spread of the feeling of fellowship and the
inter-dependence of all workers will create a sounder public sentiment
and morality in the matter of the uses of wealth and the social value
of art.

I hope that we shall not be content as a people to remain satisfied
with so little of the refining influence of art and beauty in our daily
lives. We are beginning to realize the immense loss and deprivation
their absence causes, and where they are not felt at all, where their
warm rays, like the sun’s, never penetrate, there is coarseness,
brutality, and degradation. It is a noticeable fact, that harshness
and roughness of manner and want of sympathy are usually found with
an absence of sensibility to art in individuals. The aesthetic sense,
indeed, is like a sixth sense added to the other five, or rather
evolved from them. Yet we have, until recently, been in the habit of
shutting up our national museums and picture galleries on Sundays as if
they were haunts of vice, instead of refining, intellectual and moral
influences, and sources of unselfish pleasure. We allow the walls of
our school rooms, for the most part, to be gaunt and bare, and give
no greater stimulus to the children’s and young people’s imaginative
reason than is to be gleaned from varnished, unillustrated maps and
tame lithographs of wild animals.

But it is hardly surprising that the minds and imaginative faculties
should be starved, when we know that the _bodies_ so frequently are, as
under our compulsory system of education it has been discovered poor
children frequently go foodless to school.

Yet if common life was thought worth enriching by suggestions of
heroism, poetry, and romance; if education was considered more as a
means of developing _the whole nature_, than merely as a preparation
for a narrow competitive commercial existence, might we not, from the
storehouses of history and folk-lore, picture our school and college
walls with great and typical figures of heroes, and founders and
fighters for our liberties and the commonwealth, and make them glow
with colour and suggestion? and I believe we should see its after
results in a more refined and more spirited, more sympathetic, more
united and self-respecting people.

Whether such changes can come before certain greater economic changes,
comprehended by socialism, is another matter (I do not believe they can
in their fulness), and I have no wish to put the aesthetic cart before
the economic horse, although conviction sometimes comes from attempting
the impossible--or the right thing at the wrong stage.

The social character of the appeal to the eye is brought home to us
by the involuntary impulse which, with a fine work of art before
us, or some lovely natural scene, provokes such common exclamations
as “Look at that!” “Oh! do look there!” “Did you ever see anything
so beautiful!” and the like. This seems to show that people are not
content, as a rule, to enjoy the pleasures of vision _alone_. They
cannot look at a beautiful work without wanting others to see it also,
and participate in the same emotional excitement and appreciative

Appreciation and sympathy are also, of course, enormously stimulating
to artists. They are like the answering ring to the coin of his thought
when he casts it forth to the world, which tells him it is of true gold.

Works of art are like questions or problems put by their inventor to
the public at large. If they are understood at once then the artist
knows he is in touch with his questioner, and that he speaks in a
tongue that is comprehended: but this is not always the case.

The conditions of the practice of art itself have undergone changes
analogous to the evolutions of society, the sentiment of which it
always reflects. From its earlier collective stages and typical forms,
when all the arts of design were united in architecture with such
beautiful results, to its more individual and personal character in
modern days, more especially in painting, we can trace an entire change
of spirit. The focus of artistic feeling and expression is no longer
centralized on religious ideals, mysteries, or mythologies, but is
turned everywhere on the parti-coloured aspects of human life, and the
changes of the face of nature. Its methods are no longer traditional
but experimental, and its point of view personal, so that the position
of a modern painter is not so much that of a musician taking his
place in a great orchestra, and contributing his part to a great and
harmonious whole, but rather that of a soloist, who claims our entire
attention to his performance on a particular instrument--it may be only
a tin whistle, or it may be, of course, the violin in the hands of a

This condition of things in art has had its effect on the individual
practitioner, and the tendency is to set up individual codes of
artistic morality, so that each can only be judged with reference to
his own standard, and according to the dictates of his own aesthetic
conscience or consciousness, and this perhaps may be quite the reverse
of that of his brethren.

In every direction, however, the practice of art teaches the value of
certain virtues as means towards the attainment of its higher aims and
ideals: conscientiousness in workmanship--doing all that is fitting
and needful to obtain certain results: the necessity of making certain
sacrifices of lesser beauty, for instance, or minor truths, to express
the higher beauty and the more significant truth; for it is no more
possible to “eat your cake and have it” in art, than it is in the
affairs of life generally.

Judgement and temperance have important parts to play in the making of
the world of art; and that faithfulness to an ideal, and perseverance
through all manner of technical and other difficulties and adverse
circumstances, which carry a man through, and oblige him to exercise a
certain self-restraint, to reach the goal he has set before himself.

So that the practice of art cannot be said to be without its ethical
side, any more than its manifestations can be denied their social
bearing and significance.


The decorative sense as expressed in the rich and varied field of
surface ornament is now so much taken as a matter of course, and so
associated with certain historic styles, racial types and climatic
characteristics, that few care to look further into origins than such
well-defined and comprehensive sources seem to contain, and doubtless
did we know all about our historic styles (a knowledge of which every
art student is expected to have at his fingers’ ends) and could we
thoroughly analyze the racial types and climatic influences of the
world, we should know as much as could be known about ornament.

Ornament in its developed, or sophisticated and conscious, stage seems
to me to have a close analogy to music of certain types, in which the
sensuous delight in rhythm and melody, as well as the technical skill
and invention of the musician, constitute the principal charm.

I imagine, however, that the pleasure a designer may feel in following
out a germ of what I might call ornamental thought to its natural
or logical development, and the pleasure derived by the beholder
from some harmonious or rhythmical arrangement of form and line are
themselves developments from a primitive germ. It is the pleasure,
or search for pleasure, of the aesthetic sense, which, from the
first discovery of the fascination arising from a repeated form, or
a recurring line, has been ever eager to extract from such simple
elements fresh delight by greater complexity and new dispositions of
the old elements, until the ornamentalist, or the student of pattern,
finds himself in a vast forest of invention, complex and varied in
its floral growth almost as Nature herself--an enchanted garden
of decorative form, line, and colour--in which, nevertheless, the
struggle for survival, or perhaps ascendancy, takes place, continually
controlled by the stern schooling of necessity and utility--the
gardeners with their pruning knives.

Yet I imagine, long before this conscious pleasure there was
_wonder_--the wonder as of a child who gazes at the daily wonder of the
sun, and covers paper with attempts at making circular forms.

Among the earliest scratchings of primitive man we get sun-symbols, we
find meandering lines for water, acute points for fire, and zigzags for
lightning. These signs, too, seem at first used in a detached way, as
if to convey to the mind the idea of the thing as words or signs and
not with any ornamental intention.

The Egyptians, as we know, afterwards developed this kind of
sign-language in their system of hieroglyphics, and in the necessity,
perhaps, of making the forms represented extremely abstract and
suitable for incision, while conveying as much character as possible,
they also made them ornamental. The necessity, too, of compression,
ordered scale, and control of space or boundary would naturally help
the decorative effect. (See illustration, p. 89.)

But apart from this consciously ordered and systematic language of
hieroglyphic, we may see the sun symbols and the meanders and zigzags
forming in repetition simple borderings and types of ornament in the
early art of most peoples on pottery, textiles, or carved in stone.

The sign 卍 known as the Fylfot also, originally supposed to indicate the
rotation of the heavens, and having a certain mysterious significance,
perhaps, to others not fully aware of its original meaning, was used
as a mark or sign of good fortune, and this, too, (being capable
of repetition and pleasing recurrence) in course of time became
incorporated into systems of ornament. It is found widely scattered and
associated with many different types, being found in the art of both
eastern and western peoples, and constantly reappearing.

The Greek fret, a type of border ornament frequently associated with
the foregoing, and apparently surviving by sheer logical persistence,
as well, perhaps, as its perfect adaptability to simple textile
conditions, may have originally had the significance attached to
interlocked hands. We know that borders of joined hands or fingers are
still found upon oriental copper dishes, and in association with the
margin of the dish have an obvious significance, either as the laving
of hands before or after meat, or as in the sense of the text “he that
dippeth with me in the dish.”

[Illustration: Greek Cylix

Peleus and Thetis]

In regard to the fret, however, there is a well-known centre of a Greek
cylix painted with a design representing the wrestling of Peleus and
Thetis, where the interlocked hands take precisely the form, seen in
profile, of the fret border which encloses the (circular) design, the
unit of which may be discovered by anyone who will interlock right and
left hand and note the form expressed by the overlapped fingers.

Again, as I have elsewhere pointed out, the garland or swag so dear to
the heart of the classical architect and designer, was originally the
festive garland of leaves and flowers hung around the house or temple,
as may be seen in the beautiful Romano-Greek relief of the visit of
Bacchus to Icarius in the British Museum.

There appear to me to be two sources of derivation or meaning in
ornament; _the Symbolic_, which I have touched upon, and _the

To the latter may be traced many of the forms in use as enrichments in
the various orders of classical architecture, which owe their origin to
primitive wooden structures, such as the dentil, the egg and tongue,
the guilloche, etc. The volute and meandering borders so frequent
in Greek pottery are traceable in their main lines to the primitive
structural art of wattling. While the banded patterns upon weapons
in the bronze age are, like enough, reminiscences of the tying and
thonging, by means of which primitive man dispensed with nails.

That universal and indispensable pattern-motive and pattern-basis,
the chequer, seems obviously to have been suggested by rush platting,
or primitive weaving; and the knotted and spreading strands of the
primitive mat, as it lay on the ground, may have, been the germ from
which a whole family of border patterns was developed which come to
us from the ancient Asiatic civilizations of the East; but the type
reached its richest and most graceful form in the hands of the Greeks
in their anthemion or honeysuckle borderings.

The anthemion itself, taken singly, as sculptured ornament or finial
upon a stele, I am inclined to think had a symbolic intention, and was
intended to suggest the flames of the funeral pyre. In general form it
is almost identical with the gilded metal flame haloes placed behind
the images of Indian and Burmese deities, and recalls also the rayed
flower so universal in Persian ornament, sometimes enclosing a fruit of
the pomegranate type. Here again there is symbolic intention--life and
the flame of life, with its flower and fruit.

Religious symbolism has, of course, played an important part in the
history of ornament, and especially enriches the ornament of the middle
ages, together with heraldic symbolism, which may be said to have been
almost exclusively _the_ ornament of the earlier middle ages--and very
splendid ornament it was. What would have been those beautiful Sicilian
silks, and the splendid thirteenth and fourteenth century textiles,
without those “strange beasts and birds” which form such valuable
ornamental units, and must have been reassuring and comforting upon the
hanging or the robe, filling the owner or the wearer with the pride of
ancestry, and the spirit of his fathers, as he recognized the family
totem, or the badge and motto that had served well in so many a fight.

Apart, however, from both symbolic and structural origin and meaning,
an important element in ornament is _line_, and line, owing to
certain inseparable association of ideas according to its quality,
structure, or direction, must always carry definite meaning to the eye
and the mind: the association of restfulness with horizontal lines,
and ornament constructed upon such lines; the suggestion of fixity
and solidity by the use of horizontals with verticals; the stern and
logical character given to a design in which only angular forms are
used; the expression of movement by the waved or meandering line--the
line actually described by human action (even by simply walking, as
we may note by marking the recurring position of the head of a figure
so moving along); the lines of energy and resistance by the sharp
irregular zig-zag; the lines of grace and rhythmic sweetness by gently
flowing and recurring curves; or the lines of vigour, of structural
force, of life itself in the radiating group, or the upward spiral of

One cannot attempt to follow out all the suggestions, in a short paper,
which the thought of the meaning of ornament arouses, but it appears
to me, regarded as a whole, that we have in the world of ornament a
language not only of extraordinary beauty, but of deep symbolical,
historical, constructive, and racial meaning, and could we follow it
fully to its sources, we should probably get as complete a history of
the races which have used it as a means of expression, as we could do
from any other kind of human record.

To the modern designer, accustomed as he is to play with what were
once words and syllables of perhaps vital import, _meaning_, in the
ornament he may be called upon to fashion, apart from its own form or
technical purpose, seems, perhaps, a vain or an inessential thing. But,
while by no means confusing the purpose of art with that of poetry or
literature, and fully allowing that to attain beauty and fitness is as
much virtue as we ought to expect of any designer of ornament, or any
other artist--if it grows, as it were, naturally out of the structure
and necessities of the building, or of whatever it is the final
expression and flowering--I still think that there are some thoughts,
some suggestions, proper to design as a language of line and form, and
that an ultimate symbolical meaning, however veiled, gives an interest
and a dignity to any piece of ornament, as well as a certain vitality
which it could not otherwise possess.


House-decoration, it would seem, is almost synonymous with
civilization, and certainly has been co-extensive with its development
in the world. The domestic interior, so far as we are able to realize
it, and all that it implies, affords the best visible evidence of the
standard of living and refinement, and sense of beauty existing among a
race or people of any age or country.

In proportion as the conditions of human life become more and more
artificial, and removed from nature, man seems to require the aid of

Decoration, indeed, might be regarded as a sort of aesthetic
compensation for the increased artificiality, complexity, and restraint
of civilized life.

Sheltered from the storm in a rain-proof, well-drained house, by a
comfortable fireside, the comfort of a citizen who sits at home at
ease is perhaps increased by the contemplation of pictures of wild
landscape, perilous coasts, and even shipwrecks, upon his drawing-room
wall; but when the sun smiles and the long days come, something of
the instinct of primitive man moves him, and he wants to be off to the
woods and moors, seeking nature rather than art.

Thoreau, in his delightful book, “Walden,” describes his endeavours
to return to nature and reduce his life to the simplest conditions;
he found the woods of Walden and its denizens, and the pond with its
wild fowl, and the contemplation of the changeful drama of nature quite
sufficient, beyond a little rough wooden shanty, with a bed, a chair,
and a writing-desk in it. The only attempt at decoration he seems
to have made was when he introduced some curious stones, by way of
ornament, but quickly got rid of them again, as they needed dusting and
arranging. Here he seems to have reached the zero of house-decoration.

Decoration with primitive and pre-historic man may be considered
chiefly personal and possible. The taste for decorative pattern was
gratified upon his own skin in the form of tattoo or war-paint, or in
strings of beads, feather head-dresses, and the carved handles of his
weapons. Not that modern man--still less modern woman--has given up
personal decoration, in fact, I suppose feathers and beads were never
so much in demand, but it seems that modern painters and decorators
having provided so much more elaborate and becoming backgrounds they
have to be “lived up to.” One has heard of the man (in “Punch”) who was
looking for a wife “to suit his furniture.” Well, the background is an
important element of a picture, after all.

Cave-walls, though not neglected in primitive times, no doubt had
rather severe limitations, regarded as fields for decoration, and until
the art of constructing dwellings had been developed to a certain
extent, it is obvious that mural decoration could hardly exist in any
ordered form.

Tent-dwellers, like the Tartars and the Arabs, developed the mat
and rug, the carpet and cover, and thus, on the textile side, made
their historic contribution to an important element in modern
house-decoration, as well as to certain typical forms of pattern well
known to decorators; but the ancient Egyptian, with his plastered
surface over the sun-baked bricks which formed the wall of his dwelling
was, so far as we know, the initiator of painted mural decoration.
The definite but abstract forms, the primary colours cleared by black
outlines, and the resulting flat decorative effect of early Egyptian
art, have set the abstract type for mural painting for all ages.

With the Egyptians, however, as with the ancients generally, the
buildings most regarded for decorative purposes, owing, of course to
their social and religious customs, were the temple, the palace, and
the tomb. The Greeks and Romans, and the nations of mediaeval Europe,
broadly speaking, followed the same order, inspired by very different
ideas, and under the influence of very different habits of life and
climatic differences. The classic temple and the mediaeval cathedral
became alike the depositories of the most beautiful decorative art.
They are the great representative monuments of the art of the age and
of the races that produced them, truly collective and typical.

The individual citizen under Greek, Roman, and especially Christian
ideas, and the development of commerce becoming of more and more
importance, we find the private house considered more and more as a
field for the decorator’s art, and for the expression of individual
feeling and taste.

As regards walls, fresco and tempera painting appear to have been the
chief and most general methods of decoration from classical times to
the middle ages, and it is still to those methods we look for the
higher forms of mural work.

The remains of Pompeii, disclosed from beneath their pall of volcanic
ashes, have furnished a mine of examples to the mural painter, and,
indeed, the influence of the Roman and Pompeian taste and methods of
treatment seems to have remained almost traditional with the Italian
decorator, who has never lost his skill as a workman in tempera
painting, though one may not always be able to admire his taste.

Yet, in regard to such a marked and distinct type of decoration as
the Pompeian, one cannot but feel that in the endeavour (which has
often been made) to adapt such types of decoration to modern domestic
interiors there is an uncomfortable feeling of anachronism and
incongruity. The style, the fancy, the colour, the treatment, the
motives, all belong so essentially to another race, and to a different
climate. To live surrounded by such imported decorations would be like
masquerading in classical costume, and, indeed, to be consistent, the
dwellers in a Pompeian room ought to pose in classical draperies, and
endeavour to emulate an Alma-Tadema picture in the aspects of their
everyday life.

Every race and every age, however, acted upon by all sorts of
influences, climatic, social, economic, commercial, political,
historic, evolves its own ideas of home and comfort--and appropriate
decorative surroundings as a necessary part of home and comfort. These,
in the long run, are the _fittest_ to the circumstances and conditions,
but by no means always ideally the _best_, in fact, but rarely so,
being the result, as a rule, of certain compromises; but the forces
which fashion our lives and characters, which determine our habits and
pursuits, also determine the character of our surroundings.

The very ideas of home and comfort which one might consider more fixed
and permanent--more traditional--than most human notions, seem, with
the increased complexity of modern life, especially on the lines of
the present development of large cities, or commercial centres, liable
to change. The practice of living in flats and residential hotels
must surely tend to displace or modify in the mind of the ordinary
citizen the older ideas of what constitutes the completeness and
organic relation proper to an independently constructed dwelling. The
contraction of space, and sometimes of light, commonly associated with
flats, cannot have a favourable physical effect, and the impossibility
of any garden setting--beyond a window box--must again, one would
think, affect both the general health as well as a healthy sense of

The decorative designer certainly depends largely for freshness of
inspiration and suggestion in design and colour upon growing plants
and flowers, upon the sight of birds and animals, of the ever-changing
sea and sky, and the colours of the landscape. If the sense from which
is produced the very elements of decoration thus requires to be kept
alive and in health, surely the sense which appreciates the product,
which selects and uses, needs also similar access to nature to preserve
a healthy tone. But having provided small brick boxes with slate lids
as homes for our people, and packed them together in straight rows all
alike on the eligible building land of our towns, we next proceed to
economize space (and secure more unearned increment to the square foot)
by packing such boxes one on the top of the other and calling them
“mansions” or “residential flats.”

[Illustration: Sketch for Collective Dwelling containing Sixteen
Cottages with Common Dining-hall, Kitchen, etc. 1/32″ Scale

By Lionel F. Crane]

[Illustration: Sketch for Collective Dwelling containing Sixteen
Cottages with Common Dining-hall, Kitchen, etc. 1/32″ Scale]

On the other hand the collective dwelling, of which perhaps we see
the germ in the better type of modern flats, with a common kitchen
and dining-hall, may have an important future, and there is no reason
why, given favourable conditions, good sites, and ample ground and
careful planning with due regard to light, air, and aspect, dwellings
on the plan of collective living, or collective homes, should not
have dignity and beauty, as well as the comforts of a home combining
provision for the necessity of privacy, with the social advantages of
a common room, and the economic and continuous advantages of a common

It should mean that the administration, the housework, and the cooking
would be done by trained hands, and one would suppose that the load of
care to devise the recurring scheme of the daily dinner, etc., now so
generally pressing on the poor housewife, might thus be lifted, and a
great waste of individual effort saved.

The old plan of the quadrangle would be an excellent one for a
co-operative dwelling: one side of the square or wing opposite the
entrance gate might be occupied by the dining-hall and public rooms,
the other sides might contain the private rooms or be divided into
separate dwellings with separate private entrances on the outer sides:
on the inner side connected by a cloister which would enable the
occupants of the private rooms or separate dwellings to pass to the
public rooms at the head of the quad. A formal garden might occupy the
centre of the quadrangle with a fountain in the centre. Such a scheme
has, I believe, already been proposed to be tried in one of the London

[Illustration: Frescoes by Ford Madox Brown

Town Hall, Manchester]

[Illustration: Frescoes by Ford Madox Brown

Town Hall, Manchester]

From the decorator’s point of view the plan and scale of such
collective dwellings might afford fine scope for art: the large public
rooms such as the hall and the common dining-room, might be simple and
dignified with panelled walls, leaving space above for a continuous
frieze of figures, or divided into separate subjects illustrating local
history or legend, poetry, romance, or symbolism of life and nature.

The true place, however, for the decorative perpetuation of local
history and legend is the Town Hall, and it is satisfactory to know
that this principle has been thoroughly recognized in at least one
important city of England and in a modern Town Hall. I allude to the
frescoes of Ford Madox Brown which vividly and dramatically illustrate
the history of Manchester and her worthies, and appropriately decorate
the walls of the City Hall.

In Birmingham, also, I believe a scheme of painted panels has been
devised to illustrate local history, and students of the Municipal
School of Art have competed for the design of these. This seems an
excellent idea which might be generally adopted. Every town which has
municipal buildings and a municipal school of art might do much not
only to stimulate public spirit and local feeling, but also materially
to help young students and designers by giving them an opportunity of
doing public work and thus getting practice in the highest kind of
decorative art--mural painting.

Surely if we have any pride of place, if we regard our towns and cities
as something more than mere mills for money-making we must feel how
greatly their interest and beauty might be added to in such ways as
these, as well as public parks and gardens, fountains, trees along the
streets, and seats and shelters. Indeed, having regard to the future of
our race, and the importance of space and open air and surroundings of
some beauty to the healthy growth and upraising of children, it becomes
a public question of pressing importance, this of the conditions
of life in our cities, housing, and house and school building and

One remarkable demonstration or object lesson has been given, owing
to the initiative energy and philanthropy of Mr. George Cadbury at
Bournville near Birmingham, which I was afforded the opportunity
of seeing the other day. He has proved, at least (even as William
Morris did), that factory work may be carried on amid pleasant
surroundings and means of recreation for body and mind, and that a
working population can be housed in close proximity to their work in
picturesque and cheap healthy dwellings, surrounded with ample gardens
and pleasant trees.

The Garden City Association is also in the field with Mr. Ebenezer
Howard’s scheme for uniting agriculture, horticulture and manufactures,
with beautiful and healthy dwellings in garden cities which will, it
is hoped, relieve the overcrowding of our great towns, and bring back
the people to the country with all the conveniences and advantages of
well-organized city life, and moreover enable the inhabitants to become
the collective owners thereof.

The rapid means of escape from towns which modern invention and
commercial interest and enterprise have placed within reach of the town
dweller--while they suggest that modern cities are not meant to dwell
in--by those who can get out of them--may to some extent counteract
the ill effects of an artificial existence, at least among some classes
of the population, but I think a certain restlessness is induced which
has its effects--even upon decorative art. The modern mind seems more
easily fatigued, and to require more constant and rapid change. This
restlessness, no doubt accelerated by the effects of grime and smoke,
leads to the desire for more frequent change of colour and pattern in
the living rooms, than formerly. This, it may be said, is healthy,
because it is “good for trade”--for the painters’ and decorators’
trade, that is. One of the drawbacks of modern life, however, is the
existence of trade organizations that are prepared to supply (on the
shortest notice) any atrocity which may be in demand--indeed, I am not
sure that supply does not in some cases create demand, and I suppose
he is but a poor salesman who cannot persuade people to buy what they
do not want--it may be some passing whim or phase of public taste, or
want of taste; but the circumstances which are good for such trade
cannot be expected to evoke much _artistic_ enthusiasm. What is “good
for trade” is not always good for human beings, either in the making or
the using, of which we have often had evidence, but trade, or profit,
is the modern fetish to which, apparently, all other considerations are
expected to bow.

[Illustration: View in Bournville]

[Illustration: Cottages at Bournville

Designed by Alex. W. Harvey]

Now, I take it, a painter or a decorator must be primarily concerned
with producing something of beauty, even if, owing to circumstances
over which he has no control, it cannot be “a joy for ever.” Let his
problem be of the simplest--the choice of a flat tint for a wall, for
instance--the important element of individual taste comes in. This,
again, must be checked by considerations of adaptability and utility,
such as aspect and conditions of lighting in the room, the kind of
room, its proportions and purpose.

We all know what a different effect the same tint has in full or in
half-light, in sunlight or in shadow, and what transformations are
effected in rooms by simply changing the tint or the wall-paper.

The effect, too, of the same tint upon different surfaces should be
noted. Any texture or granulation of surface improves the quality of a
flat tint, and for this reason wall coverings with a texture in them;
such as are known under the name of Burlaps, are excellent, providing
a variety of plain tints of pleasant texture for wall coverings, or
admirable grounds for the decorator to work upon.

A good sense of colour, therefore, is of the first importance. A
knowledge of how to produce certain tints; the effect of one tint
upon, or in juxtaposition to, another; the effect of one tint and of
different tints in the same light; the best grounds for different
tints; all these things, in addition to the workman’s skill of hand
in laying on paint evenly, are essential parts of a painter’s and
decorator’s training and equipment.

The complex elements out of which have been evolved our ideas of
harmonious decoration are not more complex than those out of which
the varieties of the modern house have been produced. True taste,
as well as common sense, would say, “cut your coat according to
your cloth”--build your house and decorate it according to what you
can spend upon it: let it represent your own ideas of taste and
comfort, after due thought, and not be an imitation of another’s, or
of something in the mode which you think you ought to like, neither
something costly because of the cost, or a cheap imitation of something

How few houses seem to be built or decorated upon these principles.
How few, indeed, build their houses at all, or have much choice in the
matter--except perhaps that of Hobson, who must also have been a jerry

There is an old saying that fools build houses and wise men live in
them. However that may be, certainly town-dwellers are often like
hermit-crabs, glad to creep into more or less inconvenient empty shells
erected by former generations, happy if they succeed in adapting them
to their own requirements more or less. In a book on architecture of
about the date 1836, elevations and plans are given of “a First-rate
House,” “a Second-rate House,” “a Third-rate House,” and even “a
Fourth-rate”--quite on the principle of railway carriages, but going
one better, or one worse. They all present modest street frontages
of about twenty feet, duly cemented and painted. They differ chiefly
in the number of their stories, and consequently windows, but the
plans and elevations are all of the same type, slightly varied in
the details. The “first-rate” house, though a little more ornate and
classic in some ways is by no means a palace, and the fourth-rate house
is not exactly a cottage; the second-rate is only a cheaper edition of
the first-rate, and the third-rate tries to look like the second-rate,
but is conscious of having only one window to the dining-room. All
sport balconies to the first-floor front windows and iron railings,
guarding the ground-floor and basement, only the fourth-rate has no
basement. It is as if the architect started with one elevation and
literally cut it down to meet the exigencies of second, third, and
fourth-rate tenants--I had almost said passengers--and in strict
accordance with the then building acts.

Those building acts, perhaps, are responsible for the monotony of our
modern streets. Although they have in some respects been modified of
late, houses in a street or road are obliged to dress up to a straight
building line, toeing the mark like a file of soldiers. Or, perhaps,
more suggestive of a train of railway carriages, which only needs a
locomotive attached to the end of the row to pull them along, and one
might hope, out of sight, also. There are miles of houses of this
type still existing in our towns, notably London, for which in fact
the designs I speak of were intended, but I have seen their like in
Liverpool, Dublin, and elsewhere.

Though carefully graded in classes and adjusted to certain rentals,
the aim of the builder has been to make each present, on the outside,
an equally neat and respectable appearance. This is thoroughly
characteristic of mid-nineteenth century ideas, and the love of
neatness has always been characteristic of the English. The compromise,
also, between modest requirements, or shall we say, between 5 per cent.
and a respect for the Five Orders, which the street frontages of this
period exhibit, is equally characteristic. We see the last results
of the wave of Greco-Roman taste which ruled from the end of the
eighteenth century to the early Victorian time. Of course we have got
beyond all that now, though the type remains, and in some cases even,
with its remnants of style, affords a slight relief and sense of repose
after certain flamboyant erections in terra-cotta and plate glass which
have appeared in our streets, with the up-to-date builders.

The type, as I have said, of these middle-class dwellings remains,
their chief charm as well as decorative point being in the design of
the street doorway, with classical columns or pilasters and a fanlight
often with a graceful design in leaded glazing, too often ruthlessly
scooped out to make way for blank plate glass. We know those iron
railings (protecting the area and kitchen quarters from the attacks of
the soldier and policeman), the windows of the basement timidly peeping
above the ground as with half-closed eyes; the steps to the front door
whitened by successive generations of devoted housemaids; the more or
less Doric front door; the entrance hall, or long squeezy passage with
the umbrella stand as a principal decoration; the staircase at the
end leading to the upper rooms; the dining-room opening out of the
aforesaid passage, with perhaps a dismal window in the rear, commanding
a fine prospect of back yards, unless considerately veiled by ferns, or
stopped out by some would-be stained glass. The bedrooms over, back and
front, follow naturally from such an obvious plan.

Such types of houses, however out of date, ought not to be without
interest to the house-painter and decorator, since they depend for
keeping up appearances almost entirely upon fresh paint--and nothing
is, as we know, “as fresh as paint.” Indeed, I have often noticed
in London--from that commanding eminence the top of a ’bus--how the
white-painted old-fashioned fronts with green doors of some of the
houses in Piccadilly, facing the Green Park, donning new “coats” for
the season, quite put to shame some of their neighbours--the gorgeous
stone-built and marble-columned club façades with all the grime of a
London winter thick upon them.

There is nothing like leather--I mean paint--after all! In fact,
whether inside or outside, the town house requires constantly cheering
up by the painter and decorator, but it must be the decoration that
cheers but not inebriates--and there is a good deal of what I should
call inebriated decoration about. Much of what is generally known as
“l’Art nouveau,” for instance, belongs to this category--the wild and
whirling squirms which form the chief ornamental unit, whether in
surface decoration, furniture construction, wood carving, inlays, or
textiles--which was so much in evidence at the late Paris Exhibition,
and in the pages of “The Studio,” which is, moreover, generally on
the continent considered to be English in its origin. In some of its
forms it certainly does suggest a free translation into French or
German of a kind of decorative art associated with the designers of
the Glasgow school, but, no doubt, like all modern and mixed styles
(like the melancholy of Jacques in “As you like it”), it is extracted
from many simples and compounded of many elements. It is said that the
Emperor Augustus found Rome of brick and he left it a city of marble.
I should, contrariwise, suggest that our decorator, supposing he found
the woodwork of “a desirable residence” _grained_, should leave it
_plain-painting_--beginning at the front door. Iron railings, it may
be noted, in passing, are generally painted (perhaps from economic
reasons) too dark a colour, which darkens still more in the smoke of
towns. A favourite hue is a kind of beefy red, sometimes picked out
with gilding, though this artistic touch is generally reserved for
public buildings--or the public house. Graceful wrought ironwork of a
light kind often looks well painted white or a light cool green, but
ordinary Brunswick-green (of a middle tint) has a good appearance with
the white window frames, reveals and door jambs of a red-brick house,
the green being repeated for the front door and any outside shutters.
Apropos of the heavy red paint so frequently used for ironwork, I
think that the cylinders of gas-works (which form such important
items in the scenery of our suburbs) would be far less trying objects
if they were painted a discreet and retiring cool tint of green, and
the light ironwork supporting standards or columns painted white. I
do not think such a treatment ought to raise the price of gas, but it
would certainly elevate (or shall we say mitigate) the gasometer, and
it would certainly dispel the irresistible impression on the mind of
the unprejudiced that these rotundas were really huge rounds of pressed
beef waiting for some giant Cormoran’s luncheon.

But we stopped at a green door, with white jambs. Dear to some
decorator-painters’ hearts (and hands) is “graining.” Wonderful,
and sometimes fearful are its results. I quite recognize the skill
sometimes spent upon graining--the extraordinary imitation of costly
natural woods which a skilled grainer can produce over ordinary painted
deal. There are also motives of economy, I believe, to account for the
persistence of graining--in an age of such transparent honesty and
simple habits as ours (?). The practice, I have heard, commends itself
in some quarters for the same reason that influenced Dame Primrose in
the choice of her wedding gown, namely, “for qualities that wear well.”

Nothing can be a more delightful, or a more durable lining for the
walls of hall or living-room than oak panelling, but nothing, to my
mind, can be more sordid and unpleasant than the woodwork of a room
grained to imitate oak.

[Illustration: Interior, 1a, Holland Park.

Designed by Philip Webb

From a Photograph by W. E. Gray]

The one field where skill in graining and marbling would be appropriate
is that of stage scenery and decoration, where the object is to
imitate, and where the scene has to be quickly changed in obedience to
the demands of the drama.

Few interiors are more pleasant than the white-painted panelled rooms
in eighteenth-century houses, a mode which some modern architects have
revived with much success. There is nothing like white paint for the
wood-work of modern rooms. It is the best set-off to wall-papers, and
though many attempts have been made by house painters and decorators
to get variety of effect by repeating in the styles and panels of the
doors some leading tint of the wall-paper, the eye soon tires of the
rather restless result, and welcomes plain white flatted paint, leaving
it to the mouldings to give the necessary relief.

Door panels are often considered suitable fields for painted or other
decoration; if, however, door panels are emphasized in this way, the
walls would have to be quiet in pattern and colour, so as to let the
doors tell as the chief decorative points; in such a scheme they would
naturally be balanced by a painted treatment of a wood mantelpiece
and connected by a chair rail and panelled dado, or wainscot; on the
other hand, with a richly patterned and coloured wall the wood-work, if
painted, should be kept plain colour.

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

If our technical schools where house-painting is taught, instead of
devoting time and skill to teaching methods of imitative graining, were
to endeavour to train the pupils to use the brush as decorators and
encourage them to design and paint simple ornamental borders, fillings,
and friezes, such as might be useful in interior decoration, and train
them to be able to space out walls with simple but tasteful sprays of
leaves and flowers, decoratively treated, and painted by direct clean
brush touches, we should surely see better results. Following the
spirit of such types as these from the Ranworth screen in Norfolk, for
instance (a beautiful piece of mediaeval English work of the fifteenth
century, drawn for me by Mr. Cleobury, who has also furnished the South
Kensington Museum with a complete set of drawings from the screen),
they would be doing much more excellent as well as interesting work,
work which in its practical results ought to prove much more pleasant
and useful, both to house-painters and to house-holders. This might be
supported by prizes being offered for such work in public exhibitions.

The attention now being given in primary schools to brush-work, if
wisely directed in its effects, by giving facility to young hands in
the use of the brush, with its power of expressing form by direct
strokes, ought to be an excellent aid and preparation for such an after
training in practical painting and decorating as is here suggested.

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

Stencilling and the design of stencils (which affords excellent
practice in pattern construction of all kinds to the designer and
decorator), has been developed of late years to rather a remarkable
degree by our art schools, as the National competitions bear
witness. There has been a tendency to over-elaborate this kind of
decoration, however, by complex patterns and the use of blended tints,
which its conditions hardly bear. Though a useful and cheap and
effective method of decorating large wall spaces, friezes, and even
temporary hangings, and for temporary decoration generally, it seems
to have its natural limits, and is hardly fitted for positions near
the eye. But I have seen it effectively used in the large rooms and
rough plastered walls of an Italian villa, associated with bold hanging
brocade patterns of a Gothic type.

In deciding on a scheme for the decoration of one’s house, one must
consider what are to be the chief decorative points, and endeavour
to lead up to them. The choice of wall-papers, for instance, would
naturally be influenced by various considerations. There is first the
purpose and use of the room--dining, drawing-room, library, living-room
or bed-room, or what not--there is its aspect and amount of lighting.
If the question be the colouring of a whole house, a reasonable scheme
would be to be comparatively simple and sparing of colour and ornament
in the passages, staircase, and less important rooms, but with some
connecting link of colour lead on to the important rooms, which might
be much richer, and vary much from each other. At the same time it is
not pleasant to jump suddenly from warm to cool tones, and a house or
suite of rooms might be reasonably planned in either a warm or a cool
key according to its character, situation, and lighting. Much, too,
would depend upon the type of furniture, since house construction,
decoration, and furniture, are properly all closely related.

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

There is the question of pictures. It should never be a struggle for
ascendancy between the wall-paper and the pictures. Pictures may be
considered as central points in the decorative scheme of a room and the
colour and pattern of the main field of the wall arranged and carefully
harmonized to suit them. The choice of tint must depend upon the tone
and colour of the pictures to some extent, though usually a gray-green
or subdued red forms a suitable background, or plain brown paper, which
is a very safe one. A white wall, however, has more distinction, and
pictures in gold or black frames look remarkably well upon white. One
often sees old pictures hanging on white walls in old country houses,
and they always have a fine and dignified effect. The little Dutch
interior by Van der Meer in the National Gallery, besides being a
little gem of painting, shows how beautiful a thing is a white wall,
and how suitable for pictures and becoming to persons. One gets a more
luminous effect in a white interior, and in our towns, where there is
none too much light, it is a good thing to get rid of gloomy corners.

Two other charming interiors, each distinct and characteristic of
different races, country, and climate, may be studied in the background
of Van Dyck’s wonderful portrait picture of Jan Arnolfini and his
wife, a Flemish interior of the fifteenth century, and again in the
delightful house of the Virgin in Carlo Crivelli’s “Annunciation,”
with all its wealth of decorative detail, which gives one an excellent
idea of a well-appointed Venetian citizen’s house of the fifteenth
century. Both of these are well-known gems of our National Gallery.

[Illustration: Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk

Drawn by W. T. Cleobury]

Illustrations of these pictures are given in my book on “Line and
Form,” so that instead of repeating them here I give one from Lucas van
Leyden’s “Annunciation” at Munich (Pinacothek) which shows a charming
Gothic interior with a wagon-vaulted roof, wheel window, and a rich
brocade hanging to the bed, with other interesting details.

Another delightful example is the early renascence Venetian interior
which forms the background of Carpaccio’s “Dream of St. Ursula”
(L’Accademia, Venice).

For photographs or prints a pale yellow wall looks well--a pale lemon
or primrose tint--it lights up softly and agreeably at night. Pale
yellow may also be recommended for a rather dark room. Even one fleck
of sunlight on a pale yellow wall has a marvellous reflecting power and
will illuminate the whole room. One can agreeably complete the harmony
with brown, or black and white, with a touch of orange in the furniture
and texture.

As a rule, in modern drawing-rooms and living-rooms, there are too
many colours, as well as too much furniture. The proportions of the
architect and the scheme of the decorator hardly have a chance.

“Elizabeth in her German Garden” speaks of the charm of rooms newly
distempered and papered, with no furniture in them; but though it
might make a paper-hanger happy, I fear this would be too severe for
ordinary English taste.

[Illustration: Flemish Fifteenth-Century Interior

Lucas van Leyden, “The Annunciation,” Munich, Pinacothek]

I remember a gentleman at Los Angeles, California, showing me with
pride a room in his villa he had papered with a gorgeous wall-paper
with lots of gold in it. He considered it sufficient in itself, an
end and not a means, and apparently had no intention of disturbing or
obscuring the design by pictures or furniture, except perhaps a chair
or a couch from which to contemplate the splendours of the pattern.

I think there is a good deal to be said for the adoption of the Eastern
idea of a divan for western salons--seats all round the room and in the
windows, with small moveable coffee-tables. Ladies who entertain would
find this a very convenient arrangement for “at home” days, and with
a parquet floor the young people would only have to roll up the rugs
to find dancing room at short notice. The hall, or house place of old
English houses, no doubt easily lent itself to hospitable and social
gatherings, the long tables and benches ranged along the walls leaving
plenty of floor space for games or dancing, while the ingle-nook
invited the gossips and story-tellers.

[Illustration: Carpaccio’s “The Dream of St. Ursula,” Accademia, Venice

From a Photograph by Anderson]

The revival of the hall or living-room with the ingle-nook is a
noteworthy feature in recent country houses. In fact, in the design
and construction of the small country houses or country cottages built
of late years, mostly as retreats for workers in towns, artists and
others, we find the most successful, attractive, and characteristic
buildings of our time, probably. The cottages designed by Mr. C. F. A.
Voysey, for instance, with rough-cast battened and buttressed walls,
green or Whitland Abbey slates, green outside shutters, and white
casements, have the charm of neatness, quaintness, and simplicity,
an utter absence of pretentiousness and show, and a regard for the
character of their site. There are some charming cottages of this
type at Bournville, already referred to, designed by Mr. Harvey,
the young architect of the estate. I give one here of my son’s (Mr.
Lionel Francis Crane) design--a timber cottage in the recent “Cottages
Exhibition” at Garden City. In designing a country house, an architect
is of course much less fettered than with a town or street site, and
he can frame it in a garden, which is an important decorative adjunct
or setting to a country house or cottage. It is possible also to make
it fit into or even become a part of the scenery, especially if local
materials are employed. Indeed, it seems to me, that the secret of
harmonious effect in building lies in the use of local materials as
regards country houses. The beauty of our old castles, abbeys, country
houses and cottages is greatly owing to this. We feel they are in
harmony with the character and colour of the scenery, and have become
parts of these, independently of the effects of time.

In the present awakening of the public mind to the importance of the
housing question, and the want of substantial, comfortable, as well as
comely dwellings for the people, especially in the country districts,
much attention has been directed to cottage building, and a practical
effort is being made by the Garden City Association to solve the
question in the competitive exhibition in cottage design and building
they recently organized. The question is, as usual, complicated by the
commercial question of profit and percentages on invested capital.

[Illustration: Cottage in the Garden City, Letchworth, Herts

Architect, Lionel F. Crane. Builder, Frank Newton, Hitchin]

[Illustration: Interior of Cottage at Letchworth

Architect, Lionel F. Crane. The Furniture by A. Heal (Messrs. Heal and

Were the object solely the national welfare, as it should be,
cottages could be designed and built good to live in and seemly to look
at. Objections have been made to the local bye-laws, but so far as I am
aware these bye-laws are only intended to secure the minimum conditions
necessary to health and comfort, and would in no way interfere with the
erection of well-built and sightly cottages. Thatch, it is true, is
I believe, in some counties forbidden on account of danger from fire
(probably really increased by the use of low-flash oil in cheap lamps),
but for detached cottages with the use of iron laths and reed thatch
(as Mr. Robert Williams has pointed out) such danger is reduced to a
minimum, and certainly there are thatched cottages and barns, and even
churches, in England which have lasted hundreds of years, and thatch,
after all, makes an excellent roof, cool in summer and warm in winter,
and pleasant to look upon.

[Illustration: Interior of Cottage at Letchworth

Architect, Lionel F. Crane. The Furniture by A. Heal (Messrs. Heal and

[Illustration: Stoneywell Cottage, Exterior

Ernest W. Gimson, Architect]

How charming a cottage can be made, how picturesque and pleasing though
quite new, how perfectly in keeping with its surroundings and fitted to
its site, I lately had an opportunity of seeing in the neighbourhood of
Leicester. I allude to a certain cottage designed by Mr. Ernest Gimson.
The interior also was an illustration of how decorative rooms could
look with hardly any decoration. This is a hard saying for decorators,
but my impression was that whitewashed walls, plain oaken furniture,
only relieved by William Morris’s printed cotton in the shape of window
curtains or loose cushions here and there, were sufficiently decorative
considering the designs and conditions of the structure of the
house. With glimpses of the wild hill-side and the beautiful woodland
landscape beyond them seen through the deep-set windows, there seemed
no need for landscapes on the walls--bad news for poor frozen-out
picture-painters again!

The reign of the big plate-glass window, I believe, is over, and
certainly in such a climate as ours one needs as a rule to be assured
one is really indoors. Certainly, nothing makes so much difference to
the aspect and comfort of a room or house as the position and size of
the windows. I have a preference for casements with plain-leading, and
if the window is high, stained glass may find an appropriate place
above the transoms, or in windows where veiled light is needed, or
plain roundels where a view from within or without is not desired.

There is no doubt a determined effort in the direction of a return to
simplicity, both in house designing, furniture, and decorations on the
part of the more refined and cultured, as a reaction perhaps against
the ostentation and luxury of the appointments of the extremely and
newly rich, and the pretentiousness of the decorations of monster
hotels, where coarse imitations of decadent periods of French art do
duty for splendour, though even here of late the simpler taste has
asserted itself. There is indeed some danger that oak or green-stained
furniture and whitewashed walls may come to be considered as outward
and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace, when perhaps they
are only the fashion.

“Have nothing in your house but what you believe to be beautiful or
what you know is useful,” was the straightforward advice of that
great conservative revolutionist in English decorative art and other
things--William Morris--and he certainly acted up to it in his own

[Illustration: Stoneywell Cottage, Interior of Living-room

Furniture Designed by Ernest W. Gimson, Sidney H. Barnsley, and Ernest
A. Barnsley]

As to the useful, there are no complications about that. A room with a
definite purpose has character, and is always more or less picturesque.
The kitchen is generally the most picturesque room in the house, yet
usually entirely devoid of what may be called decoration. Its objects
of art are merely the tools of the workshop, the bright brass and
copper vessels, the dish-covers gleaming like polished armour from the
white walls. The rows of blue and white plates and dishes upon the
dresser, and all the simple but sufficient hand tools of the cook’s
office about, easily make up an attractive Dutch picture.

[Illustration: Old English Farmhouse Interior (Kent)

From a Sketch by Walter Crane]

The real aesthetic dangers come in to the rooms which have no visible
means of subsistence, so to speak. The dining-room, perhaps for this
reason, is more successful generally than the drawing-room, and
there exists a sort of tradition that it should be warm and rich in
colour. Silver plate often gleams pleasantly from the sideboard, and
the furniture is simple and massive in its lines. An old English
dining-room, with Chippendale or Sheraton furniture, has a character
and distinction of its own. A library, again, is almost sure to look
a habitable room, and there are few more agreeable linings to walls
than books, and here we must depend upon the taste of the binders, as
well as on the furniture provided for the mind. There would, however,
be room for the professional decorator upon the ceiling, and I mind
me of the lovely plaster ceilings to be met with in sixteenth-century
houses, sometimes armorial, sometimes emblematic--such as those
at Knole and Blickling. In plaster work we have a beautiful and
permanent kind of decoration which we owe to Italy, but which seems
to have become quite domesticated here, and to have developed its
own forms with us. The plain white, flat ceiling of the ordinary
modern dwelling-house is the last relic, and even this used to have
a big plaster rose screwed up in the middle, from which sprouted the
gaselier; but one need not regret the departure of both excrescences in
favour of the clean and pendulous shaded electric light, with light and
simple brass or copper fittings. Our plasterers, however, might be able
to throw some delicate ribs or pleasant spacing of simple sprays and
devices upon the inviting plain of white plaster over our heads, or, if
not, why not let the joists show and paint or stencil them with running
leaf patterns, or paint them black, leaving white plaster between? Mr.
George Walton, one of the most tasteful and original decorators in the
newer mode, and under the Glasgow influence, showed a new treatment of
a ceiling in glass and metal, together with a completely decorated and
fitted interior at the recent Glasgow Exhibition. A plaster ceiling
demands a frieze, and both may be effective either plain or coloured.
This would depend upon whether a light, dark, or rich effect were
required in the room. There is much charm in the coloured treatment
of plaster, especially of figure designs in low relief as in the work
of Mr. Anning Bell, Mr. Pomeroy, and Mr. Gerald Moira, though these
require large rooms, public halls, or churches.

[Illustration: Combe Bank, Sevenoaks, the Saloon

The Stamped Leather, Plaster Ceiling, Chimney Breast, smaller Frieze
Panels, and Door Panels Designed, Modelled, and Painted by Walter Crane]

[Illustration: Printed Cretonne Hanging, “Defend the Right”

Designed by Walter Crane]

[Illustration: Printed Cretonne Hanging, “Bon Voyage”

Designed by Walter Crane]

I have designed decorations (ceilings and friezes) in plaster and
in stucco, and gesso worked _in situ_. These, in several instances,
were gilded or silvered and lacquered so as to produce a low-toned
metallic effect. This ornament harmonizes with richly coloured and
rather dark-toned walls hung with silk or Spanish leather; but these
were by no means cottage interiors.

For a cottage or small country house, printed cretonne, used as
hangings for the lower walls of a room, has an attractive effect if
suitable in pattern and colour, having a fresh, clean, and even gay
effect with white woodwork and furniture.

The most comfortable, and at the same time the most romantic, also,
I fear it must be added, the most expensive, way of decorating walls
is by hanging them with arras tapestry such as that produced by
William Morris. The dining-room of the English House at the last Paris
Universal Exhibition was panelled in oak up to about six or eight
feet, and the space above to the cornice was hung with Morris arras
tapestry, designed by Burne-Jones and himself, showing the legend of
King Arthur’s knights and the Holy Grail. The simplicity, yet richness
and dignity of effect has a striking contrast to the more clamorous
decorations of some of its neighbours, among which, however, the
Spanish Pavilion was an exception.

Complete schemes for wall decorations (including field, frieze, dado,
and ceiling), can, however, be had in wall-paper, which, with plain
painting for the modest citizen, remains the chief method of interior
mural decoration. A frieze usually heightens and lightens the effect
of a room, and its junction with the field can be utilized for a
picture-rail, the wall space from the picture-rail to the skirting
being covered with rich or quiet pattern, as the particular scheme may
demand. Sometimes a patterned frieze does well above a plain tinted

[Illustration: Wall-paper, “Lily”

Designed by Walter Crane]

[Illustration: Wall-paper, “Dawn”

Designed by Walter Crane]

I venture here to give some illustrations of some of my recent
wall-paper designs, by permission of the makers, Messrs. Jeffery and

[Illustration: Wall-paper, Lion Frieze and Rose Bush Filling

Designed by Walter Crane]

The blue and white lily pattern (single prints) would be suitable
where a bold effect was desired for a dado or field of lower wall with
plain white, or a quiet frieze above. It might be useful in halls and

The rather ornate design called “Dawn,” with the figure medallion,
might be used for a drawing-room in quiet tones. The blue and the brown
being re-echoed in the hangings and furniture with white wood-work.

The “Rose Bush” would be appropriate to a dining or living-room where a
rather dark and rich effect was aimed at. It would harmonize with oak
framing and furniture.

The “Olive Spray” might be generally useful, and would answer as a
background for pictures.

When wall-paper is used for ceilings the walls should be comparatively

I have found the “Vine Trellis” pattern has a good effect with a plain
tint on the walls, and is especially useful in covering the rather
blank and ugly plastered soffit of the staircase which so often meets
the eye in a town-house of the older type.

“The Cockatoo” would answer in a large room where an ornate effect was
desired, or it could be used as a frieze above panelling, or a plain

The “Oak Tree” is on simpler lines and rectangular in feeling,
combining a bordered field with a frieze.

In choosing wall papers to suit particular rooms, regard should be had
to the character of the lines of the pattern as well as the colour,
bearing in mind that a pattern which runs into marked vertical lines
would tend to increase the apparent height of a room, whereas a pattern
of marked horizontal feeling would tend to make a room look lower and

[Illustration: Wall-paper, “Olive Spray”

Designed by Walter Crane]

[Illustration: Wall-paper, “The Cockatoo and Pomegranate”

Designed by Walter Crane]

[Illustration: Wall-paper Decoration “The Oak Tree”

Designed by Walter Crane]

In designing complete schemes for wall-paper one’s aim has been to
balance the different quantities of pattern in the different parts,
and to re-echo the leading lines, masses, and colours by different
expedients, so as to keep an essential relationship between each part.

Relationship is, of course, the essential in all decoration, otherwise
it becomes a patchwork of conflicting pattern and colour. It matters
not what our materials may be, or by what means, costly or simple, we
seek to obtain our effect, whether by painting, carving, gilding and
rich textiles, metal or plaster work, stamped leather or wall-paper,
stencilling, tiles and plain painting or stained wood and whitewash.
All must be in keeping, and seem fit and in its right place and
proportion, and suitable to its conditions and surroundings; rich and
splendid if the aim is to be rich and splendid, simple and quiet if the
aim is to be simple and quiet; but without the pretence of richness or
obtrusive display on the one hand, or the extreme rudeness, baldness,
and ugliness which sometimes accompany what looks like the affectation
of simplicity on the other.


If taste in dress could be traced to, or its cultivation and exercise
were solely due to, the influence of the constant study of beautiful
forms and fine historical models in design, as well as of the living
human figure, we might be justified in looking to our schools of
art to give us the best types and standards in costume. There are,
however, too many missing links between the ordinary art student and
the practical designer, between the tasteful person and the leader of
fashion, to enable us to prove a close connection of cause and effect
in the matter.

No doubt the general and extended cultivation of a knowledge of art
even on the ordinary art-school lines has contributed not a little to
the general interest in artistic questions, and quickened the average
eye to some extent; but it must be said that we have not yet succeeded
in making our schools of art remarkable as sources of invention, of
initiative, or, on the whole, distinguished for capacity of artistic
selection. We should be expecting too much, perhaps, to look for
these things from training grounds. We ought to be satisfied if they
ultimately turn out a fair average of capable artists, or, rather,
enable students to become capable artists.

Even if all schools were equally well equipped in respect of models
and teaching staff, under the present system there is practically
but little margin left by the regime of the Board of Education for
individual experiment and inquiry off the main lines of the prescribed
courses of study in which passes or honours are obtainable.

The courses and classes of study are arranged in certain stereotyped
ways, so that it becomes an object to attain a certain mechanical
proficiency in certain methods of drawing, and the representation of a
certain range of forms, in order to obtain certificates, rather than to
cultivate the sense of beauty in individuals with a view to the public
benefit and the raising of the standard of taste.

These defects are, it seems to me, inseparable from any attempt to
teach art and taste in schools (that is to say by precept and principle
rather than by practice), and upon a uniform system directed from a
central department. Such an organization must necessarily tend to
become rigid and work according to routine, and its administrators’
best faculties are apt to be too much absorbed in mastering the details
and rules of the system itself, and in the working of it, to be able to
think out, much less to adopt, vivifying changes from time to time.

[Illustration: Greek Drapery, Temple of Niké Apteros, Athens]

At certain stages, no doubt, by its command of expert opinion, such a
Department may be of service to the schools of the country collectively
in setting up a standard of taste, and advancing it from time to
time by means of the national competitions, which are the means of
instituting instructive comparisons between the work of different

But the real educating after influences; the inspiring and refining
sources of artistic invention in design must be found in the splendid
array of examples of ancient art of all kinds in our museums and
galleries--which are mines of artistic wealth to the student and the

Yet the most ordinary art-school training cannot be without its effect,
even if only negative. The mere practice of cultivating the observation
and uniting it with a certain power of depicting form is an education
in itself, and gives people fresh eyes for nature and life.

The mere effect upon the eye and feeling of following the pure lines
and forms of antique Greek sculpture, and the severe and expressive
lines of drapery can hardly be without a practical influence to some
degree even upon the least impressionable.

At all events, we have living artists, many of whom have survived the
usual art-school or Academic training, and who through their works have
certainly influenced contemporary taste in dress, at least as far as
the costume of women is concerned.

I think there can be no doubt, for instance, of the influence in our
time of what is commonly known as the pre-Raphaelite school, and
its later representatives in this direction; from the influence of
Rossetti (which lately, indeed, seems to have revived and renewed
itself in various ways) to the influence of William Morris and Edward
Burne-Jones. But it is an influence which never owed anything to
Academic teaching.

Under the new impulse--the new inspiration of the mid-century from
the purer and simpler lines, forms, and colours of early mediaeval
art, the dress of women in our own time may be said to have been quite
transformed for a while, and though the pendulum of fashion swings
to and fro, it does not much affect, except in some small details,
a distinct type of dress which has become associated with artistic
people--those who seriously study and consider of the highest value and
importance beautiful and harmonious surroundings in daily life.

Beginning in the households of the artists themselves, the type of
dress to which I allude, by imitation (which is the sincerest form of
flattery--or insult, as some will have it) it soon became spread abroad
until, in the seventies and early eighties, we saw the fashionable
world and the stage aping, with more or less grotesque vulgarity, what
it was fain to think were the fashions of the inner and most refined
artistic cult. Commerce, ever ready to dot the i’s and cross the t’s
of anything that spells increased profits, was not slow to flood the
market with what were labelled “art-colours” and “aesthetic” fabrics
of all kinds; but whatever vulgarity, absurdity, and insincerity
might have been mixed up by its enemies with what was known as the
aesthetic movement, it undoubtedly did indicate a general desire for
greater beauty in ordinary life and gave us many charming materials and
colours which, in combination with genuine taste, produced some very
beautiful as well as simple dresses: while its main effect is seen, and
continues to be seen upon the domestic background of interior fittings,
furniture, furniture-fabrics and wall-paper. The giddy, aimless
masquerade of fashion continues, however, perhaps not without a sort of
secret alliance with the exigencies of the factory and the market, and
it has lately revived, in part, the modes of the grandmothers of the
present generation, but, as is often the fate of revivals, has somewhat
vulgarized them in the process.

Modern dress seems to be much in the same position as modern
architecture. In both it looks as if the period of organic style and
spontaneous growth has been passed, and that we can only attempt,
pending important and drastic social changes, to revive certain types,
and endeavour as best we can to adapt them to modern requirements.

Yet architects are bolder than dressmakers. They think nothing of
going back to classic or mediaeval times for models, while the modiste
generally does not venture much further than fifty or a hundred years
back, and somewhat timidly at that. Small modifications, small changes
and adaptations are always taking place, but it generally takes a
decade to change the type of dress.


Regarding dress as a department of design, like design, we may
consciously bring to bear upon it the results of artistic experience
and knowledge of form.

Now, a study of the human figure teaches one to respect it. It does not
induce a wish to ignore its lines in clothing it, to contradict its
proportions, or to misrepresent its character.

It seems curious, then, that the courses of study from the antique and
the life usual at our art schools do not have a greater effect upon
taste and choice in costume than they appear to have.

We must remember, however, the many crossing influences that come in,
the many motives and hidden causes that bear, in the complexity of
modern existence, upon the question, and the stronger social motive
powers which determine the forms of modern dress.

Fundamentally, we may say dress is more or less a question of climate.

Pure utility would be satisfied if the warmth is fairly distributed,
and the action of the body and limbs is free. The child with a loose
tunic, leaving arms and legs bare and free, still represents primitive
and classic man; and he also often satisfies the artist.

But the child is free to grow, to get as much joy out of life as it
can. It does not feel under the necessity of pleasing Mrs. Grundy,
except perhaps when mud-pies are “off.”

[Illustration: · TYPES OF CHILDREN’S DRESS ·




Primitive, again, and picturesque is the dress of the labourer,
ploughman, fisherman, navvy; though purely adapted to use and service.
Concessions to aestheticism, if any, only come in by way of a coloured
neckerchief, the broidery of a smock frock, or the pattern of knitted

Yet each and all are constant and favourite subjects of the modern
painter. Why?

Fundamentally, I think, because their dress is expressive of their
occupation and character, as may be said of the dress of all working

The peasantry in all European countries alone have preserved anywhere
national and local picturesqueness and character in their dress; often,
too, where it still lingers unspoiled, as in Greece, and in Hungary
and Bohemia, adorned with beautiful embroidery worked by the women

The last relics of historic and traditional costume must be sought
therefore among the people, and for picturesqueness we must still seek
the labourer.

This seems a strange commentary upon all modern painstaking, conscious
efforts to attain the natural, simple, beautiful, and suitable in
dress, to be at once healthy and artistic. There really ought not to be
so much difficulty about it.

If we lived simple, useful, and beautiful lives, we could not help
being picturesque in the highest sense.

_There_ is the modern difficulty.

We are driven back from every point to the ever-present social




[Illustration: Hungarian Peasant Costume: a Transylvanian Bride

Sketched at Banffy Hunyad, Transylvania]

[Illustration: Hungarian Peasant Farmer

Sketched at Banffy Hunyad, Transylvania]

Therefore, it seems to me that, though highly valuable and educational,
we must not rely entirely upon conscious cultivation and conscious
effort to lift the question of dress above vulgarity and affectation.

Modern society encourages the ideal of do-nothingness, so that it
becomes an object to get rid of the outward signs of your particular
occupation as soon as you cease work, if you are a worker, and to look
as if you never did any if you are not.

This notion, combined perhaps with the gradual degradation of all
manual labour under the modern system, has combined with business
habits and English love of neatness, and perhaps prosaic and Puritan
plainness, to produce the conventional costume of the modern
“gentleman”--really the business man or bourgeois citizen.

The ruling type always prevails, and stamps its image and
superscription upon life everywhere.

Thus the outward and visible signs of the prosperous and respectable,
the powerful and important, have come to be the frock-coat and tall
hat--gradually evolved from the broad-brim and square cut jerkin of the
Puritan of the seventeenth century.

Even the modern gentleman, when he takes to actually doing something,
or playing at something, becomes at once more or less picturesque.

The flannels of the cricketer, and the boating man, the parti-coloured
jerseys of our football teams--the modern equivalent, I suppose, of
the knightly coat heraldry of the lists--all have a certain character
and expressiveness. The costume of the cyclist again is another
instance of adaptation to pursuit allied to picturesqueness, since it
acknowledges at least the form of figure, and especially the legs, lost
in ordinary civilian costume. In the various forms of riding-dress,
again, we get a certain freedom and variety in costume through
adaptation, both in men and women’s dress.

What modern costume really lacks is not so much character and
picturesqueness, as beauty and romance--a general indictment which
might be brought against modern life. We are really ruled by the dead
weight of the prosaic, the prudent, the timid, the respectable, over
and above the specializing adaptive necessities of utility before

When we turn from the prosaic picturesqueness of such specialized
dresses to the region of pure ornament, as in the modern full or
evening dress of men and women, what do we find?

As far as men are concerned pure convention, the severest simplicity,
without beauty, and almost without ornament, and, except in the case of
those entitled to wear orders, confined to studs, watch-chain, etc. The
clothes, the negation of colour--black, enlivened only by white linen
and white waistcoat, and patent leather.

I have here drawn a contrast between a gentleman’s dress of the present
time and one of the fourteenth century.

Both are extremely simple in design; but the mediaeval one alone can
claim beauty of design, as it is true to the lines of the figure, and
does not cut it up by sharp divisions and contrasts.

In the repression of ornament we may detect another influence, that
of monarchical and aristocratic institutions. Since if ornaments were
freely worn by ordinary citizens, what would become of the doubtful
distinction of ribbons and stars. The ordinary citizen, in the exercise
of his individual taste, might have finer jewellery and better design
upon him than the courtier and the diplomatist. That would never do, of

The same rock ahead will be found, I think, in the case of trousers.

Knee breeches, silk stockings, and buckled shoes are obviously more
elegant and becoming than tubes of black cloth; but if the ordinary
citizen takes to them what becomes of the official dignity of the
golden footman, or of the cabinet minister at court, my Lord Mayor, Mr.
Speaker, and other notabilities?

Men’s dress having been reduced to the extreme of plainness in ordinary
life, any relics of antiquity are used to denote official position,
and the very plainness of evening dress is made use of to set off the
decorations of courtly persons.




These are a few of the complexities which attend any serious attempt
to reform men’s dress. They serve to convince one that costume is
really controlled by the forms of social life, condition, occupation,
rank, general tradition, sentiment, and sense of fitness, so that
we can only reasonably expect great changes in the outsides of life
when corresponding changes are affecting the inside--the economic
foundations, constitution, and moral tone of society.

But let us look at the ladies.

Here at all events appears to be a field for the cultivation and
display of taste and beauty for the sake of beauty and taste alone.
Mere convenience and utility in a lady’s evening dress does not appear
to be consulted at all. It often loses much of its primal covering
capacity, and takes the form of a floral dressing to set off the head
and bust and arms of the fair wearer. Most delicate materials and
colours are used--white samite, mystic, wonderful; trailing clouds of
glory in tulle and gauze; Eastern embroidery, and Chinese and Indian
silks, gold, coral, pearl, diamonds and precious stones, and flowers
both real and (alas!) artificial, are some of the materials which
contribute to the modern lady’s evening toilette.

In the choice and use of these beautiful materials there is evidently
abundant room for the exercise of the nicest judgement and the most
refined and delicate individual taste. There can be no doubt, too, that
these qualities are often met with, and that they are invariably found
with a love and considerable knowledge of art. I do not say that a
knowledge of art alone will enable people to dress tastefully. That is
not always the case. The power of expression of taste or individuality
in dress is no doubt like other gifts of expression, innate.

But a study of art, the training of the eye to appreciate the
delicacies of beautiful line and quality of colour, and beauty of
design in pattern, even without much executive power, must act upon the
selective capacity generally. I think there is no doubt that we do see
the signs of artistic culture, over and above natural distinction of
choice, more frequently in the dress of refined and cultured women in
our days than at any former period, perhaps, since the first half of
the sixteenth century. There is more variety, more individuality, signs
of that increasing independence of thought and action which distinguish
our countrywomen.

The immense range of choice, both in simple and costly materials in
women’s dress, may be put down to increased commercial activity and the
modern command of the markets of the world, no doubt. The taste and
discrimination which selects and combines them in an artistic dress,
is, to begin with, instinctive, but is largely aided and guided by
conscious cultivation and the study of art and the works of artists, I

We may, indeed, detect certain distinct influences in certain leading
types of women’s dress, even in that comparatively narrow region left
to individual choice by the dictates of fashion or the milliner,
dressmaker, and draper, and comparatively few feel themselves at
liberty to move much beyond this.

If then our dictators, for the mass, must at present be sought
principally in these professional or trade directions we are thrown
back again upon the quality and effectiveness of our artistic and
technical education.

The great municipalities are busy spending large sums upon technical
institutes, where the artistic lamb is expected to lie down with
the manufacturing and commercial lion, where science and art are to
become inseparable, if not undistinguishable, and inventive design is
expected to keep pace with the labour or wage-saving ingenuities, and
mechanical economics forced upon the manufacturer by competition. Among
other things millinery and dressmaking will be taught, so that one may
suppose the technical school will have a direct bearing upon taste in

The same difficulty arises here as in the case of art-school teaching.
You may lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink.
Rather, perhaps, we are providing patent buckets before securing a
water supply. What I mean is that, ultimately, in all the arts, in all
matters of taste and beauty we must go back to life and nature. Beauty
is inseparably associated with love, and cannot be produced without
it: and unless the conditions of ordinary life admit of beauty we must
not expect the reproduction of beautiful things. We cannot expect that
science, or mechanical principles, or commercial demand will enable us
to produce it in any direction to order. We cannot expect to get beauty
at any price, if while arranging an elaborate system of art education
on the one hand we allow ourselves to destroy its sources in nature, in
the beauty of our own land, by ruthless destruction or vulgarization
now too common. Beauty and taste can only spring out of the conditions
or the materials which go to the making of a harmonious life. They
must have opportunities of germinating and growing up in minds with
leisure to think, with capacity to feel, with freedom and opportunity
to select, with materials and margin for experiment, and above all with
a centralizing social ideal--a keynote of love hope or faith.

Let us ask ourselves how far we are, individually or collectively, from
the attainment of such conditions.


The decoration of streets at times of public rejoicing seems to afford
abundant opportunities for the exercise of artistic taste and fancy,
and since in our time such occasions are apparently on the increase,
it might be worth while for artists to give more serious attention to
design of this kind. It cannot be said that hitherto public efforts at
street decoration in this country have been very distinguished. English
individualistic habits, and English commercial instincts are both
unfavourable to artistic success in this direction; we are not good at
collective expression in any art, and the new imperialism has not so
far helped us to be articulate in street decoration. The adornment of
our streets and public places usually falls into the hands of trade
contractors, and anything like freshness of idea, taste, or pleasing
fancy is distinguished rather by its absence. Our fiery patriotism
seems quite content to let our decorative crowns and gilded emblems
and wreaths be “made in Germany,” and the popular imagination is
sufficiently lifted by union jacks, supplied in “all sizes” down to
the pocket-handkerchief by the dauntless commercial instinct aforesaid.

Nothing, of course, gives colour and movement so readily as bunting,
and the very sight of a flag is exciting. But flags are dangerous
things, and private zeal in the display of flags often outruns
heraldic discretion. One sees strange treatment of the national emblem
sometimes. A people so fond of waving them ought to know its own
flags and how to hoist them one would think. I noted the other day a
remarkable treatment of the red ensign, the usual arrangement of the
union jack in dexter quarter being varied by cutting it into quarters
and placing one quarter in the usual place and the other at the extreme
lower corner of the fourth quarter of the red field, dropping the other
two out altogether. This may have been from motives of economy. I have
seen, too, the white ensign hoisted upside down! The old way of hanging
gay rugs and tapestries from the window-sills would produce a very
picturesque effect in a street, and would at all events avoid such a
“nice derangement of epitaphs” as those above mentioned.

Some streets lend themselves to decorative effects better, of course,
than others, and narrow streets are easier to decorate than wide ones.

Scale in regard to the buildings and the position of the decorations
are of the greatest importance. In our London streets very frequently
the houses differ in height and width of frontage as much as they
differ in architectural taste and period, and this increases the
difficulty of effective decoration.

A Venetian mast may be in decent scale in relation to the height of
buildings at one part of the street, or even on one side of a street,
and quite ridiculous in regard to other buildings on the same or
other side of the same street. Yet the street decorator clings to the
Venetian mast as a chief means of street decoration, even if only a
spar, with the tenacity of a shipwrecked sailor. The result, too, in
such a climate as ours often is a wreck. Those poles recently placed
in Piccadilly--one of the prettiest of our streets opposite the Park
(perhaps because one side is left out!)--look too small, and are
rather fussily garlanded, while the shields--bearing the portcullis
and the rose alternately--are miserably undersized, and not of a
fine shape. The best thing is the connecting garland with its lamps,
but these ought to be thicker in the middle. Then again, the poles
face only one way--outwards to the road, so that they do not tell
much in perspective. Something on the principle of the cross-tree or
yard-arm and hanging sign is more effective. At least in _one_ piece of
artistic decoration attempted for the coronation--I mean the scheme of
decoration for Westminster Bridge by the Royal College of Art under the
direction of Prof. Lanteri and Prof. Moira--this principle was adopted.
Boldly designed banners painted by the students hung from cross-trees
over the pavement, balanced by lanterns at the other end, while between
them busts of heroic size of our kings and queens under canopies, and
backed by stencilled hangings faced the roadway, these groups being
connected with the masts which bore the banners by hanging garlands.

[Illustration: Decoration of Westminster Bridge. By the Students of the
Royal College of Art

From a Coloured Drawing by G. E. Kruger]

The tapering rectangular column of the new art mode with the flat
trencher at the top might come in quite usefully as a substitute for
the Venetian masts in places, and the flat top could be used for plants
in pots, vases, gilt globes with victories on them, or other emblems,
or heraldic beasts, or electric lamps. A continuous light arcade
of such columns, connected by a light entablature bearing suitable
inscriptions, with hanging garlands, or bay trees in tubs between,
would be a pretty scheme for a straight, and not very wide street.

One generally feels the want of some connecting link across the
roadway, overhead, in any parallel scheme of street decoration. A
string of flags is the simplest way of doing this, and is done often
enough, but if the street is sufficiently narrow a succession of
cloths or banners hung horizontally across the street, forming a kind
of irregular valarium, would have a good effect--say alternating in
two or three colours, with bold heraldic devices, either national or
appropriate to the locality, upon their fields. Streets hung in this
way in red and white, in green and white, or blue and white would have
a pleasant effect. Striped cloths could also be used in this way.

[Illustration: Suggestion for a Temporary Gatehouse at Temple Bar

By Walter Crane]

One consistent colour scheme, say the heraldic colours of the township
(with Chinese lanterns strung across for night effect) for each street
or section of the town, with an arch or gateway to mark the entrance
to each ward or district, would be a means of obtaining unity, as well
as striking and harmonious decorative effect.

Something of this kind was in the mind of a deputation which waited on
the Lord Mayor at the time of the coronation to offer a suggestion to
the City, which would have lent itself well to such a treatment.

Starting from Temple Bar, the existing Griffin--or City dragon (which
we whispered might be temporarily removed!)--might have made way for a
fanciful Gothic gatehouse with gilded portcullis and gates, built of
timber and plaster of course, but substantial enough to support warders
and trumpeters, and a gallery of fair ladies who might shower roses or
gilded oak leaves upon the King when he passed, as our Richard II was
greeted at his coronation from the tower in Cheapside, which bore a
golden angel upon its top. St. Paul and St. George should occupy niches
on such a gateway, which should also display the banners and badges of
the City and the Temple, and the arms of the City guilds, while Gog and
Magog personified should stand at the gates.


Fleet Street should be arcaded by a series of simple timber supports
upholding a balcony, or tier of seats, at the height of the first-floor
windows. The timbers might be whitewashed and decorated with chevrons
or other simple patterns in black or red, but the construction not
concealed. And at regular intervals, upon piers, a bold heraldic beast
(say the dragon of St. George) might support the City banner; Pegasus
and the Lamb those of the Inner and Outer Temple to mark their
boundaries, with the Red and the White Rose. At Clifford’s Inn the Art
Workers’ Guild could hang out their badge, an’ it liked them; while St.
Dunstan, and the White and Blackfriars might appear further on.

I would drape the fronts of the houses in white and red, the St.
George’s Cross might run from end to end of Fleet Street, and on the
parapets of the houses there should be a hedge or cresting of green
boughs connected across the street at intervals by light, arching
trellises surmounted by crowns, to be illuminated at night, and covered
with green leaves and hung with the shields and badges beforenamed
(which in the able hands of Mr. Barron, of the Society of Antiquaries,
would not be the tame things to which we are too much accustomed).

Such a scheme could be a type for each ward, or, on the other hand,
each ward could be different in scheme as well as colour, but each
should have its gatehouse and its guild represented thereat.

Well, the City considered itself sufficient to itself--is it not
always self-sufficient? The Lord Mayor preferred to rely, possibly,
upon the mute inglorious Alma-Tademas and St. John Hopes and Barrons
concealed in the Guildhall Library--or shall we say, the contractors
of Houndsditch. I fancy there was a suspicion that we were only early
birds trying to get the contract, and that Lord Windsor (who headed the
deputation) was perhaps the head of a decorating company, limited!





It is said the world knows nothing of its greatest men--perchance,
also, it never sees its best street decorations. But how can one
reasonably expect London to glow with enthusiasm over grand schemes
of street decoration which principally consist of shining decorative
lights carefully concealed under municipal or other bushels?


The forms of animals furnish the designer in all kinds of decorative
work, whether flat or in relief, with pleasant means of enriching and
enlivening his pattern.

Ornament may indeed reach great refinement and delicacy without the
use of living forms, as it has done in the case of Arabian and Moorish
types, and in such Persian work under Mohammedan influence as the
superb carpet from the Mosque of Ardebil; yet a lover of incident and
romance, of movement and variety--perhaps one might say a western
imagination--welcomes the forms of animals, birds, and even humans, as
delightful elements of pattern.

Originally, no doubt, like the recurring types of floral form in
Oriental, Chinese and Indian and Persian work, animal forms were
introduced with definite meaning, with symbolical and heraldic
purpose, and (despite Mr. Lewis Day) I still think that ornament gains
in dignity and character if it contains some kernel of thought or
intention or poetic fancy in its meshes, in its lines and curves, and
the forms with which its inventor plays.

Technically, by the use of animal forms contrasting masses can be
obtained in design of a kind not possible in any other way. A mass of
stems and leaves and flowers in a tapestry is pleasantly broken by the
varied shapes of figures and animals which give relief and breadth by
their larger contours and masses of colour, and this power of contrast
and mass are elements of great value. Even in a mechanically repeated
surface pattern, woven or printed, interest, dignity, and distinction
can be given by recurring elements of this kind, especially if we are
careful about their choice and, above all, their treatment.

The treatment of animal forms in design of course depends greatly upon
the conditions of the work, the material of its execution, and its
use and position. The rich colour and texture of Arras tapestry, for
instance, it is obvious would lend themselves to a much greater degree
of realism than the more abstract treatment suitable to the limitations
of inlaid work, or cloisonné enamel. In embroidery, again, the needle
has considerable freedom as regards texture and the expression of
surface, and in the case of the plumage of birds, may, as we see is
done in Chinese and Japanese silk embroidery, approach nature in the
construction and set of the feathers, and the sheen and gloss of their
colour effect.

[Illustration: Royal Mantle from the Treasury of Bamberg, Twelfth
Century (from De Farcy)]

[Illustration: Chasuble from the Cathedral of Anagni, Thirteenth
Century (from De Farcy)]

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

Even in the extremely abstract treatment necessitated by the exigencies
of incised hieroglyphics we can hardly find finer examples
of treatment, so direct and unerring is the characterization, than
the birds and animals of the ancient Egyptians. The same power of
characterization, though with a freer hand, is also seen in their mural

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

[Illustration: Sicilian Silk Pattern. Fourteenth Century (Fischbach)]

[Illustration: Embroidered Tabard, Sixteenth Century, in the
Archaeological Museum at Ghent (from De Farcy)]

The early Greek potters ran them close in designing the black
silhouettes of animals forming borders around their vessels and
vases; but we find here at work a conscious ornamental feeling in the
treatment of their forms--an apparently intentional arrangement of
the lines of the animal into more or less formal curves. A running
antelope, for instance, will take a sort of volute curve, and in one
case the volute itself is drawn beneath. The forms of these animals and
birds of the vase paintings were no doubt influenced by the brush, and
many of them might be described as _brush forms_. The bodies of the
birds and fish are oval or ovoid masses, and in their repetition, by
means of such ornamental generalization, a certain balance and rhythm
is obtained.

[Illustration: Detail from Embroidered Tabard, Sixteenth Century]

Indeed, there is no better method of insuring ornamental effect when
introducing animal forms than the practice of designing them within
certain definite boundaries, which may be geometric, such as squares,
circles, and ovals, according to the contours of the masses required in
the particular design.

The Japanese give in one of their drawing-books some clear adaptations
of birds and animals enclosed in circles, and they are very ingenious
pieces of packing.

[Illustration: Detail from Embroidered Tabard, Sixteenth Century]

[Illustration: Detail from Embroidered Tabard, Sixteenth Century]

The early weavers of the Egypto-Roman textiles of Alexandria and of
Byzantium, and of the renowned Sicilian silks from the twelfth to
the fourteenth centuries, and those of Lucca of the fourteenth, all
revelled in animal forms, and were adepts in their treatment. In the
latter cases they were used symbolically and heraldically, and, indeed,
with the development of heraldry in the middle ages under feudalism,
such elements became the principal elements in decoration of all kinds,
so much so that it might be almost said that heraldry was _the_
ornament and decoration of the mediaeval times.

RICHARD IInd, from the picture at Wilton House]

Our Richard II, it will be remembered, in the famous Wilton picture,
is kneeling in a robe of golden tissue woven with the badges of his
house--the hart couchant and the phœnix--repeated all over as in a sort
of diaper, and there are abundant instances among our brasses, stall
plates, and effigies, of the splendid treatment of heraldry in the
arms, as well as the dresses of knights and ladies bearing their family
totems thick upon them.

[Illustration: Exercise in Heraldic treatment & spacing.

The Lions of England designed by Walter Crane.]

Boldness, spirit, distinctness of colour and form, and characterization
governed by ornamental colour and effect, seem to be the chief
principles in designing heraldic animals.

[Illustration: Heraldic Lion designed by Walter Crane]

They not only have to be depicted, but _displayed_. Therefore every
distinctive and important attribute or characteristic is emphasized.

The lion’s mane and tail become foliated, and his legs are fringed
and tasselled. His claws are spread wide--cleared for action; his mouth
is well open, and his long red, curly tongue rollicks out between his
emphatic teeth. A lion out of a cage in the Zoological Gardens would be
no manner of use on a coat, or as a crest or a supporter. The endeavour
of later times to make the heraldic lion a more reasonable being
has only tamed and degraded him. He looks round-headed, muzzy, and

[Illustration: The Lions (or Leopards) of England, from the Tomb of
William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, Westminster Abbey. 1296.]

[Illustration: From the Tomb of Edmund Crouchback, Earl of Lancaster.
1296. Westminster Abbey.]

Much the same principles apply to the treatment of the other “fearful
wild fowl” of heraldry, as well as the necessity for very careful
decorative spacing. I will only recall, in this connection, the spacing
of the English leopards in the fourth quarter of the royal arms on a
shield of thirteenth century shape as offering good field to a designer
from the exercise of ingenuity in space filling.


The book-cover, as a field for surface design, appears at first sight
to offer in its many varieties a less restricted field for invention
than perhaps any portable object of common use which demands the
attention of a decorator.

Yet in no field of design are certain qualities more essential to
success--qualities, too, outside the particular conditions of the
various methods, and processes used in the production of book-covers.

These are, in chief, tastefulness and sense of scale and proportion,
important enough it will be said in all design, but narrowed down to
the limited field of the book-cover, and in full view of its object and
purpose, they become all-important.

Limited, for instance, to the narrowest demands of utility--an
inscription or title on side or back needful to distinguish the outside
of one book from another, questions of choice of scale, of lettering in
relation to the size and proportion of the cover, of the choice of the
form of the lettering and the spacing of the letters upon the cover
immediately arise.

Now the side of a book-cover presents a flat surface within rectangular
limits, varying in size according to the folding of the sheet of paper
which determines the size of the book to be covered--folio, quarto,
octavo, and so on.

The book itself is a rectangular object as it lies on the table. It is
a casket of thought at its best, at its worst it contains records or
human remains of some kind.

The rectangularity, however, is what will influence the designer, from
the spacing of his block or tablet of lettering, to the intricate
arabesque of the most elaborate gold tooling.

The best cover designs are those, to my mind, wherein the feeling of
the angularity of the enclosure is expressed or acknowledged in this
way, but of course it may be felt and expressed in a variety of ways.

In the old stamped leather and pigskin bindings of the early days of
printing of the books from Venice and Basle, for instance, a frequent
and very satisfactory plan was to form a series of borders, one within
the other, from the edge of the book, enclosing a central panel, left
plain except for the title, stamped or inscribed upon the upper part
of this plain panel. The borders were formed of stamps of different
patterns, heraldic devices, scroll-work, emblems enclosed in straight
lines. These designs are often models of scale in book ornament, and
being carefully spaced and composed of repeating elements, have a
delicate and at the same time rich effect.

[Illustration: Binding in Black Morocco, with Medallions and
Coat-of-arms, by Thomas Berthelet (Sixteenth Century)]

I need not dwell upon the splendid jewelled and silver mounted
manuscripts of the scriptures of Byzantine times, which called in the
work of other craftsmen, since I presume one is dealing rather with the
design of surface ornament as a matter of mass and line adapted to the
ordinary conditions of the book-cover.

The method of stamping the coat-of-arms of the owner boldly upon
the centre of the sides in gold upon leather covers, used from the
sixteenth century and onwards, has a dignified effect, and these
stamps, whether heraldic or of abstract ornamental elements, are often
beautiful examples of rich and effective spacing within narrow limits,
the enclosing shape or boundary indicated only by the edges of the
device, which fits into its invisible shell, as it were, without effort
and without any sense of cramping.

The designers of the stamps either blind or in gold must have been in
close touch with the designer of printers’ ornaments--initial letters,
headings, borders, and the like--if not in some cases identical with
them, and to this no doubt we owe that sense of scale and proportion in
the ornamentation of the earlier bindings.

In gold-tooled designs the necessity of their having to be composed
or built up of certain restricted elements, or separate tools, the
ingenious combination of which produces the delicate arabesques of line
and leaf and floral forms we admire as the crown and glory of the
binder’s craft, has also contributed to the preservation of scale,
since the tools must necessarily be limited in size.

[Illustration: Binding in Black Morocco, with Arms of Edward VI, by
Thomas Berthelet (Sixteenth Century)]

Before the recent revival in this craft, in which so much is due to the
taste and skill of Mr. Cobden-Sanderson, there was a tendency towards
over-small, frittered and meaningless detail in gold tooling, and
binders were given to mechanical repeats of stock tools and stamps.

Yet repetition of forms or lines may be used tastefully as well as in a
commonplace way.

Few methods in tooling a book-cover are more appropriate and
satisfactory than the diaper, which is sometimes used all over the
cover, and sometimes covers the inner panel only.

The decoration of the back of the book-cover requires particular care.
In gold-tooled bindings the ornament may effectively be concentrated
upon the back, which of course must include the title, leaving the
sides plain.

When the sides are decorated the back must be the link to connect the
obverse of the book with the reverse--unless we like to say front side
and back side.

[Illustration: Binding in Stamped Calf, with Panels representing the
Emblems of the Passion, with Unicorns as Supporters, and the Arms of
France and England, with Tudor Rose, etc. (Sixteenth Century)]

But I am trespassing upon the binder’s province. The cloth cover
seems to be a sort of compromise, though often agreeable enough. Our
continental neighbours issue their books in limp paper wrappers,
expecting them to be bound as a matter of course. This may account for
the high state of the binder’s craft, as a craft, in France. Here, our
publishers vie with each other in issuing their books in attractive
cloth gilt covers which at one time were intended to rival the
gold-tooled binding. Of late we have seen every kind of eccentricity
upon book-covers both in design and execution, gold, silver, black and
white, and various colours being used in cloth printed covers, and
designers often going far in the pictorial direction. We may see the
influence of the poster, but still more so when we come to the printed
paper cover which imposes still fewer restrictions upon the designer,
in fact, none at all, except that of space--unless his sense of fitness
imposes limits upon himself; yet cloth covers have perhaps shown more
licence than the printed paper cover of late.

The cover printed in few and frank colours and varnished for protection
from wear has had a considerable vogue for Christmas books of the
lighter sort and for those principally intended for children. These
were, when first introduced, rather shocking to the bookselling mind,
which went by weight and the amount of gold on a cloth cover, in
appraising literary and artistic worth in the market.

When a certain thin square volume for which I was responsible was
modestly offered at 5_s._, the usual test being applied, the answer
was, “This will never do!”--the public, however, was of a different

It may be said for the cover printed in colours, when it encloses a
book printed in colours, that it has a certain fitness, and for the
rest must depend largely upon the designer.

[Illustration: Binding of Oak Boards covered with Stamped Calf, with
Panels Representing the Baptism of Christ and St. George and the
Dragon, by John Reynes (Sixteenth Century)]

The illustrated magazine cover has exercised a good deal of artistic
ingenuity, and always presents the problem of the treatment of
lettering as an essential part of the design, as indeed it always
should be. There is something attractive about the angular and abstract
forms of letters used in contrast with the free lines of the human
figure and drapery, or floral ornament, or heraldry, and in a cover
design to be printed from a line block the designer may indulge his
feeling for these contrasting elements.

Here again the influence of the poster has come in, the conditions
of the magazine cover in its struggle for existence on the bookstall
being similar to the struggle for pre-eminence upon the hoarding among
its larger commercial cousins. In the covers of the magazine, the
illustrated weekly journal, and the railway novel we see the popular
side of cover design and decoration, largely intended in the first
place to attract attention, with a view of immediate sale.

Like all competitive processes with a commercial object, while certain
qualities such as a kind of force or eccentricity may be evolved, it
generally leads to deterioration on the artistic side. The final test
of all design, and especially design of book-covers--the apparel of
our companions and friendly counsellors--seems to be wrapped up in the
question: “Can you live with it?”

One may admire the skill and celerity of a juggler and conjurer, but
it would be uncomfortable to sit frequently at table with a professor
of the craft who was given to whisk away one’s dinner napkin, swallow
the knives and forks, or discover the roast mutton in his neighbour’s

[Illustration: Binding in Brown Calf, inlaid by the Wotton Binder
(Sixteenth Century)]

So a sensational book-cover may startle us by its audacity, but it is
apt to stare at us horribly upon the drawing-room table--and we can
hardly be expected to re-furnish entirely to suit its complexion.

A painter I know tells me that there are two classes of
pictures--“pictures to live with and pictures to live by.”

Books or book-covers might be divided as books to be taken care of and
books to use.

The aristocracy, in their morocco and gilded coats, seem too costly
and precious to handle every day and be dimmed by London smoke and
dust. Few could duplicate their favourite books, so in the end the
quiet cloth cover with its plain lettering is welcome for work-a-day,
while, do as we may, the motley crowd in paper will press in and flaunt
their little hour, “yellow and black and pale and hectic red,” driven
like leaves before the breath of passing interest, some, perhaps, at
last finding rest, and resurrection, in the portfolios of the careful


The use of gilding in decoration of all kinds seems to be as
fascinating to the artist as its pursuit in the solid form appears
to be to a large proportion of the human race. In both instances,
too, there are risks to be run; in both there is use or abuse of the
material involved.

The uses of gilding in art are manifold. We may regard it as the
most precious and beautiful means of _emphasis in design_. A method
of heightening certain important parts, such as the initial letters
of an illuminated manuscript, where, by raising the letter in gesso,
or gold size and burnishing, an additional richness and lustre is
obtained, especially with the use of full colours, such as ultramarine,
the deep blue and vermilion which warm the heart in looking at the
manuscripts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The jewel-like
sparkle, too, of the burnished gold used for raised leaves and fruits
here and there among the delicate arabesque page-borders as in French
manuscripts of the early fourteenth century has a most charming effect,
and contains suggestions for the use of gold in larger kinds of
decorative work.

[Illustration: Appartamenti Borgia, Vatican, Rome, showing
Pinturicchio’s fresco: “The Salutation” and a Portion of the Decoration
of the Vault

From a Photograph by Anderson]

[Illustration: Appartamenti Borgia, Vatican, Rome, showing Portion of
“The Salutation” fresco, with Enrichments raised in Gesso

From a Photograph by Anderson]

Gold, too, may be used _as light_ in drawing, as a heightening to take
the place of white on a dark-toned paper. Burne-Jones revived this
method with fine results.

Gold is a most valuable means of harmonizing different colours used in
the same design or decoration, and is often useful _as an outline_ in
flat decoration, and while it can be effectively used with the full
range of colour where very rich effects are sought, it also combines
well with any single colour in decoration.

The late G. F. Watts told me he considered _blue and gold_ to be the
typical colours of the universe.

Certainly they form one of the most--if not the most--beautiful of

In the Appartamenti Borgia in the Vatican at Rome--a series of vaulted
rooms decorated by Pinturicchio--the prevailing harmony is blue and
gold, the field of the vaulting being blue with raised arabesques
in gold emphasizing the ribs, while the arched spaces formed by the
vaulting on the side walls are filled with figure subjects in fresco,
in which the gold note is re-echoed by certain parts such as armour,
weapons and caskets being raised in gesso and gilded. The whole has a
very rich and splendid but quiet effect. There is a reproduction to
scale of a portion in South Kensington Museum--and also one of the room
of Isabella d’Este at Mantua, which has a rich ceiling in gold and

[Illustration: Palermo: Cappella Reale, Interior

From a Water-colour Sketch by Walter Crane]

The lining of a certain dining-room in Prince’s Gate lately sold
and removed might be quoted as a modern instance of blue and gold
decoration. It is supposed to have cost an architect his reason, and
both the painter and the patron more than either bargained for, as well
as their friendship, but the result was most artistic, original and
beautiful. Need I say the motive was the peacock, and the artist Mr.

“There is safety in a swallow-tail,” says Carlyle in “Sartor Resartus.”
That there is safety in white and gold appears to be the creed of the
modern decorator. I heard a lady say she liked white and gold; it
“always reminded her of champagne,” possibly it may remind others of
a balance at their bankers. There is a well-known firm of architects
in New York by the name of Mackim, Meade and White, who have been
re-christened in the profession as “Mackim, White and Gold,” owing to
their fondness for that blend in interior decoration, in association
with what is called “old colonial” architecture.

One can obtain every variety of metallic tint related to gold by
lacquering over silver leaf. I adopted this method in a room, using
a coffered ceiling with the design of a vine in relief, and a frieze
panelled with figure subjects (Æsop’s “Fables”). The light came from
a large bay window at one end of the room, and so the edges of the
reliefs caught the light. The general effect being subdued silver and
bronze tones, relieved by touches of ruddy gold. (See illustration, p.

[Illustration: The Double Cube Room, Wilton House. Showing the Inigo
Jones Decoration of the Walls, with the Vandyke Portraits in the Panels

From a Photograph by Brooks and Son, Salisbury]

The use of _gold as an isolator_ has long been established in the form
of picture frames--the gilded “flat” or moulding clearing a picture
from its surroundings more effectually and easily than any other known
method; but the picture frame, as I think I have before said, is only a
relic of the architectural relation of the picture to the wall, where
it originally formed a panel, as may be seen, for instance, in the
Vandyke room at Wilton House.

Gold also forms a most valuable field or ground for colours, as in
decorative painting and mosaic work, or may be used in painting with
charming effect as a _colour_, as the early painters used it, for
rich brocades and patterned stuffs, rays of light, the emblazoning of
heraldic devices, inscriptions, and small fine details of all kinds.

Gold in Byzantine art always seems to have been used with a sense of
dignity and of solemnity. The gold tesseræ which form the field of
the mosaic decoration in the subdued light in St. Mark’s at Venice
impress one with an effect of quiet splendour. There is nothing gaudy
or flaming. The light falls through the narrow windows of the dome,
and moves softly over the concave gilded surface, reflected backwards
and forwards in every variety of tone as the sunlight travels, and the
great figures and emblems loom majestically and mysteriously upon the
gold field.

Another splendid example, and again chiefly a harmony of blue and gold,
is seen in that exquisite gem of architecture and mosaic decoration,
the Cappella Palatina in the Royal Palace at Palermo.

[Illustration: The Double Cube Room, Wilton House

From a Photograph by Brooks and Son, Salisbury]

The opposite principle in the use of gilding is illustrated in St.
Peter’s at Rome, and in many renascence interiors when the mouldings,
capitals, cornices, and architectural enrichments of all kinds in
relief are picked out in gold. The splendour may be there--if only in
the impression of costliness--but it seems of a more obvious kind,
more conscious and self-assertive, and when the principle is carried
thoroughly out of gilding every prominence, the effect may easily
become ostentatious and vulgar.

I think it is important not to lose the sense of preciousness in the
use of gilding, and, as with costly marbles and beautiful materials of
all kinds, one should be careful not to put them to base uses, or lose
their artistic value by excess.

It is comparatively easy to offer up pious opinions on the use of
gold; but the real problems only begin in front of the particular work
in hand, and the conditions under which the decorative artist works
continually vary. One may be guided by certain principles, but much
more by feeling and judgement, which go to form what is called taste.
Every work must be finer in proportion to the thought and feeling put
into it, but no amount of gold-leaf will cover the absence of taste and
sense of proportion.


Decorative design in gesso stands, it may be said, midway between
painting and sculpture, partaking in its variations of the characters
of each in turn--the child or younger sister of both, holding, as it
were, the hands of each, playful, light-hearted, familiar, associated
in its time with all kinds of domestic furniture and adornment.

With an origin perhaps as ancient as the other arts, its true home
is in Italy. We find it at Pompeii, with its relatives, stucco and
plaster-work, in association with architecture, which also are seen
in such choice forms in the decoration of the ceilings and walls
of Roman tombs, such as the famous examples of the Via Latina. We
find gesso work also in direct association with painting in the
devotional pictures of the early Italian schools, used for the diapered
backgrounds and nimbi of saints, and raised emblems and ornaments. It
reappears in our own country in the painted rood-screens of Norfolk
and Suffolk. At Southwold, for instance, there is a notable screen
with panels, painted with figures of the apostles, the backgrounds
consisting of diapers in raised gesso.

The revival of classical taste and love of classical lore and
ornamental detail at the time of the renascence in Italy led to later
and highly ornate development of gesso and stucco, of which we may see
elaborate examples in the ceilings of the Doria palace at Genoa, for
instance; and in the fine decorative scheme of Pinturicchio in the
Appartamenti Borgia in the Vatican, gilded gesso is used for caskets,
weapons, and other details in the frescoes painted on the walls, gilded
relief work and blue grounds being carried out on the vaulted ceilings
above, in arabesques and medallions.

A beautiful model of part of the Appartamenti, by Signor Mariani, may
be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where also choice examples
of gesso work may be found in picture and mirror frames, and gilded
coffers or cassones. There are several of these from Florence with
figures in relief on flat backgrounds, punctured or stamped with
patterns on the paste, and afterwards gilded with rich ornamental

Then again we find gesso used underneath the burnished gold letters and
leaf work of the mediaeval illuminators.

The Italian craftsman’s skill in gesso seems to survive in the Italian
confectioner with his freehand decorations squeezed out in the form of
raised ornaments of plaster and sugar on birthday cakes and such like;
and Italian workmen are still the masters of the craft and mystery of
all manner of plaster-work, including moulding and casting.

Now there are various kinds of gesso and recipes for making it, and
it can be worked in different ways, and on different scales, and in
different degrees of relief.

For fine work on a small scale, such as might be used for caskets or
small panels in cabinets, and the decoration of furniture generally,
Gesso Duro is the best.

[Illustration: Method of Working with the Brush in Gesso]

It is a mixture of whitening soaked in cold water till quite soft,
glue or gelatine, boiled linseed oil, and a little resin, mixed well
together to the consistency of cream. There is also a gesso used by
frame-makers composed of whitening and parchment size.

Supposing it is desired to work a design on a panel of wood, the
wood had best have a coat of shellac or varnish first. Then having
determined your design lay on the paste with the point of a
long-pointed sable brush--the kind known as a “rigger,” or small
water-colour brush will answer--lightly dropping the gesso from the
point of the brush or slowly dragging it, so that the gesso may flow
from its point, as the design may require, and adding more of the paste
where greater relief is required.

[Illustration: Filling for Picture-frame, in Gesso Duro

Designed by Walter Crane]

Gesso Duro takes some days to dry, but dries, as its name implies, very
hard. It can then be scraped down if necessary, and worked on again
or touched on to any extent; and the peculiar quality of the relief
given by brush work is, perhaps, best left untouched, or at least only
added to, and not taken away from by scraping down, although a very
fine finish could be obtained in this way, giving the work almost the
look of ivory, though, I think, in that case, departing from its true

The frame margin given was worked in Gesso Duro, from a design of mine,
by Harold Weeks.

The design for a bell-pull was modelled in gesso by Osmund Weeks, for
reproduction in electro silver, the sea-horse being in copper.

I have also used for work of about this scale simply a mixture of
plaster of paris or thin glue, which answered fairly well if done with
directness, as the mixture dries very quickly, and is apt to crack off
the ground when dry.

[Illustration: Design for a Bell-pull, Modelled in Gesso

By Walter Crane]

The device for the Art Workers’ Guild is an example of this method,
also worked with a brush, and afterwards tinted with lacquers reduced
to pale tints by methylated spirit. The lacquer, of course, hardens the

For bolder work and higher relief I have used plaster of paris with
thin glue or gelatine. In this, in proceeding to model the design, you
dip small pieces of cotton-wool pulled out finely, and having saturated
them in the mixture, you build up your design on the panel, which may
be of fibrous plaster, and suited for insertion in wall, frieze, or
ceiling, or fireplace. It is important to wet the ground or shellac it
to stop the suction, before laying on the gesso. It will dry slowly
enough to be modelled with the fingers or tools, and added to when dry,
or finished with brush work. It dries very fast, and the fibre of the
cotton-wool makes it cling to the panel.

I have worked figures on a frieze with a brush on a fibrous plaster
panel, and had them cast afterwards, since plaster and glue on large
surfaces without fibre is apt to crack off. “The Dance” was a frieze
panel worked in this way.

There are various patents and materials in the market for working
in gesso. One of the best I have met with is called “Denoline.” It
consists of a fine powder, sold in tins, which only requires to be
mixed with cold water to convert it into a paste of any consistency
required. Flour appears to be an ingredient, and wheat flour, I
believe, was used by the old Italian gesso workers.

[Illustration: Gesso Panel

Designed by Walter Crane]

[Illustration: The Dance: Frieze Panel in Gesso

Designed by Walter Crane]

The frame border was worked in this material, the gesso mixed as
stiffly as possible, laid on and modelled with an ordinary modelling
tool. It dries slowly and can be retouched. It is a little too
sticky, and no doubt requires, like all the different varieties of
gesso, its own peculiar treatment.

[Illustration: Picture-frame in Oak with Gesso (“Denoline”) Filling

Designed by Walter Crane]

It might seem at first sight that such a material had no particular
limitations or natural laws which in all art are so serviceable in
evolving what we call style. Yet elastic as it appears to be, and
possessing such considerable range of effect, experience soon teaches
us that it has its own most fitting characteristics and tendencies
in ornament. The artist, so far from desiring to disguise the real
conditions of the work, would rather emphasize their peculiar
characteristics. For instance, in laying on and modelling any design
in gesso with a brush, he will find the brush and the paste conspire
together to favour the production of certain forms of ornament,
delicate branch and leaf and scroll work, for instance, and dotted

[Illustration: Treatment of Form in Gesso Decoration

By Walter Crane]

Such forms as these the brush, charged with gesso, almost naturally
takes, and the leaf shapes may be considered almost as the reflection
of the form of the brush itself.

The modelling of the more raised smooth parts is produced by gradually
and lightly adding--superimposing while moist fresh gesso, on the
system of _pâte sur pâte_, which amalgamates with that underneath. The
artist, in modelling the limbs of figures, would emphasize the main
muscular masses, allowing for the natural tendency of the paste to
soften its own edges in running together: so that a limb would be built
up somewhat in the way indicated in the drawing by successive layers
of the material floated over each other while moist. Of course, the
success of the result depends upon not only the nicety of touch but
also on the proper consistency of the gesso, which, if mixed too thin,
would be likely to lose form and run out of bounds. Gesso, therefore,
for brush work should be mixed like the valetudinarian’s gruel in one
of Miss Austen’s novels--“Thin, but not _too_ thin.”

[Illustration: System of Modelling with the Brush in Gesso]

[Illustration: Gesso Decoration: the Dining-Room, 1a, Holland Park

Designed by Walter Crane. The Side-board Designed by Philip Webb. From
a Photograph by W. E. Gray]

It is of little use giving exact quantities, since satisfactory working
depends upon all sorts of variable conditions, almost in the nature
of accidents, such as temperature, quality of the materials, and
nature of tools, none of which behaves exactly in the same way on all
occasions, and this variability must necessarily lead to different
results in different hands.

[Illustration: Gesso Decoration: the Dining-Room, 1a, Holland Park

Frieze and Panel over Fireplace and subsidiary work on the Woodwork
of the Fireplace, Designed by Walter Crane. The Fireplace Designed by
Philip Webb From a Photograph by W. E. Gray]

[Illustration: Gesso Decoration: Detail of Coffered Ceiling, 1a,
Holland Park

Designed by Walter Crane. From a Photograph by W. E. Gray]

It is only personal experience of the subtle mechanical and material
conditions which are inseparable parts of the production of all work
of the nature of art, which can really determine their fitness to each
individual worker, who must sooner or later, if his work is alive, make
certain variations to suit his own particular idiosyncrasies.

[Illustration: Gesso Panel Silvered and Tinted with Coloured Lacquers
(part of Frieze in Dining-Room at 1a, Holland Park)

Designed by Walter Crane. From a Photograph by W. E. Gray]

[Illustration: Panel in Gesso, Tinted with Lacquers and Lustre Paint

Designed by Walter Crane]

It is perfectly hopeless to attempt to pursue any form of art on
purely mechanical precepts and principles. A few plain and practical
directions, as to a traveller seeking his road in an unknown land,
may be given, and the rest must be learnt step by step in experience,
and as much as can be gathered from opportunities of seeing the work
done by skilled hands, from which, indeed, everything learnable can be

[Illustration: Panel in Gesso, Tinted with Lacquer

Designed by Walter Crane]

Even complete mastery over materials is, after all, not everything. In
fact, from the artistic (or inventive) point of view, work only begins
there, as expression comes after or with speech.

Design has much analogy to poetry. Unless the motive is real and
organic, unless the thought and form have something individual in them,
unless the feeling is true, it fails to interest us. Herein lies the
whole question of artistic production.

Yet is it worth while to learn what can be learnt about any form of
art, if only it enables one to realize its true nature and something
of the laws of its expression, which knowledge, at least, if it does
not confer creative power, greatly increases the intelligent pleasure
of its appreciation.


Despite the invention of oil painting (which Cennino considered only
fit for lazy painters) and the fact that many easel pictures now
produced appear to have a very remote relation to decorative art as
generally understood, I am still of the opinion that the easel picture,
properly considered and placed in its right relationship to its
surroundings, by judicious treatment and hanging, and above all by a
certain mural feeling, may be _the acme of decoration_. Its relation to
a scheme of decoration may be like that of a jewel in a dress.

Of course, everything depends upon the point of view of the painter,
in the first place, and in the present age the easel picture has been
a favourite medium not only for the display, strange to say, of that
individualism and experimentalism which are supposed to be special
modern characteristics, but also for the merging of individuality
in schools, types, and modes of painting, or frank imitation of
fashionable masters.

The easel picture differs from any conscious piece of decoration by
not being necessarily associated with, or consciously related to, any
other piece or scheme of design. Yet, practically, it _must_ be related
to something. It is related, in the first place, if a sincere work,
to something in the painter’s mind. Most painters are impressionable
and sensitive to the effect of their surroundings. It is a common
saying how much better a picture looks in the studio in the light in
which it was painted, but probably it is not only the lighting but
the surroundings also, and the picture has been perhaps unconsciously
painted in harmony with its surroundings, its colour scheme affected by
the colour of the studio walls, draperies, and furniture. Certain it is
that, as a rule, painters are known by a favourite scheme and key of
colour, quite apart from the fact that commercial considerations often
encourage them to repeat themselves.

The modern picture-exhibitions--I mean big shows like that of the Royal
Academy--have perhaps done more to destroy the decorative relationship
of the easel pictures than anything. An analogous effect is produced
on the mind by the sight of so many pictures of so many different
sorts, subjects, and scales, and treatments crowded together, to that
produced by a surfeit of ornament, and pattern on pattern, in internal
decoration. This seems to point to the fact that true decoration lies
rather in the sense of proportion and arrangement or distribution
than in the use of particular units of ornament, styles, colours, or
materials, and that one may destroy decorative effect by the very means
of decoration--but we have only to remember the meaning of the word.

I have spoken of _mural feeling_ in a picture being important to its
decorative quality or relationship, and it is the most obvious and
necessary relationship, since it establishes a relationship with the
destined place of the picture--_the wall_. Its frame, which separates
a picture from its surroundings, also helps to unite it again to its
original home, where it becomes a movable instead of a fixed panel
enclosed by a moulding. No word is perhaps oftener on the pen of the
prattler about pictures (or art critic) than the word “decorative,”
which seems very variously understood and applied to all sorts and
conditions of painting. What is really comprehended by the phrase is
appropriate treatment, or _mural feeling_. A satisfactory definition
of mural feeling would be difficult, since it is a quality composed
of many elements, but I think most artists know what they mean by it.
To my mind it includes a certain flatness of treatment with choice of
simple planes, and pure and low-toned colours, together with a certain
ornamental dignity or architectural feeling in the structure of forms
and lines of composition, and is generally antithetic to accidental or
superficial characteristics or what might be called landscape effects.
Does this then exclude landscapes from the decorative relation, it
might be asked?

Vast distances, large sky spaces, wind-tossed trees, turbulent seas
and flying shadows certainly do not tend to the repose of a wall--but
it is precisely to “give interest” (to people not interested in “mere
patterns”) that pictures are hung upon it, and to some tastes there
cannot be too much drama going on. Others would rather keep it bound up
in another form in their libraries and only let it loose occasionally.

But I am far from saying that even the sky-landscape has no decorative
place. But you must not mix it or have too much of it. A window may
be an important decorative element in the scheme of an interior, and
a landscape three parts sky may have something of the value of a
window in a room. But it might be possible to decorate with landscapes
alone, though one would prefer tapestry landscapes without sky, or
with very high horizons, at least for the lower walls; certainly there
never ought to be sky below the eye level on a wall. The Turner room
has a certain unity and splendour of its own, regarded simply from a
particular decorative point of view, and Turner would be pronounced
I suppose the least decorative in feeling of modern artists--rather
the epic poet in paint. Every age, too, has its own notions of
decoration--indeed one might say even every decade now, or even a less
period, we live so fast! No rules or canons of taste in art are of
universal application or acceptable to all periods. As decoration is
primarily fitness and harmony, with this central idea one may produce
decorative effects with very different materials, and we have only to
glance back to our historic periods to see how it was accomplished.

The standard of the Beautiful undoubtedly shifts, or perhaps changes
hands in the unceasing struggle to win it, and what is worshipped at
one epoch or in one century is cast out and trodden under foot in
the next. Perhaps we have (during the past century) gained a little
historic balance or toleration, and all of us are not prepared to make
a clean sweep of the work of the other centuries in favour of the
favoured one.

But a harmonious effect is always more difficult with mixed materials
(which may account in some degree for the marked success of “the tulip
and the bird” in modern decorative patterns).

Certain material conditions, too, favour the growth of a higher type of
art at one period than another. We can never elude the economic basis
which necessarily affects our forms of art as of other things.

“Pictures, furniture, and effects” is the auctioneer’s favourite phrase
in describing the property of a gentleman. He might be describing
pictures alone. We have heard of “furniture pictures”--but remove the
reproach, is it not in the fitness of things that pictures should be
furniture, and their highest destiny to decorate a room?

But when pictures become counters in the game of speculation, your
decorative relations along with your social relations may take care of
themselves. They become, in fact, very _poor relations_.

The portability of the easel picture may have something to do with
its unrelatable character in some cases. Destined for nowhere in
particular as a rule, it goes on tour--a member of a performing and
often very diverse company, to all the provincial towns, and even on
the continent. Yet there were portable and even folding pictures in
classical and mediaeval times, and certainly there was no want of
decorative relationship in the latter period when, as we know, they
were often most beautiful pieces of furniture and wall decorations, as
well as pictures. Even the gold-framed oil picture was frankly treated
by the Venetians as a decoration--and a ceiling decoration--as witness
the Tintorettos in the Ducal palace.

It would not be difficult to select pictures from the National Gallery
from the Italian, Flemish, and even the Dutch and Spanish schools,
which would not only be admirable pieces of decoration but also furnish
the decorator with beautiful decorative schemes of colour.

An easel picture might be made the central point of its own scheme of
colour and tone, and led up to, as it were, by everything in the room.

There may be, as I have said already, room for the open sky in
decoration, too, if you “sky” it enough, or put it in a frieze, and
this touches a rather important point of decorative relationship, too
often ignored by the hanger of easel pictures, that is the placing of
the picture so that its horizon or vanishing point shall be on a level
with the eye of the spectator.

Checked by such considerations, and due selection of scale and tone in
placing pictures, I would not say that decorative effects are not
possible with the most easel of easel pictures--only you must add the
decorator to the painter to bring them off.

[Illustration: Pictorial Decoration, Ducal Palace, Venice

From a Photograph by Alinari]

Some facetious friends of William Morris once proposed to send him a
circular asking subscriptions to an association for the protection
of the poor easel-picture painter, since he was being frozen out by
designers of wall-papers and hangings of such mere ornamental interest
that people did not want anything else on their walls.

It was a joke, but there was meaning in it, and, thrown as we are on
the world-market, the floating of one man or one kind of art is too
often at the expense of the sinking of another. Pictures, like other
things, should, in an ideal state, be produced for use and pleasure
not for profit, and there would then be less doubt of their decorative
relationship; and, although, if this method were adopted generally, it
would greatly reduce the output, I cannot help feeling the Japanese
show a true instinct for the decorative relation of pictures when
they only show _one_ kakimono at a time; but, after, all that would
only mean that we could keep the rest of our collection--as so many
masterpieces have been kept--rolled up or with their faces to the wall.


Our late veteran idealist-sculptor-painter so often sat in the chair
of the literary operator, whether journalistic critic, interviewer,
or more serious biographical appraiser, that one imagines that in
his life-time he must long have ceased to wonder what manner of
man--or artist--he might be, and, like enough, vexed not himself when
vivisected to make a British holiday.

    [2] “G. F. Watts,” by G. K. Chesterton. London, Duckworth and

The necessity for a more or less complete “sizing up” of a famous
artist, of classifying him and affixing a descriptive label, or brand,
seems to answer to some requirement of the age, despite the chance of
the label becoming out of date, owing, perchance, to the unexpected
versatility or longevity of the labelled.

It accords with the habits of a commercial people to have “all goods
marked in plain figures;” curiosity, too, must be satisfied, and art,
not always at once clearly speaking out for itself in the vernacular,
the literary interpreter and critical labeller find their opportunity.

It is, however, difficult enough to attempt to sum up the quality and
range of an artist in his lifetime, and in the short perspective of the
present assign to him his proper relative position for all time; but,
as it may be still more difficult after he has gone, there may be some
excuse for the attempt--which has at least the excitement of daring--to
make a true estimate of his powers and position while he yet liveth,
and while his works change their character under different impulses and
influences under our very eyes.

Not that such a brilliant and sympathetic little study as this by Mr.
Chesterton needs any excuse. He is always such good reading, and has
such a bright epigrammatic way of putting things, that even if he were
less penetrating he could not fail to be amusing and stimulating.
The rapid flash of his searchlight, as it were, touches so airily on
so many interesting objects in its sweep that, as one might say of a
painter, his background, with its wealth of subsidiary and illustrative
detail, is often more fascinating than the treatment of his main
subject or principal figure.

The book for one thing is remarkable for the attitude the author takes
up in regard to the nineteenth century--in endeavouring to account for
Mr. Watts--and, as it appears to be a not altogether uncommon view with
men of the present generation--although mostly born in that mythical
century--one may take his view as more or less typical. But, really,
from the way in which the century just closed is regarded one might
suppose it was as distant almost as the thirteenth.

[Illustration: “Love and Death”

By G. F. Watts, R.A.]

Have we then changed so much, or is it only the figure-heads or
brain-heads and their ideals which have changed? That “there is a tide
in the affairs of men” we all know--a flood and an ebb tide, indeed,
and it may be the tide of aspiration is now rather low, and some of us
may sigh as we look seaward at the stately departing ships with their
brave ensigns glowing in the fading light of sunset which has left the
foreshore, encumbered with the drift and wreckage of disappointed hopes
and disillusion.

We may have to wait some time for the flood and we know not what
argosies of new hopes and thoughts it will bring us. In the meantime we
must make shift with our _one_ hope, or our hope with _one_ string as
best we may.

But if our young men have ceased to dream dreams, our old men have not
ceased to see visions, and the great idealist-painter we have so lately
lost must be counted as the foremost of such.

It will always be to his honour that through good report and evil
report he steadfastly upheld the banner which proudly asserts the
intellectual character of painting, and claims its right and its power,
as a language of peculiar vividness, richness, and resource, to express
certain typical and profound thoughts and emotions, and to embody by
definite but delicate symbolism ideas and ideals not possible to be
conveyed so succinctly, so suggestively, and above all, so beautifully
by any other means.

Matter and manner cannot really be separated in any vital art. Form and
spirit become fused in all its highest, even in all its genuine shapes.

[Illustration: “Sir Galahad”

By G. F. Watts, R.A.]

Mr. Chesterton rather steps aside in one place to poke fun at Allegory
(as I note literary men are, curiously enough, prone to do), although
elsewhere he appears to admit that it has its due place and value in
art, and he grows enthusiastic over Mr. Watts’s use of it.

But that is just the crux. Everything is in the artist’s use and

There is allegory and allegory. In its highest form it is a species
of poetry, in its lowest it becomes a catalogue. We may go to Cesare
Ripa and get a recipe for the correct make-up of any virtue we wish
to symbolize. Fedelta (Fidelity), for instance, is given, “Donna
vestita di bianco, colla destra mane tiene una chiave, ed ha alii
piedi un cane.” Well, there you are--but it all depends upon the
artist whether the emblem represents each item in the crudest form, or
becomes a really fine design, full of refinement and inner meaning.
To appreciate the allegory of a past age one must be able to read
oneself into its spirit. The Allegories of Botticelli seem to belong
to a different world from those of Rubens, and appeal to a different
mood and even order of mind. I quite agree with Mr. Chesterton that a
lady in classical drapery and a cornucopia, or caduceus, would quite
inadequately represent modern commerce. (A bull and a bear playing
see-saw across the globe would be nearer the mark, perhaps!) But the
lady might have a place in a decorative composition, symbolizing things
in the abstract, when beauty of treatment is again all-important. The
spirit of Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” is more painter-like in allegory
(which is always in Spenser perfectly definite) than that of any other
writer, and it is perfectly blended with poetic and imaginative
feeling, just as in a painted allegory the matter of it should be
inseparable from its form.

[Illustration: “Hope”

By G. F. Watts, R.A.]

We feel this to be so in the finest works of Watts, such as the “Love
and Death.” It is strange, however, to find Mr. Chesterton writing of
allegorical pictures as if they were as plentiful as blackberries.
“Millions,” he mentions--I wonder how many he could count in any
Royal Academy exhibition? I had supposed that allegorical design was
almost a lost art, as well as a dead language, in the estimation of
our people--except perhaps the species which goes to the making of
political cartoons.

Mr. Chesterton’s discriminating appreciation of Mr. Watts’s portraits
is excellent, and his remarks upon the affinity between Watts and
Tennyson very true. In the comprehensiveness, but indefiniteness, of
their intellectual view they are akin; but vastness involves vagueness,
and vagueness is a characteristic in the painter’s work. In Mr. Watts’s
cosmic and elemental designs great half defined shapes loom up out
of vaporous space. His heroes belong to no definite historic time,
though in his wide catholicity and sympathy his work embraces all human
types. His eye is fastened on the type and slights the circumstance.
The accident, the realization of the moment is nothing to him; but one
never saw a drawing in pure outline by the artist, and the charm of
clear silhouette does not appear to appeal to him, neither is essential
to his art. And Mr. Watts himself cannot be outlined, and therefore it
seems curious to find him set down as a Puritan in one place, and a
democrat(!) in another. Although Mr. Chesterton speaks of clear outline
or “hard black line,” as a quality not Celtic, and bases his argument
that Mr. Watts is not Celtic upon the character of his line, his
phrase, “sculptor of draughtsmanship,” is incisive, as it is certainly
a grasp of _structure_ rather than outline which distinguishes Mr.
Watts’s work; and in this quality it may be said lies the true reason
of the difference between his portraits and much modern portraiture
which seeks rather the expression of the moment and the accidental
lighting, as in a landscape, rather than the type and the underlying
structure, the expression of which establishes a certain relation, and
that fundamental family likeness between very different individuals
which Mr. Chesterton has noted. For, indeed, men and women are moulded
in types far more than is commonly supposed.

After all, the great merit of Mr. Chesterton’s critical remarks
consists in their not quarrelling with an oak tree because it does not
happen to be a pine; and in that he does not think it necessary in
order that his subject may be properly appreciated to make a pavement
of all other reputations, or, like the irrelevant Walrus and Carpenter
on the sand--with much virtue in that “if”--“if this,”--certain
essential characteristics, say, of an artist’s style--“were only
cleared away it would be grand.”

For the rest, Mr. Chesterton’s sparkling style and wealth of whimsical
illustration make the book uncommonly readable, which cannot always be
said with regard to monographs on artists.


  Abydos, Temple of Seti, 89.

  Academic method of art teaching, the, 58–65.

  Action, representation of, 52, 54.

  Advertisements, the curse of modern, 77, 78, 84.

  Allegory in art, 278.

  Anagni, chasuble from the Cathedral of, 206.

  Animal forms in decoration, 203–224.

  Architecture, importance of, in art training, 44, 50.

  Art, influence of economic questions in, 23;
    value of sound traditions in, 29;
    social function of, 32;
    the teaching of, 35–56;
    sympathetic atmosphere a necessity for, 36–40;
    connection between architecture and, 44;
    essential unity of, 44, 48;
    the imitative and imaginative sides of, 48;
    advantage of architectural over pictorial training in, 50;
    methods of art teaching, 58–68;
    academic methods of teaching, 58–65;
    dominated by the sculptor’s art and aims, 64;
    modern possibilities of teaching, 66–68;
    Tolstoi’s views on, 69–75;
    the social and ethical bearings of, 88–101;
    influence of, in the church, 93;
    not the monopoly of the rich, 95–97;
    refining influence of, 97, 98;
    change in the conditions of the practice of, 99, 100.

  “Art Nouveau, L’,” 128, 129.

  Art Workers’ Guild, the, 18, 31;
    device for, 251, 253.

  Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, the: formation of, 20;
    first exhibition of, 21;
    objects and principles of, 22.

  Assyrian reliefs, object and value of, 90.

  Bacchus, visit of, to Icarius, Romano-Greek relief, 106.

  Bamberg, Royal mantle from the Treasury of, 205.

  Barron, O., 200.

  Bell, R. A., 159.

  Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” quoted, 83.

  Berthelet, Thomas, bindings by, 227, 229.

  Birmingham, scheme for frescoes illustrating local history at, 120.

  Blake, William, 5, 6.

  Bland, J. P., specimen of calligraphy by, 65.

  Blickling, ceiling at, 158.

  Book-covers, designing of, 225–236.

  Borgia apartments, decoration of the, 238, 239, 240, 248;
    model of, at South Kensington, 240, 248.

  Bournville, 121, 148;
    views in, 123.

  Brown, Ford Madox, 12;
    frescoes in the Manchester Town Hall by, 118, 119, 120.

  Building Acts, the, 126;
    local bye-laws, 152.

  Burges, William, 17.

  Burne-Jones, Sir E., 20, 162, 175, 240.

  Butterfield, William, 17.

  Calvert, Edward, 7, 8, 9.

  Carpaccio’s “Dream of St. Ursula,” 144, 147.

  Crane, Lancelot, figure composition by, 37.

  Crane, Lionel F., design for a collective dwelling by, 116;
    cottage at Letchworth designed by, 148–151.

  Central School of Arts and Crafts, the, 28, 29.

  Chesterton, G. K., his “G. F. Watts” criticised, 273–281.

  Cleobury, W. T., 133–139, 141, 143.

  Cobden-Sanderson, T. J., 230.

  Collective dwellings, 115–117.

  Commercialism, evil effects of, 84, 85, 94.

  Cretonne, printed, 160–162.

  Crivelli’s “Annunciation,” 142.

  Crouchback, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, figure from the tomb of, 223.

  Dalpeyrat, M. Louis, 27.

  Day, Lewis F., 18, 203.

  “Decorative,” meaning of the word, 267.

  Decorative art, development of, in the nineteenth century,
          2 _et seq._;
    modern revival of, 15 _et seq._;
    relation of the easel picture to, 265.

  “Denoline,” 252.

  Dress, absence of beauty in modern, 81–83;
    progress of taste in, 171–191;
    influence of the pre-Raphaelites on, 175;
    types of artistic, 177;
    types of children’s, 179;
    types of working, 181;
    modern and mediaeval, 185, 187.

  Dunkley, Miss L. M., designs for embroidery by, 45, 46.

  Eastlake, C. L., his “Hints on Household Taste,” 17.

  Egyptian hieroglyphics, 89, 90, 103;
    decorative art, 112.

  Enamelling, modern revival of, 26, 27.

  Exhibition of 1851, the, 3.

  “Fifteen, the,” 18.

  Fisher, Alexander, 27.

  Flats, effects of living in, 114, 115.

  Flaxman, John, 9.

  Fylfot, the, 104.

  Garden City Association, the, 121, 148.

  Genoa, Doria Palace, gesso decorations in, 248.

  Gesso, origin of, 247;
    fine examples of, 248;
    methods of working in, 249;
    Gesso Duro, 249;
    “Denoline,” 252;
    system of modelling in, 257.

  Gilding, use of, in decoration, 237–246.

  Gimson, Ernest W., cottage designed by, 152, 153, 155.

  Graining, 130.

  Greece, the artistic sense of, 90, 91.

  Greek, ornament, 104–107, 215;
    drapery, 173.

  Harvey, Alex. W., cottages designed by, 123, 148.

  Heraldic lions, 220–222.

  Hill, Vincent, panel by, 67.

  Holland Park, 1a, interior
  of, 131;
    gesso decorations in, 258–261.

  Home Arts and Industries Association, the, 19.

  House-decoration, Thoughts on, 110–170.

  Howard, Ebenezer, 121.

  Hungarian peasant costumes, 182, 183.

  Hunt, Holman, 9, 12.

  Kidd, A., stained glass panel by, 62.

  Knole, ceiling at, 158.

  Kruger, G. E., 195.

  Lacey, Miss C. M., Heraldic studies by, 47.

  Lanteri, Prof., 194.

  Letchworth, Garden City, cottage at, 148–151.

  Line, meaning of, in ornament, 107, 108.

  London, some aspects of, 76–83.

  Lucas van Leyden’s “Annunciation,” 144, 145.

  Mackim, Meade, and White, Messrs., 242.

  Manchester, frescoes in the Town Hall in, 120.

  Mantua, model of the room of Isabella d’Este at, 240.

  Martin, A. E., architectural design by, 42.

  Millais, Sir J. E., 11.

  Moira, Gerald, 159, 194.

  Moore, Sturge, 9.

  Morris, William, 15, 20, 24, 156, 162, 175, 272.
  “Municipal Journal,” the (New York), 81.

  “Mural feeling,” 265, 267.

  Muybridge, Mr., 52.

  National Association for the Advancement of Art in Relation to
          Industry, the, 19.

  New York, movement in favour of public beauty in, 81.

  Ornament and its meaning, 102–109;
    analogy of to music, 102;
    origins of, 103;
    two sources of meaning in, 106.

  Palermo, Cappella Reale, decoration of, 241, 242, 243.

  Palmer, Samuel, 9.

  Paris Exhibition, the English House at the, 162.

  Parr, H., studies by, 38, 39.

  Peleus and Thetis, Greek cylix, 105.

  Pictures, background for, 142, 144;
    relation of, to decorative art, 265–272.

  Pinturicchio’s decoration of the Appartamenti Borgia, 238, 239, 240,

  Plaster, treatment of, 158, 159.

  Pomeroy, Mr., 159.

  Pompeian decoration, 113.

  Pre-Raphaelite movement, the, 12, 14, 15, 175.

  Pugin, A. W. N., 17.

  Ranworth rood-screen, 133–139, 141, 143.

  Reynes, John, binding by, 233.

  Richard II, figure of, in the Wilton picture, 219.

  Rigby, H. A., pen-drawings by, 55, 57.

  Rome, St. Peter’s, use of gilding in, 246.

  Rossetti, D. G., 10, 12, 15, 175.

  Royal College of Art, specimens of students’ work, 37–67.

  Ruskin, John, 14.

  Sandys, Frederick, 12, 13.

  Scott, Sir Walter, 10.

  Sevenoaks, Combe Bank, decorations at, 159.

  Shaw, Henry, 16.

  Shaw, Norman, 18.

  Shea, J. R., cabinet designed by, 59;
    wood carving by, 61.

  Sicilian Silk Patterns, 207–214, 218.

  South Kensington Museum, formation and influence of, 16.

  Southwold, rood-screen at, 247.

  Spooner, W. G., studies by, 49, 51, 53.

  Stencilling, development of, 136.

  Stevens, Alfred, 4.

  Stevenson, James A., frieze by, 63.

  Stothard, Thomas, 10.

  Street decorations, temporary, 192–202.

  Sykes, Godfrey, 4.

  Temple Bar, suggestion for temporary gatehouse at, 197.

  Tennyson, the Moxon edition of, 9–12.

  Thoreau’s “Walden,” 111.

  Tintoretto, 270.

  Tolstoi, Count, his “What is Art?” 69–75.

  Tristram, E. W., design for Tapestry by, 43.

  Van der Meer, 142.

  Van Dyck’s “Jan Arnolfini and his wife,” 142.

  Venice, St. Mark’s, mosaics in, 244;
    Ducal Palace, 271.

  Voysey, C. F. A., 147.

  Wall-paper designs, 163–169.

  Walton, George, 158.

  Watts, G. F., 240;
    Mr. Chesterton’s book on, 273–281.

  Webb, Philip, 15, 16, 131, 258, 259.

  Weeks, Harold, 250.

  Weeks, Osmund, 251.

  Westminster Bridge, decoration of, by students of the R.C.A., 194,

  Whistler, J. McNeill, 242.

  Whitechapel, Wentworth Street, 79.

  Wilton House, the Vandyke room at, 243, 244, 245.

  Windsor, Lord, 200.

  Wotton Binder, binding by the, 235.

[Illustration: Chiswick Press]

Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant
preference was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; occasional unbalanced
quotation marks retained.

Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained; occurrences of
inconsistent hyphenation have not been changed.

The original book repeated chapter titles on most pages as though they
were sidenotes. This eBook does not repeat the chapter titles.

The original book placed captions to the left or right of
illustrations. This eBook generally places the captions above or below
the illustrations.

Scaling information in captions does not apply to diagrams in
this eBook, and the sizes of the illustrations, relative to other
illustrations, are not necessarily the same as in the original book.

Transcriber adjusted the brightness and contrast of many photographs in
order to reveal more detail in shadowed areas, and did not restore many
photographs to grayscale, although they originally were printed that
way. Without access to a pristine copy of the physical book, it was not
possible to know how those photographs looked when the book was printed.

Infrequent occurrences of ‘æ’ in ‘æsthetic’ and ‘mediæeval’ have been
replaced by the more commonly occurring ‘ae’. Occurrences of the
ligature in other words have not been changed.

Transcriber corrected errors in the Table of Contents.

The Index was not systematically checked for proper alphabetization or
correct page references.

Page 33: Transcriber added missing closing quote after ‘is our

Page 71: Unmatched closing quote removed after ‘with which he infects
the spectator.’

Page 129: Transcriber added missing closing quote after ‘As you like

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