How botanist Christopher Dresser designed the future in the Victorian era
How botanist Christopher Dresser designed the future in the Victorian era

Metallic luster, laconic but bold shape … The things created by the designer Christopher Dresser seem to be “guests from the future” who accidentally got into the Victorian era from the 20th century. Who was this mysterious man, whose name remained in oblivion for many years - a scientist, an artist, a prophet?

Christopher Dresser's crockery

Dresser amazed his contemporaries with a very wide range of interests - a botanist, traveler, artist, teacher … Now he is known primarily as one of the founders of industrial design in Great Britain, a design theorist and explorer of Japan in the Meiji era.

One of Dresser's early works Dresser's experimental work

He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of British immigrants from Yorkshire. From the age of thirteen he attended the School of Design at Somerset House in London, then became interested in botany, and later combined the two directions, giving lectures on the innovative discipline Art Botany. Known are the laconic schemes and diagrams created by him that demonstrate the "essence" of plants - their structure, the rhythm of growth of shoots, the arrangement of leaves and petals.

Botanical chart

Dresser has written several books on botany and received his Ph.D. in absentia. He was elected a member of the Edinburgh Botanical and Linnaean Societies. At the same time, he founded his own design studio school and began to practice in this area.

Furniture designed by Dresser Furniture designed by Christopher Dresser Furniture designed by Christopher Dresser

In 1876 Dresser had a stormy romance with … Japan. This year he drives two thousand miles across Japan as a representative of the South Kensington Museum, founded by Prince Consort Albert. Dresser's task was to research the arts and crafts, culture and crafts of Japan, as well as to collect a collection of the most interesting objects. This journey changed Dresser's approach to design - he became convinced that experimenting with form was more promising than inventing ornaments. His book "Japan: Its Architecture, Art and Works of Art" is popular in our time.

Asian style dishes

Unlike William Morris, who at the same time turned to medieval crafts, Dresser realized that the Industrial Revolution could not be canceled or ignored. He found it necessary to design objects for industrial production - rational and harmonious.

Furniture with oriental ornaments

If the things the Arts and Crafts Movement and Morris & Company were creating were fresh, beautiful, sophisticated and terribly expensive, Dresser fundamentally decided to design products for the "working people" - affordable products for the middle class.

Metal dishes designed by Dresser Original products available for the middle class What Dresser created can be mistaken for the work of the Bauhaus designers …

Dresser was not afraid to take on unusual projects. He worked for a coal mining company, designed household items that were to be made of metal, designed carpets, glass, metal and ceramics. Dresser despised Victorian furniture and household items with an abundance of ornaments, preferring to decorate the search for interesting shapes.

Christopher Dresser's first metal teapots

He drew on his rich experience in observing Japanese life. Today, Dresser's metal teapots and toast racks appear to have been created by a constructivist artist - in fact, he created them under the influence of Japanese aesthetics, and some of his metal structures were influenced by a long-standing love of botany and sophisticated plant structures.

Christopher Dresser's teapot A metal product with a botanical structure Metal teapot Metal teapot

The product was supposed to serve the function for which it was performed - later this approach was fully implemented by functionalists.Beauty is, first of all, a strict logic of proportions and expressiveness of form, and not an insane abundance of decor, which makes it difficult to interact with a thing and take care of it.

Metal service Metal teapot

Customers noted that Dresser knows production technologies better than the people who worked directly in this production - he believed that it was necessary to study materials and technology in order to find the best option for creating household items.

Glass and metal dishes Glass and metal dishes

Simultaneously with the creation of household items, Dresser continued to study design theory, publishing several books - "The Art of Decorative Design", "The Development of Decorative Arts at an International Exhibition" and "Principles of Design". He viewed design as a harmony of Beauty and Truth, and Truth must be found by science.

Metal tureen with floral ornaments Metal products according to Dresser's designs

It is known that Dresser designed a huge number of objects for porcelain factories, was engaged in household and decorative ceramic dishes, including worked for Wedgwood, but, apparently, a significant part of his legacy is not attributed.

Ceramic vase with references to the Greek archaic Vases designed by Dresser

However, despite the fact that in object design, Dresser was a real discoverer, the messiah of new object creativity, the main work of his studio was designing patterns for wallpaper and textiles.

Wallpaper and textiles based on designs by Christopher Dresser

But here, too, Christopher Dressser found his own, special way. Victorian ornaments were extremely realistic - landscapes, heavy garlands of flowers and fruits, "trompe l'oeil" imitating more expensive material … Dresser, on the other hand, preferred to draw inspiration from exotic art and ornaments of ancient civilizations, borrowing motifs from the Celtic, Japanese, Moorish, Egyptian or Indian styles … He painted rhythmic abstract patterns or stylized plants in muted, very elegant colors. It was as a designer of ornaments that Dresser was so influential that his work determined the aesthetic principles of wallpaper production in America for several decades, and he himself was invited to the jury of the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878.

Vases with references to Asian art Ceramic products based on Dresser's sketches

At the height of his career, Dresser opened The Art Furnishers Alliance store, which was intended to become the flagship of a new style in design, corresponding to the ideas and views of the designer himself. However, it had to be closed soon, mainly due to Dresser's health problems. He also sold in Europe and goods brought from Japan, where at that time his two sons worked as sales agents.

Ceramic products based on Dresser's sketches

After Dresser's death in 1904, the studio was inherited by his two daughters, but it did not last long without its creator. The name Christopher Dresser, the forerunner of functionalism, was forgotten for many years and remained in the shadow of his more successful colleague, William Morris, almost to the present day.

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