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Cultural Context of the Collection - Part 4: Arts and Crafts

Mackintosh won much acclaim in Europe through the craft production of his furniture, his functional architectural plans, and his "organic" interior designs which were described as "intellectual chambers garnished for fair souls, not corporeal habitation".10 The Cotswold school of furniture design carried on William Morris's principles in design and workshop production. In addition several architects were drawn to the craft movement among them W.R. Lethaby who later in 1896 became joint-principal of the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. This was intended to encourage the industrial application of decorative design with emphasis on craftsmanship rather than painting and drawing.

Arts and Crafts ideas also became fashionable through a number of periodicals and magazines which appeared in the later part of the nineteenth century. The Century Guild Hobby Horse was founded by A.H. Mackmurdo in 1884, Charles Rickets followed with The Dial in 1889, Aubrey Beardsley published The Yellow Book in 1896, followed by The Savoy in 1896. In 1893 the internationally orientated arts and crafts publication The Studio commenced publication. This was probably the single most influential journal of the movement, and through it many of the English architects and designers gained international repute and a large following. Europe, Germany and Scandinavia were particularly receptive to the Arts and Crafts interest in the common workman, democratization of art, and the belief in the artistic integrity of medieval life.

The craft ethos also spread rapidly in the United States with the development of many craft orientated groups and in architecture the concept of organic design was crystalized by Frank Lloyd Wright. Links between the British and American Arts and Crafts Movement were strengthened by publications such as Elbert Hubbard's journal The Fra and Gustave Stickley's more practically orientated Craftsman. The latter was published in Syracuse, New York, from 1902-32. As well as promoting Stickley's interpretation of English ideals, it became to a certain extent the mouthpiece of the Chicago School and Frank Lloyd Wright's ideology. The young Katharine Maltwood subscribed to this journal and admired the writings of Elbert Hubbard in addition to following the English publications.

Central to everyone of the Arts and Crafts associations in England and elsewhere was the idea of each piece being carried through by one man under the personal guidance of the designer. The workman would then produce better work and gain personal satisfaction from a whole job as opposed to contributing to only a part of a piece. This, they believed, would bring and end to the spiritual ills of the industrial process and restore man's faith in individual endeavour and natural forces.

In sculpture at this time there developed a new functional approach with sculpture related to buildings or architecture. The stress was on architectonic forms and respect for the nature of the medium. By this they meant sculpted stone should retain the stoneness about it (hard, flat planes and surfaces); bronze should retain something molten about it. Concerning subject matter artists should be interested in natural forms, especially those organically derived from nature.

In English sculpture prior to the 1870's only Alfred Stevens had made any attempt to break from the stiff, heroic poses of academic classicism. Stevens had studied in Italy and the Michelangelesque influence on his work together with the naturalism of physical expression and the rippling texture of his bronze were unique to English sculpture at that time. However in the 1880's a drive was made for improvements in art school teaching with the Frenchmen Alphonse Legros and Jules Dalou demanding higher technical levels at the Slade and South Kensington Schools respectively.11 Modelling began to be taught more seriously and there was an attempt to achieve higher standards in workmanship. Dalou was succeeded at South Kensington by another Frenchman Edouard Lanteri whose book on modelling was much consulted by art students including Katharine Maltwood. He emphasized the importance of a complete knowledge of anatomy together with breadth and freedom in treatment. This lead to a wider choice of subjects and materials with more vision and thought in the works themselves.

Both Legros and Dalou had previously been fellow students with August Rodin in Paris. Rodin's work was shown in London from the 1880's onwards and was very warmly received. His main influence was in the possibilities he opened up by his use of fragments and unfinished figures, his expression of emotion and movement, and his use of symbolism and distortion. He began to show a new vision of the human form through the sensitiveness of his modelling and the subjective treatment of surfaces.

However the influence of contemporary French sculpture in its pursuit of form for its own sake was resisted in Britain by the revival of the traditional native preference for content, illustration and literary interest in the work of artists associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was the climate of interest in pure and applied arts, originating with the Morris workshops and Ruskinian teaching, and later expanded by the Art Worker's Guild and Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, that marks the real beginnings of reform in English sculpture. The unpretentiousness of subject matter and voluptuousness of form in the modern French style were rejected in favour of more symbolic and allegorical themes with a decorative approach.

In addition to traditional portrait busts and the "ideal" groups for Academy exhibitions, sculptors now undertook low reliefs, small groups and architectural decoration of any form. They began to work in unfamiliar materials and use techniques which formerly belonged to the shops of carvers and metal workers. In keeping with Arts and Crafts ideals it was felt sculptors should no longer rely on technicians but carry their work personally through all its stages.



All content on this page is copyright © 7 February, 2006
Rosemary Brown, the Maltwood Art Museum and Gallery, and the University of Victoria

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