From the Design Desk: Cult of Beauty at the Legion of Honor

Last weekend I saw the Legion of Honor exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde. I went to see the Victorian children’s books in a connected show (more on that in a future post), but once there I was fascinated by the graphic energy of the Arts and Crafts-era design. The show features paintings, furniture, housewares, and books created by a group of mostly British artists and designers in the late 1800s.

Owen Jones, plate from The Grammar of Ornament, 1856.
All images are from the V&A’s online collection unless otherwise noted.

Jones wrote The Grammar of Ornament (above) to popularize historical decoration. Aesthetic Movement designers like Jones valued the simplified palettes and flat patterns of Ancient Greek and Egyptian art, turning against the popular Victorian taste for realistic, overstuffed imagery.

Owen Jones, Jacquard-woven silk, 1872.

Here Jones follows his own advice. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the graphic style of this textile (above) has Ancient Greek and Egyptian influences. The palette makes it something else entirely.

Christopher Dresser, plate from Principles of Decorative Design, 1882.
University of Glasgow, Special Collections.

Like Jones, Christopher Dresser valued flat patterning and simple forms. But even though they were against Victorian excess, they were hardly minimalists. In this plate from Principles of Decorative Design (above), Dresser advocates ceiling decoration.

William Morris, “Fruit” wallpaper, 1865-66.

The wallpaper panels were some of the highlights of the show. I love the energy in these botanical prints.

Edwin William Godwin, “Bamboo” wallpaper, 1872.

William Morris, “Willow” wallpaper, 1874.

Walter Crane, “Lily and Rose” wallpaper, 1894.

Many Aesthetic Movement textiles were sold for the first time at the London department store Liberty, which opened its doors in 1875. Liberty played a key role in spreading the Aesthetic style throughout England. If you want to see more Liberty prints, check out The Liberty Book of Home Sewing and our other Liberty products.

Allison Weiner

Allison Weiner

Senior Designer at Chronicle Books and weekend crafter.

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