The Designs Of Christopher Dresser at Hereford Museum

By Alexander Rabagliati | 17 January 2007
photo of a vase shaped copper kettle with a wooden handle

Kettle by Benham & Froud, circa 1885 (copper, brass and wood). Courtesy Hereford Museum & Art Gallery

Hereford Museum and Art Gallery is to celebrate the work of one of Britain’s most influential designers, Dr Christopher Dresser.

Christopher Dresser and the Art of Design will run between January 20 and March 3, focusing on the designer’s three-dimensional pieces and their embodiment of his ‘fitness for purpose’ rationale. Several designs will be on display for the first time, including a tea set from mixed metals, produced for Benham & Froud circa 1885.

A pivotal figure in the Arts & Crafts movement, and a contemporary of William Morris, Christopher Dresser was a pioneering advocate of simplicity and functionality in an era where mass production was leading design into gimmickry.

photo of three yellow vases of an abstract design

Three yellow vases by Ault, circa 1893 (earthenware). Courtesy Hereford Museum & Art Gallery

Born in 1834, the son of an excise officer, Dresser attended the London School of Design aged only 13, where he studied design and botany. It was here that he came under the influence of key figures in the design reform movement such as Henry Cole.

A botanist in his early career, Dresser's fascination with the inherent symmetry and regularity of nature led to his marriage of natural laws to the study of design – to which he dedicated himself from 1860.

Dresser’s search for inspiration took him beyond the boundaries of western influence. He incorporated elements of Egyptian, Asian and specifically Japanese design into his work.

Christopher Dresser's signature on metalwork

Christopher Dresser's signature. Courtesy Hereford Museum & Art Gallery

The simplicity of Japanese design, only made available beyond its borders in 1854 after 200 years of forced isolationism, was to radically alter Dresser’s principles.

Sent in 1876 as an advisor to the Japanese government on the future of their art manufactures, he returned home the next year infatuated with the simplicity of the Japanese artisans, and rejected all precepts of ornamentalism, declaring that the signatures of Japanese potters, lacquer-workers and artisans would in time make their products ‘as much sought after ... as those of any of our "great masters" are'.

Dresser’s signature itself, added to many of his objects, has led many to consider him the first designer label.

In addition to the exhibition, Mr Harry Lyons, author and expert on Dresser’s work, will deliver a talk on January 20 at 11am. Contact Friends of Hereford Museum on 01432 264 366 for more information.

Three creative workshops are also being held for children on February 13. Call 01432 260 692 to book a place.

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