Appendix 11: The Origins of the Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Styles

Outline of Arrangement:

1. Art Nouveau 2. Arts and Crafts 3. Motivating Forces 4. Four Social Critics 5. Conclusions: Four Major Motivatives/Aspirations

1. Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau -- a style developed in the last decades of the 19th-century -- is a movement characterized by the free use of ornament. Its base design, vegetative forms, such as leaves and flowers, is coupled with fluid, symmetrical and non-symmetrical surface lines and curves.

Art nouveau was a deliberate attempt to create a new style in reaction from the academic historicism of the second half of the 19th c. It was primarily an art of ornament and its most typical manifestations occurred in the practical and decorative arts and in architecture, in art mobilier, graphic work and illustration. It was a complex, individualistic, dynamic and comparatively short-lived style, which flourished in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States of America, from c. 1890 to 1900.

Source: Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, pages 45-49

Dispute exists about where, precisely, the term originates: image of guiamard creation

According the art critic, Roger-Henri Guerrand, as early as 1884, the term is coined by the Belgian lawyers, Octave Maus (1856-1919) and Edmond Picard (1836--1924), editors of the review L'Art Moderne, a weekly periodical they founded in 1881. These two men proclaimed themselves "believers in Art Nouveau", an art which refused to accept the prevailing cult of the past.

Source: Roger-Henri Guerrand, "Art Nouveau", ed. by Philippe Garner, in The Encyclopedia Of Decorative Arts New York: Van Nostrand, 1978, page 17; Siegfried Giedion, Space, time and architecture: the growth of a new tradition Cambridge, MA. : Harvard University Press, 1982, page 296.(In practice, I verify claims like the one above by actually checking the source myself. In this case, because of the language and the difficulty of obtaining the volumes of L'Art Moderne for 1884,I will simply let this statement remain.)

Others claim that the term first appears when Samuel Bing, the well-known expert on Far-Eastern Art and dealer, uses "Art Nouveau" as the name of the shop he opens late in 1895 in Paris: "Jewellery executed at Mr. Bing's establishment, 'l'Art Nouveau;."

Source: Oxford English Dictionary: 1899 Studio 17, page 44.

Variations of the term emerges in different countries, however: Tiffany (in America, uses the term as a name for the artistic creations of Louis Comfort Tiffany) Jugendstil, Sezession­still, Modern Style, Arte Joven, Nieuwe Kunst, Style Liberty.

... On a larger scale is the Dresden Exhibition; held also in 1897, to which the organizers bring whole sections of Bing's shop. This shop -- already mentioned more than once -- marks the beginning in Paris of the term L'Art Nouveau. The date of its opening is 1896, and its name "L'Art Nouveau" gives the movement its name, at least in Britain and France. The German term Jugendstil is taken from the Jugend which, as has been said, started in the same year, 1896; and the Italian term Stile Liberty comes, curiously enough, from Liberty's, the furnishers' and drapers' shop, then in the Strand in London, which during the '90s sells materials with colors suitable for Art Nouveau schemes. So by sheer chance, liberty, youth and novelty appear together in the names given to this remarkable if brief and transitory movement.

Source: Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design: From William Morris to Walter Gropius New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1949, page 67; Siegfried Giedion, Space, time and architecture : the growth of a new tradition Cambridge, MA. : Harvard University Press, 1982, page 296ff.

Art Nouveau's Impact

Conventionally defined, the Art Nouveau is a remarkably short phase within the history of modern art, restricted, by common assent, largely to the decade of the 1890s, with overlappings on either end.

Source: John M Jacobus, "Review of Stephen Tschudi Madsen’s Sources of Art Nouveau [New York: Wittenborn, 195?]" The Art Bulletin 40, no 4 December 1958, page 364.

So writes the Princeton University professor of art, John M Jacobus, in his review of Stephen Tschudi Madsen's Sources of Art Nouveau New York: Wittenborn, 1956. This “review”, though, occupies ten pages of very scholarly text. (See also Stephan Tschudi-Madsen The Art Nouveau Style: A Comprehensive Guide with 264 Illustrations New York: Dover, 2002, a portion of which is available online -- click on the link above -- through Google Print. )

However, the material culture scholar, Robert Schmutzler, convincingly demonstates Art Nouveau's English roots trace back at least to the artist-poet, William Blake (1757-1827).

(In the early 1950s, Schmutzler wrote a dissertation on "The English Origins of Art Nouveau", and subsequently published it as an article in The Architectural Review, and, then, in 1964, after greatly expanding the coverage of his topic to include the impact of Art Nouveau, in a much larger, attractive coffee-table format -- Art Nouveau -- for the New York-based art-book publisher, Harry N. Abrams.) 

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Furniture in Art Nouveau Style

Art Nouveau's impact, essentially as a style of ornament, much more than as a style of furnishings, endures as memory.

mackintosh chair 1900 - 1st

mackintosh chair 1900 - 2d

Among furniture designers/builders influenced by Art Nouveau are Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) -- trained as an architect -- who designed these chairs in 1900 in his Edinburgh studio.

label for source codeIn America, the Buffalo-based designer Charles Rohlfs (1853-1936) was one of few Americans to incorporate some more sinuous forms and nature-inspired ornament of Art Nouveau into his Arts and Crafts pieces. Today, as a design inspiration, Art Nouveau informs the Studio furniture movement.

2. Arts and Crafts Movement

"Truth in making is making by hand, and making by hand is making by joy" Source: Quote attributed to the 1886 English Arts and Crafts Exhibtion Society, sponsor of first exhibit of Arts and Crafts, by Donis A Dondis, A Primer of Visual Literacy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1973, page 143. (also see Mary Comino, Gimson and the Barnsleys New York: Van Nostrand, 190, page 27.)

Equally interesting is that while the decorative arts style that later is known as Art Nouveau is emerging, another design style -- subsequently became identified as "The Arts and Crafts Movement", is also emerging.

(Indeed, in several ways, at the turn of the century, these two movements -- Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts -- intertwined to a limited extent.)

Both movements -- each in its particular way -- is reacting to the  to the excesses of the arts of Victorian era, particularly the problems caused by the Victorian era's production policies.

3. The Motivating Forces That Pushed Development of These Two Artistic Traditions

For some, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement, the motives are essentially a rebellion toward modernization -- or, put another way, it is an "anti-modernist" impulse


The meaning of modernity has been a central question in Western society for over two centuries. The unbridled optimism of the French Revolution and the spectacular technological advances of the Industrial Revolution raises profound questions about the nature and direction of Western society. For some, "modern" in "modern society" means the unleashing of powerful forces that can lead to human liberation after centuries of backwardness, a move, they hope, will take them from the dark countryside to the gleaming city. For others, these same forces will push man out of the forest primeval into what artist William Blake called the "dark satanic mills" of a sooty grey industrial future of enslavement. ... one particular strain of the cultural reaction against modernism [is] the Arts and Crafts movement.

Source: Michael Kimmel, "Out of the Guilds and Into the Streets: the Ideology and Organization of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England and the United States", Art, Ideology and Politics, ed by Judith H Balfe and Margaret Jane Wyszomirski, New York: Prager, 1985, pages 145-168.

The focal point, historically, is the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851. The result of efforts by Queen Victoria's consort, Albert, the Great Exhibition celebrates the machine as the century's great art masterpiece. This new technology, their utopian faith argues, holds the double-barrelled promise of both (1) solving human problems and (2) creating a world that is aesthetically pleasing and ethically harmonious. As Michael Kimmel -- cited above -- notes, the promise and the payoff of these technological advances are at odds.

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Not the Machine, It is the Division of Labor

Another critic of the "progress" of modernism -- and who writes about this same era of modernist advance -- is Marshall Berman. For Berman,


Mid-century design critics and reformers such as Cole, Ruskin, Pugin, and Wornum claim that machines are having a deleterious effect on production by diminishing the role of craftsmen, by separating design and production, and by creating the possibility of cheap imitations.

This is an issue of national concern that predates the Great Exhibition by at least two decades, and continues to rage well after the exhibition closes. What the mid-century critics do not discern is that the division of labor has nothing to do with mechanization. Mechanization exacerbates the problems associated with the division of labor, but -- at the time Adam Smith popularizes that phrase -- neither mechanization nor machines (at least not in the more modern form) exists.

Specialization of design and production takes place long before the introduction of machines; machines initially have little direct influence on design, and the extent of mechanization is far less at the time of the Great Exhibition than historians generally acknowledge. This suggests that the issue is not mechanization, as both contemporaries and historians argue, but instead is the division of labor.

The design critique, however, is taken very seriously at the time.

The design critique leads to three Parliamentary select committees, the establishment of the government schools of design, the institution of patent protection for designs, and the various exhibitions during the 1840s. All of these attempt, in one way or another, to revive craftsmanship. The subdivision of labor means that "artisans" -- that is, craftsmen -- have in effect, become "mechanics", or uneducated in broader principles of design; hence the schools of design. The public has lost its sense of aesthetics; hence the reason behind the Great Exhibition is to put British production quality (and quantity) side by side with Continental quality. What critics of design either do not see or refuse to admit is that the problem has its roots in the very system of capitalist production that depends for its success on the division of labor.

There are, additionally, many at the time of the Great Exhibition who see the benefits industrialization and mechanization offers, and care little that their fire screen is machine-made and not hand-crafted, especially if it costs less.

Although modern art critics vilify Victorian designers and manufacturers for what they call excessive ornamentation, for many Victorians simply being able to ornament the surface of a dresser is a remarkable and wonderful change. Moreover, many Victorians like the exhibits outright. In his Ode for the opening of the exhibition, the poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, writes of

All of beauty, all of use

That one fair planet can produce.  

Source:Jeffrey A Auerbach, The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display New Haven: Yale Univerisity Press, 1999, page 117.

"The innate dynamism of the modern economy, and of the culture that grows from this economy, annihilates everything that it creates -- physical environments, social institutions, metaphysical ideas, artistic visions, moral values -- in order to create more, to go on endlessly creating the world anew".

Source: Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts in Air: The Experience of Modernity New York: Simon and Schuster,1982, page 288.

bio of Berman: Marshall Berman, -- born in New York, November 24, 1940 -- brings personal insights into his assessment of the origins and impact of modernism . No matter what his subject, personal experience always adds a unique slant to Berman's work.

In All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity, the author reminisces about growing up in New York, especially memories of his vision of the destruction of his old neighborhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s to make way for a crosstown expressway. The pain of seeing this happen is pivotal to Berman's vision -- that a project ostensibly built for the good of society wreaks havoc on individual citizens -- lies at the heart of Berman's work. With this disclosure, we see why much of Berman's writing concerns the ways in which modernity affects the urban landscape.

The Drive for "Growth" Pushed Many to Want Roots in the Past

This leads to "an insatiable drive for growth" coupled with a fear of its consequences, and thus an overwhelming desire to be rooted in the past, to have a history.

The force of this drive sucks modern men and women into its orbit, and forces us all to grapple with such questions as

what is essential? what is meaningful? what is real in the milieu in which we exist?

The virtue of Kimmel and Berman is their expansive coverage of the evidence that demonstrates a wide belt of anti-modernist thinking prevailed, from before 1850 until well into the 20th century, sentiments fueled by broad range factors that are associated with the "progress" that come with modernization.

During this period, on both sides of the Atlantic, -- in their rush to embrace the "new" -- many critics and onlookers alike think that too much of society's values, traditions, practices are lost or diminished. Not only do they consider that modernity disposes of traditional customs and beliefs, but that -- in the process -- they are also convinced that these forces actually sweep away much that is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, definitely deserving of preservation and appreciation.

By the end of the 19th-century, numerous intellectuals and artists turn from the conviction of a "complacent faith in material progress and human rationality that had ruled the Western world for two generations". William Morris in 1894:

Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization.

Source: This Morris citation comes from John Higham, Writing American History: Essays on Modern Scholarship. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1970: 89-90; not online, but I looked up Morris's own source.

A detestation of the "modern " -- decked out with its overlay of the rational, the scientific, the technical -- that motivates an embrace of the anti-modernist impulse as the 19th century blended into the 20th, as late as 1920.

In both Europe and America, the American intellectual historian, Jackson Lears, claims that anti-modernism is a broad-based critique of rationality, a

"protest against a complacent faith in progress and a narrow positivist conception of reality"

It is an assertion of the rural village over the industrial city, of the body and spirit over the mind, of id over ego. As a series of separate but related movements, the anti-modernist impulse seeks to rescue the world from its "disenchantment" (as Weber had put it), and to re-enchant it by creating "islands of wholeness" in a fragmented society and making possible again movements of transcendent experience of the real, the natural, the cosmic

Source: T. Jackson Lears, . 1981. No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920. New York: Pantheon, 1981, page 36.

Industrialization Dramatically Transformed the Structure of Work

Industrialization removed autonomous independent producers from the workshop, instead placing them on the assembly line of production.

(Glasgow Scotland Digital Library)

A shift of morals -- caused by the collapse of the work ethic -- as the craftsmanship morphed into a less meaningful -- deskilling? -- activity of the factory's production line and Taylorist solutions to industrial efficiency.

The culture of production gave way to a culture of consumption;

factory_19th_c The once light cloak of external goods had become, to use Weber's phrase, an iron cage -- a "sweating system" -- that trapped people into a tightening, "rationalizing" grip.

(The original German term is stahlhartes Gehäuse; this term becomes "iron cage" in Talcott Parsons 1958 translation of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.)

Factory Conditions Exposed!

Recent scholarship has exposed in intimate detail the lives of people whose destinies are wrapped up in the wretched and cruel conditions that prevailed in the British factories of the 19th-century, the state of circumstances that Ruskin, Morris, and many other critics of the era rebelled against. Two partially-online -- i.e., the publishers restrict access -- books on the topic are in the boxes below:

(Dear reader: -- the illustration on the left doesn't match with the text in this box. The image is for conditions of a factory in America, the text for conditions in England. I am on the look out for an image that matches more closely, and will make a change soon.)


Using such a variety primary documents -- sermons, medical treatises, fictional and visual representations -- the social historian, Robert Gray, investigates the role of language in shaping the debate on factory reform, and relates conflicts over factory legislation to specific towns.

Source: Robert Gray The Factory Question and Industrial England, 1830-1860 Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002

Hundreds of Victorian working people wrote autobiographies it turns out, but for some reason, none have been made into television programs sponsored by factory owners, and scholarship has virtually ignored them. Here are narratives by three men and a woman, supported by contemporary perspectives in the form of letters, court and parliamentary testimony, excerpts of books, and other writings. No index is provided.

Source: James R. Simmons, Factory lives; four nineteenth-century working-class autobiographies Guelph, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2007. Factory Lives contains four works of nineteenth-century working-class autobiography: John Brown's A Memoir of Robert Blincoe; William Dodd's A Narrative of the Experience and Sufferings of William Dodd; Ellen Johnston's Autobiography; and James Myles's Chapters in the Life of a Dundee Factory Boy. Also includes selected historical documents that provide context for these works. Appendices include contemporary responses to the autobiographies, debates on factory legislation, transcripts of testimony given before parliamentary committees on child labour, and excerpts from literary works on factory life by Harriet Martineau, Frances Trollope, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, among others. James R. Simmons, Jr. is Associate Professor of English at Louisiana Tech University and Janice Carlisle is Professor of English at Yale University.

Select English Factory System Bibliography

Charlotte Bront, Shirley 1849. Ellen Gaskell, Mary Barton 1848 Frances Trollope, The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong the Factory Boy (1840; reprint, Cass, London, 1968).
Michael Armstrong was the first industrial novel published in England. It was also the first novel to be published in installments at only one shilling per month. Frances Trollope intended that the low price would help to get her message into the greatest number of hands, to be read by people who would be so moved that they would compel Parliament to alleviate the plight of the laboring class, especially the children. Fanny [Frances] wrote in the preface of her novel that she intended to "place before the eyes of Englishmen, the hideous mass of injustice and suffering to which thousands of infant labourers are subjected, who toil in our monstrous spinning-mills."
'Alfred' [Samuel Kydd], The history of the factory movement, from the year 1802, to the enactment of the ten hours' bill in 1847 , 2 vols. (1857).

Charles Wing, Evils of the Factory System Demonstrated by Parliamentary Evidence (1837). Review from JSTOR database:

This lengthy work, running to nearly half a million words, dedicated to Lord Ashley and prompted by an attempt to reduce from thirteen to twelve the age at which factory children were protected under the 1833 Act, was first published in 1837. It is essentially a mine of source material and includes selections from evidence given to the committees of 1816, 1818, and 1819, very extensive cxtracts-running to 255 pages-from the Sadler Committee of 1832, the first and second reports of the Commission of 1833, the 1833 Act itself, and the parliamentary debates on Sadler's Bill and on the Board of 'Trade's Bill of 1836. Wing, a London surgeon, shows particular interest in the doctors' evidence about such matters as illness and mortality both in his extracts and in his own lengthy introduction, itself full of quotations but including a useful critique ol Ure's Philosophy of Manuafactures and sonic worth-while observations on a Visit he made to Lancashire in 1836. While emphasising the pernicious effects is of child labour, the author does not fail to mention the occasional bright spot when he comes across it. Manchester, for instance, is praised for its provision of schools, dispensaries, and hospitals (Robert Owen's evidence in 1816, quoted here, also hears testimony to the fact that Manchester had more school places than children to fill them) and the reprinting of the 1833 Commission's reports also tips the scales a little. The volume contains much which is likely to prove of particular interest to sociologists; but there is no index.
An introduction to the industrial and social history of England by Edward Potts Cheyney (The Macmillan Company, 1920)

M Berg, The Machinery Question and the Making of Political Economy (Cambridge, 1980).

Gary Cross, ed., Worktime and Industrialization: An International History (Philadelphia, 1988).

This anthology examines the many-sided problem of worktime in American and European (including Soviet) society from 1800 to 1940. While some of the essays explore this question in the transition to the factory system, providing a fresh perspective on the social history of early industrial work and political culture, other papers interpret hours reform in the context of the modem state. Together, the ten essays suggest new possibilities for comparative historical research.


1. Worktime and Industrialization: An Introduction - Gay Cross

2. Independent Hours: Time and the Artisan in the New Republic - Howard Rock

3. Controlling the Product: Work, Time, and the Early Industrial Workforce in Britain, 1800-1850 - Clive Behagg

4. Work, Leisure, and Moral Reform: The Ten-Hours Movement in New England, 1830-1850 - Teresa Murphy

5. The Political Ideology of Short Time: England, 1820-1850 - Stewart Weaver

6. Sane and Hopeful, Though Slow and Difficult: The Reduction of Women's Working Hours in the Paid Labor Force, 1890-1920 - Kathryn Kish Sklar

7. The Limits of Corporate Reform: Fordism, Taylorism, and the Working Week in the U.S., 1914-1929 - David Roediger

8. Worktime in International Discontinuity, 1886-1940 - Gay Cross

9. Worktime and Industrialization in the U.S.S.R., 1917-1941 - William Chase and Lewis Siegelbaum

10. The New Deal: The Salvation of Work and the End of the Shorter Hour Movement - Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt

Humphrey Jennings, Pandemonium: The Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers (Pan edn, London, 1987). ISBN 0029164702 New York: Free Press, 1986 -- not online, but see this New York Times review:

In everyday speech, ''pandemonium'' has come to signify bedlam, cacophony, chaos. But the creation of the original Pandaemonium, the ''palace of all the devils'' in ''Paradise Lost,'' was anything but disorganized. On the contrary, it represented a heroic feat of mining and metallurgy, engineering and large-scale planning. What Milton shows us, as we watch the huge fabric take shape, is the Devil's energy being harnessed to audaciously constructive ends - although we are never allowed to forget that the result, however magnificent, is still the Devil's handiwork.

For Humphrey Jennings, was a prophetic symbol of industrialism, and it provides not only the title but also the starting point of his attempt to chronicle ''the imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution.'' This was best done, he thought, by letting those who took part in the process speak for themselves, and lines by the English poet, John Milton, are the first of a collection of over 300 writings -- texts from the 1660's to the 1880's - the testimony of a wide variety of responses -- scientists, artists, the rich, the poor, all witnesses. who provide a composite picture of the impact of the machine upon the English, how it transformed both their outward circumstances and inner lives.

F. Klingender,Art and the Industrial Revolution (revised edn, London, 1968). No online version

Edward P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Pelican edn, Harmondsworth, 1968). No online version of this classic work on history creation of British working class in 19th century

Eley, G., `Edward Thompson, social history and political culture', in H.J. Kaye and K. McClelland (eds.), E.P Thompson: Critical Perspectives (Cambridge, 1990).

Source: Robert Gray The Factory Question and Industrial England, 1830-1860 Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002

In a Search for Measures to Revalidate Their Lives: Authenticity, Community, and Meaningful Labor -- Many Turned Towards the Arts

Definitely of anti-modernist sensibility, the Arts and Crafts movement champions the virtues of handcrafted material over the machine-made, mass-produced commodity. Lead by Morris, the movement inspires and supports groups of craftsmen devoted to making the necessities of life with their own hands. Essentially, this movement challenges the day's patterns of oganizing work in productions lines and what its leaders claim is a decline of artistic sensitivity. As an alternative, the movement sets up communities where -- seeking to unify the worker and the work, the products of labor and its producers -- the hope is to "rediscover" the social and personal transformative powers of art.

By most measures, this movement fails on both sides of the Atlantic. Why? If there is a contest, the machine wins! The impact from the "progress" provided by the Industrial Revolution -- especially electrification -- is unstoppable. But looking back from the perspective of almost two centuries, the designs of the Arts and Crafts movement are today still among the most popular. Year by year, huge numbers of enthusiasts gather in groups to celebrate their appeciation of the movement's artifacts: furniture, glass, pottery, while in the woodworkers magazines of today, it is undeniable that furniture from the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th- and early 20th-century is the most frequently featured, issue by issue.

Selected Primary Documents on Industrialization

Document 6: a 1904 article heralding "The Significance of the Arts and Crafts Movement for Woodworking"

In 1904, to an observer like Frank T Carlton, a professor at Toledo University School , the potential impact of the Arts and Crafts Movement on American society was quite evident and today, in 2006, a century later, we can only marvel at how remarkable his insights are, but in an uncanny way.

Document 21: Frank Lloyd Wright -- Art and Craft of the Machine 1901

Document 48: William L Price "The Attitude of Manual Training to the Arts and Crafts" 1905

Document 49: William L Price "The Building of a Chair" 1904

Document 50: Gustave Stickley "on True Art" 1905

Document 51: J William Lloyd, "The Relation of Handicrafts to the Machine" 1904

Document 52: Dexter S. Kimball, "Social Effects of Mass Production" 1932

Document 53: The Manufacturer and Builder, "Improved Scroll Saws and Lathes" Volume 13, Issue 5 May 1881, page 100

4. Four Social Critics

To illustrate, I will focus on four social critics -- all were noted writers on aesthetics during the nineteenth century -- who rejected what he considered the crass materialism widely represented in many of the exhibits at London's Great Exhibition in 1851. (I will also focus upon an influential interpreter, Charles Locke Eastlake.)

At the same time, each of these four critics, in his own right, had a distinct vocation:

the Englishmen

(1) John Ruskin (1819-1900) and

(2) William Morris (1834-1896) and

the Frenchmen

(3) Léon Emmanuel Simon Joseph La Borde (1807-1869) and

(4) Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-­le-Duc (1814-1897)

For them, and others, it is a given truth that art should reflect society, that art should synchronize with the era which produces it. In their view, as for the majority of the population, Victorian social conditions and values did not.

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John Ruskin (1819-1900):

In aesthetics, Ruskin, especially, is today acknowledged for the ideas that he produced. He rejected the distinction between the so-called major and minor arts. For example, interior decoration, one of the decorative arts -- until then entirely in the hands of artisans --  for Ruskin should be restored to the central position in artistic concern the decorative arts occupied during the Renaissance.

ruskin_1859Lecturing at Bradford in 1859 -- his famous Two Paths: Being Lectures on Art and Its Applications to Decoration and Manufacture -- especially p. 77 -- Ruskin reminded his audience that Correggio's finest work is to be found in the domes of two churches he decorated in Padua, that Michelangelo's masterpiece is the decorated ceiling of the Pope's private chapel, that Tintoretto decorated the ceiling and walls of a benevolent society in Venice.

(Through the magic of Google Print, I have looked at Ruskin's Bradford lecture, and checked  the Internet for evidence to see whether anyone was listening. In the jpg -- above, on the left -- is a fragment in account by a W A Sandford on "Painted Glass" (The Universal Decorator; edited by Francis Benjamin Thompson (London: George Vickers, MDCCCLIX), page 32. Sandford continues,

... they imitate not their high excellence. They take nature, and nature alone, for their model, and represent her as they see her with their own eyes, and look not at her with eyes distorted by varnish and dirt, and age, and the restorer's blunders and distortions. Their mode of telling their story is their own -- the composition, the attitudes, the colours. The expressions are their own -- the reflex of their own minds -- the reflex of the present age; the mode in which they -- the mode in which the present age conceive the subject. Their, our age is tutored by what has gone before. All that is left that is great in art, all that is left that is great in poetry, all that is left that is great in story, is theirs -- is ours; it belongs to this age, and therefore this age must differ from every age that has gone before; and the artist is a traitor to his art, to his age, who does not represent, for the benefit of posterity, the feelings of those of his own time; their mode of conceiving the subject he represents, which, as I have said before, must differ from all that has gone before....

Thus when Ruskin called on architects to draw their inspiration from the lessons taught by nature, it became a central concept in the decorative arts for the rest of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

My source for the quote set out above is  Roger-Henri Guerrand (“Art Nouveau”  ed by Philippe Garner, in The Encyclopedia Of Decorative Arts New York: Van Nostrand, 1978, page 8), and as evidence of  any impact that Ruskin may have had, Guerrand points to

The ambition to translate the secret truths of nature in architecture and interior design can be seen in the works of the architect, Victor Horta (1861-1947) in Brussels, of Hector Guimard (1867-1942) in Paris and of Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) in Barcelona.

and the work of these gentlemen are amply illustrated in Schmutzler's Art Nouveau.

Schmutzler does not touch on the American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, but -- using photographs as evidence -- as David A Hanks (in The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright New York: Dover, 1979, pages 27-52 -- including numerous images), shows that Wright's concept of "an organic architecture" dictated that the his houses -- and that includes the furniture -- express an holistic spirit.

The scale, proportions, lighting, and furnishings of the interior space, the reality of Wright's architecture, were all calculated to blend and create the effect of freedom and repose.

In 1894 Wright himself proposed,

"The most truly satisfactory apartments are those in which most or all the furniture is built in as part of the original scheme", he proposed, where you "[consider] ... the whole as an integral unit"

Source: Proposition 6 as recalled in The Architectural Record, March 1908; as cited by David A Hanks, page 27.

rococo revival furniture 1873In fulfilling his organic purposes, Wright adopted the convention standard in late Victorian houses of using built-in buffets and bookcases. (As Hanks notes, it was also a foil to prevent clients from using furnishing that, to Wright, were incongruent to his designs.)

Along with the built-ins used to make the interior seem as if it had grown naturally, Wright "knitted furniture into the fabric of his architecture", where "built-in and freestanding furnishings ultimately became hardly distinguishable in Wright's later houses".

(The image on the right, above, comes originally from Christopher Dresser, Principles of Decorative Design London: 1873.

In 1908, as an example, Wright described his difficulties in finding appropriate furnishings:

The trials of the early days were many and at this distance picturesque. Workmen seldom like to think, especially if there is financial risk entailed; at your peril do you disturb their established processes mental or technical. To do anything in an unusual, even if in a better and simpler way, is to complicate the situation at once. Simple things at that time in any industrial field were no-where at hand. A piece of wood without a moulding was an anomaly; a plain wooden slat instead of a turned baluster a joke; the omission of the merchant-able "grille" a crime; plain fabrics for hangings or floor covering were nowhere to be found in stock.

Source: "In the Cause of Architecture," The Architectural Record, vol. 23, no. 3, March 1908; reprinted for In the Cause of Architecture, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975, p. 56; as cited by David A Hanks, The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright New York: Dover, 1979, pages 27-28.

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William Morris (1834-1896):

William Morris, a significant public intellectual of the Victorian era, hoped to restore the dignity that, for him and other socialist thinkers of the era, was stifled by assembly-line production.  The Arts and Crafts Movement, in particular, owes its origin mainly to the example of William Morris. Morris, a designer himself, established workshops for the design and production of carpets, fine textiles, stained glass, tapestries, and furniture.

He was, as the Yale professor of material culture, Edward S Cooke, reminds us, "one of the first writers ... to use the term 'decorative arts' in the manner in which we commonly understand it today", that as "that great body of art, by means of which men have at all times more or less striven to beautify the familiar matters of everyday life."

william morris on term decorative arts


Morris used the term "architectural arts" to describe "the addition to all necessary articles of use of a certain portion of beauty and interest, which the user desires to have and the maker to make."

(The image of text on the left comes from the Google Print online version of Hopes and Fears for Art London: Ellis and White, 1882, p. 2. A search of the database Making of America, 1800-1920, shows the term, "decorative art(s)", was used frequently in America, beginning around the 1850s.)

Unfortunately, though, Morris acknowledges with regret, that same society visualizes a higher art -- painting, sculpture, architecture, etc. -- and a "lesser art", commonplace, everyday objects, such as tables, chairs, beds, and the like.

For Morris, society needs to celebrate these "lesser" objects -- he labeled them "ornamental workmanship" --  even though, as Cooke notes, society might visualize them not equal to the so-called "higher arts of the intellect", i.e., architecture, painting, and sculpture.

Out of his ventings for a greater recognition of this more common class of artistic production, Morris popularized the term "decorative art", a term Cooke argues that Morris preferred over such other terms of Victorian England as "industrial arts" and "applied arts".

Why? Because of the repulsive connotations generated in the manufacturing and commercial settings of that day in Victorian England.

Moreover, as Cooke notes,

Morris' extensive writings inspired many American cultural capitalists and early museum professionals, who then began to collect and institutionalize decorative arts at the turn of the century, thereby ensuring that Morris' terms and criteria became the foundation for the field.

Therefore -- Professor Cooke points out -- we need to recognize Morris' particular construction of the decorative arts. Two themes stand out in his writings on the subject-- (1) his sense of history and (2) his great esteem for the object's creator.

Source: Edward S. Cooke, "The Long Shadow of William Morris: Paradigmatic Problems of Twentieth Century American Furniture", American Furniture 2003, pages 213-237; also Peter Stansky's Redesigning the World: William Morris, the 1880s and the Arts and Crafts Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

In 1861 Morris and his friends set up Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. to design and produce domestic decorative arts together with ecclesiastic stained glass. The architect Philip Webb (1831-1915), the Pre-Raphaelite artists Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893), Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98), and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), as well as Morris himself, all designed for the firm. From the 1870s, trading as Morris & Co., the company was associated with a number of younger designers including the metalworker, W.A.S. Benson (1854-1924). William De Morgan (1839-1917) designed tiles for both Morris & Co. and the Century Guild, founded in 1882 by A.H. Mackmurdo (1851-1942) along similar lines. Although its output was limited, Century Guild furniture, wallpaper, and textiles influenced C.F.A. Voysey (1857-1941) and other British Arts and Crafts designers as well as avant-garde figures such as Henri van der Velde (1863-1957) who were more closely connected with Art Nouveau.

Source: Noel Riley, ed. The Elements of Design, page 274.

Other designers and designer craftsmen entered the movement which achieved new standards of design in the domestic arts and crafts.

Their ambition was to sell well-designed, well-made things for buildings stained glass, tapestry, wall-paper, printed textiles, table glass and furniture. The glorious work of the Middle Ages was their touchstone and good work was work that gave pleasure in the doing, and, therefore, they argued, must be handwork. Morris, one of the greatest men of an age, great in spite of many blemishes, saw the problem more and more as a social problem. How could beauty be expected to grow from the squalor all around him? A more equitable social system was the first prerequisite. Yet it was apparent that the very money made in producing ugly things by machine made it possible for a limited number of people to buy his expensive and beautiful hand-made things. In other words, Morris's art could not become popular art at all. The mass of the people was unaffected. To talk of abolishing the machine was no practical solution, for the whole fabric of society was based on its use. To attempt to pretend that it did not exist--as when a great piece of machinery such as Tower Bridge was dolled up to look like a Gothic castle — seemed rather silly. To civilize the machine, at that time, may have appeared as difficult as to abolish it.

Source: Gordon Russell, "The Revolt", in The Things We See: Furniture West Drayton, England: Penguin Books, 1947, page 29. (Russell, a 20th century adherent to the Arts and Crafts Movement, worked with the firm, Heal, a London-based commercial furniture maker that  designed and sold Arts and Crafts pieces through their store.)

In her 1980 book, Gimson and the Barnsleys: 'Wonderful furniture of a commonplace kind' Mary Comino showed us how Morris caught the attention of the designer, Ernest Gimson, and the designer craftsman, Sidney Barnsley. (Her chapter 2, in particular, is a good source for backgtround on the movement's formation. My copy of Annette Carruthers and Mary Greensted, Good Citizen's Furniture: The Arts and Crafts Collections at Cheltenham is misplaced.)

ernest gimson handmade furnitureLocating in the Cotswolds, northwest of London, near Gloustershire, Gimson and Barnsley formed a partnership in 1902. This partnership resulted in much fine work.

(In May-June, 2005, my wife and I spent two weeks visiting gardens in southern England. Our tour -- sponsored by the Elderhostel group -- included stops in London and Cheltenham. In London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, we toured the International Arts and Crafts Exhibit, said to be the largest exhibit of Arts and Crafts materials ever mounted. The exhibit is now, I think, in San Francisco. And in Cheltenham, we visited the city museum, home to many pieces Arts and Crafts pieces, by noted craftsmen, who worked in the Cotswolds. Sorry to say, my photos of the Arts and Crafts exhibits at tthe Cheltenham Museum are not of the standard I would like, so instead, I am using the photo above -- from Gordon Russell's 1947 Penguin book, The Things We See: Furniture. In the photo is the interior of the Daneway House, Sapperton, northeast of Cheltenham; the furniture, handmade by Ernest Gimson, dates between 1895-1915)

Craftsmen in their workshops included Peter Waals, the managing foreman; other designer craftsmen includes Eric Sharpe, and Stanley W. Davies, trained by Romney Green, a contemporary of Gimson and Barnsley.

These craftsmen practice traditional handwork for highly individual productions, and their work [was]  produced almost entirely by traditional hand processes. In such work, machines play a subsidiary part. The work of the hand craftsman is essential to producing these fine examples of design and craftsmanship.

Source: John Hooper Modern Cabinetwork: A Comprehensive Treatise on Making Fine Furniture From the Golden Age of Craftsmanship 1952

The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was established, and the first exhibition was held in the New Gallery, Grafton Street, London, in 1888. This was the event, that -- historically -- gives the Arts and Crafts its label as a movement.

A second phase in the evolution of modern furniture design was in the formation of the Design and Industries Association which encouraged good industrial design.

[More on this theme later] In the field of furniture design, Ambrose Heal and Gordon Russell, who designed in the Gimson-Barnsley tradition, made the chief contributions, and in addition to designing much fine individual work also designed for commercial production in which machinery was appropriately used for primary and constructional processes in repetitive work, with a considerable percentage of handwork in the assembling and finishing processes.

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Leon de Laborde (1807-1869)

At the first international industrial exhibition of modern times, the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London, almost 2,000 exhibits were by French participants, and many exhibits gained awards. This success delighted French officials, but not Leon de Laborde, an official responsible for organizing French participation in the exhibition. In his report on the exhibition, published in 1856, he [Leon de Laborde] made a number of criticisms, which show him to have been one of the most perceptive men of his time and one of the prophets of future developments in the decorative arts.

Leon de Laborde, a noted  archaeologist was a member of the Institut de France and director of the Archives Nationales during the Second Empire.

(The Institut de France -- French Institute -- is a French learned society, grouping five acadmies, the most famous of which is probably the Acadamie francaise.)

As an archaeologist, to study great monuments of antiquity, Laborde traveled widely. However, unlike many of his contemporaries, he refused to make a cult of the past and criticized artists with a fetish of copying past masterpieces. 

According to Laborde, artists should concern themselves much more with the settings and surroundings of everyday life; for him, what today we call “localism” was the ideal: we should be able to attend concerts or plays in auditoriums that, decoratively, reflect the culture of the communities in which they exist. He claimed, further, that in community architecture, urban infrastructures, or public support of the arts, local governments should create environments like parks where its citizens can apprehend nature.

In 1857, after the 1851 World's Fair in London, a French delegate to the Crystal Palace Exhibition published a hefty two-volume work -- De l'union des arts et de l'industrie -- reflecting mounting fears that head and hand were going separate ways. At the beginning of his report on the Great Exhibition he made the following re­volutionary statement a strident appeal for a reintegration of the two: “The future of the Arts, of the Sciences and of Industry lies in their asso­ciation”. The connection between art and industry, he ar­gued, was a God-given imperative and He railed, too,  against the degeneration of good taste and the invasion of bad taste! Not surprisingly, the count faulted the French Revolution for this state of affairs. Laborde was not a radical, and his criticism was considered essentially conservative. For many of his contemporaries, the overthrow of the royalty as a fallout of the French Revolution had eliminated the aristocratic fashion leaders, while the abolition of the guilds had ruined high professional standards.

However, Nancy Green, a historian late 19th century France, modern critics point to other consequences of the nineteenth-century divorce between art and industry. In her 1988 doctoral dissertation -- as cited by Green -- Leora Auslander argues that the distance between artists who created and workers who produced grew to major proportions over the nine­teenth century, although not simply due to the demise of the guilds or a change in technology. Art and knowledge, skill and craft sense were confiscated from manual laborers (and customers) by what she aptly calls "taste professionals." These architects, teachers, interior decorators, and museum and library administrators destroyed the worker's "culture of production."

Source: Nancy Green, -- Art and Industry: The Language of Modernization in the Production of Fashion-- , French Historical Studies 18, no 3, page 724; to buttress this claim, Green cites the following studies: Leora Auslander. "The Creation of Value and the Production of Good Taste: The social life of Furniture in Paris, 1860-1911- (Ph.D. dim, Brown University, 1988). Eileen Boris Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America Philadelphia: Temple University Press,1986 a study   cited frequently when discussing the Arts and Crafts movement in America; Green notes, focuses on "tastemakers” in the United States; Green also cites Charles R. Richards, Art in Industry (New York, 1922), esp. 479. Whitney Walton, France at the Crystal Palace: Bourgeois Taste and Artisan Manufacture in the Nineteenth Century Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1992). On the decorative arts movement in France, see Debora L. Silverman, Art Nouveau in Fin-de-Siecle France Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989); and Rosalind H. Williams, Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982, chap. 5.)

The report of Count de Laborde was not unfamiliar to those who supported the idea of an artistic revolution in which the state would play an important role. The Belgian workers party, for instance, included the promotion of art in its programme at the end of the nineteenth century, and its leader Emile Vandervelde, regularly atten­ded the social gatherings given by the daughter of William Morris. (Roger-Henri Guerrand, “Art Nouveau”  ed by philippe garner, in The Encyclopedia Of Decorative Arts New York: Van Nostrand, 1978, page 8)

In Brussels Victor Horta constructed the first “cathedral of socialism” in the form of the new Maison du Peuple. Laborde would have appreciated this incarnation of his dreams which was so far removed from the Neo-classical monuments so much favoured during his lifetime.

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Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-­le-Duc (1814-1879)

This French architect and writer was internationally celebrated for his restoration work upon historic French buildings. (An American audience was introduced to Viollet-le-Duc's actitivities in Henry Adams famous 1904 study,  Mont Saint Michel and Chartres.) Viollet-le-Duc was, too, the most prominent exponent of the Gothic revival in France.

But it was for restoration of ancient buildings, though that he received his greatest recognition. After a study of Medieval monuments throughout France and restoring several churches and town halls southern France, Jean–Baptiste A. Lassus, another "Gothicist", collaborated with Viollet-le-Duc restore several significant Medieval French religious buildings.

(An obituary of Viollet-le-Duc, written by Charles William Wason -- is available in the online version of the 1897 Annual Register. Need to get the others)

While it’s said that he was “virtually possessed by the Gothic style”, his discussions of the nature of architecture are, it is also claimed, "amazingly clear-sighted"” His Entretiens sur l'Architecture (1863-1872) and were later translated into English as also Discourses on Architecture 2 vols, 1858-1872; reprinted as Lectures on Architecture, 2 volumes, NY, Dover, 1987) became primary sources for critics seeking to revise existing attitudes toward architecture and the decorative arts in the nineteenth century. He found it disgusting, particularly, the passion for reconstructing an object, especially a building in a new setting:

It is barbarous to reproduce a Greek temple in Paris or London, for a transplan­ted imitation of this monument reveals an ignor­ance of the basic principles governing its con­struction, and ignorance is barbarism.” [page?]

On the subject of interior decoration, Viollet-le-Duc, who was to teach for several years in the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, professed exactly the same ideas as Ruskin and Laborde:

Interior decoration has lost any semblance of unity. The architect never gives a second thought to what sort of paintings are to decorate the rooms he has designed, the painter never takes into consideration the architecture of the rooms where he hangs his works, the furniture-maker completely ignores what both the painter and the architect have done, and the man who supplies the curtains takes great pains to ensure that his products are all that you notice in a room.

The twenty Lectures on Architecture (also Discourses on Architecture 1875) run to about a thousand pages in which Viollet-le-Duc reveals an extensive knowledge of the architecture of the past, while offering countless new ideas: -- see some of his iron hardware designs below. Viollet-le-Duc did not, however, succeed in shaking the faith of his established colleagues who, for many more years, continued to copy the methods of past architecture and persisted in their attempt to dress up modern building programmes in classical forms.


Thanks to Ruskin, Laborde and Viollet-le-Duc, however, the artistic expression of life in the nineteenth century was soon to appear in the social landscape. Through their writings they had a determining influence on the formation of the new modern style for which they had so passionately pleaded. Although they often contradicted them-selves they had the great merit of trying to resolve the dichotomy between Art and Industrv, which was the major problem of their age.

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5. Conclusions: Four Major Motives/Aspirations

These movements -- Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts -- have a number of common features which can be grouped under four major headings:

(1) First, as noted above, a rejection of the academic traditions -- academicism --  which dominated both the teaching in art schools and/or the criticism of art throughout the nineteenth century. Attack came from many directions. Conditions in 19th century French art offer a good example of this intellectual turbulence:

The early 19th century romantic painters, like Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) and Theodore Gericault (1791-1824), opposed to the imposition of an academic discipline upon a free artistic creativity.

Romanticism, another artistic movement, championed subjective emotion and the taste for exotic subject matter. Exponents of romanticism included Honore Dau­mier (1808-1879), Camille Corot (1796-1875), and Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). Revived interest in landscape – led by Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) and Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875), was the focus what is identified as the Barbizon school.

But the major shift in art was manifested by the Impressionist Movement. Impressionists were interested in rendering purely visual effects and in expressing transient and accidental aspects of nature. The Impressionist movement launched with the exposition of 1874. And, as you may guess, it didn't end there either.

(2) For anyone wishing to create "Art Nouveau", the cult of classical antiquity was a thing of the past and only to be found in the work of careerists. The Parisian Metro is a perfect illustration of this point. Jules Formige, who built the overhead lines in a neo-doric style was covered with honours and made a member of the Institut, while Hector Guimard, who created a distinctive organic style for the stations, suffered the misfortune of seeing his work defaced, something which has continued to the present day, and being considered unworthy of mention in reference books for many years to come.

(3) The rejection of antiquity went hand in hand with a return to the observation and imitation of nature. This was the advice given by Horta to Guimard when the latter came to visit him in Brussels. It was also one of the principles governing Gaudi's architecture, Morris's wallpapers, and Galle's vases.
It meant that the straight line was abandoned in favour of the curve and that there was a considerable vogue for Gothic or Japanese forms. These innovations were soon to become new conventions for second-rate artists.


(4) Finally, many of the designers and architects of 1900 wished to take part in the movement for social reform and to join in the struggle of the European working class. Jean Lahor, a French disciple of William Morris, became the apostle of cheap housing, the creation of which would have kept Art Nouveau artists more than busy. Some of these men actually became members of socialist parties while others professed their sympathy to the socialist cause. Thus it seemed possible that a form of art in keeping with a democratic society might now emerge, transforming the streets, the decor of the home, and everyday objects. Perhaps the wish expressed by Viollet-le-Duc -- his designs of iron hardware on the right inspired design for the Eiffel Tower -- could now come true


    "It is only possible for the Arts to find their true place, to develop and to progress in the living heart of the nation ..."

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Sources: Many references scattered among the discussion above are not yet listed here. Material on Art Nouveau is adapted from Roger-Henri Guerrand, "Art Nouveau", ed by Philippe Garner, in The Encyclopedia Of Decorative Arts New York: Van Nostrand, 1978. Charles Eastlake, Hints on Household Taste, 1876, and other architects working in furniture design had been influenced by Viollet-le-Duc. Citing three sources for the claim. Martha Crabill McClaugherty, an historian of material culture, says “Indeed, under Viollet-le-Duc’s influence, English nineteenth century Gothic style furniture changed from ecclesiastical, architectural forms to the more geometric modern Gothic.” See her “Household Art: Creating the Artistic Home”, Winterthur Portfolio 18, no 1 (Spring 1983), page 3. – I will have more on this theme later. The John-Ruskin-inspired New Path, Volume II,  published an anonymous article, “Our Furniture: What It Is and What it Should Be” discusses Eastlake’s “Fashion of Furniture” and Viollet-le-Duc’ 1858 Dictionnaire raissone du mobilier francaise. Also discussed in L Wodehouse " New Path" and the American Pre-Raphaelite BrotherhoodArt Journal, 1966. (As noted above, in 1859, Ruskin lectured on "Two Paths: Being Lectures on Art and Its Applications to Decoration and Manufacture.)

Sources: [not complete -- look for slelected sources throughout text; "Art Nouveau", Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, pages 45-49; "Arts and Crafts Movement""Art Nouveau", Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts New York: Oxford University Press, 1985, pages 49-50;

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