As discussed yesterday, the late Nineteenth Century Aesthetic Movement was much-influenced by Japanese art and design—re-packaged, of course, by Western artists for a Western consumer. The style affected the design and production of a wide variety of manufactured objects: furniture, lighting, wall paper & textiles, metalworks, woodcraft, pottery & ceramics, and all manner of beautiful, decorative objets. In home furnishings, “ebonized” (black-stained or painted) furniture became very fashionable—inspired, of course, by Japanese lacquered woodworks. Japanese inspired ceramics—especially white and blue—was also very popular. Nineteenth century rooms were built for and devoted to the treasures of wealthy ceramics collectors. James Abbot McNeill Whistler’s “Peacock Room” (now relocated to the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C.) is a perfect example of this.
Dr. Christopher Dresser, a prolific Aesthetic period designer and lecturer on Art and Design, taught his students to take inspiration from nature but to alter it; by flattening a three dimensional form into two dimensions, thus removing any sense of perspective or shading, the resultant design could be used successfully in a graphic or decorative manner.
The plate above, made in 19th century Switzerland, employs the native Edelweiss blossom within a controlled, angular, graphic border. It has taken a natural, botanical form (the edelweiss), flattened it into two dimensions, and used it as a repeating graphic pattern in an otherwise liner decoration. This is a good example of the Aesthetic Movement at work and shows clear inspiration from earlier Japanese ceramic and graphic works.
In America, there were several practitioners of the Aesthetic Movement including Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Herter Brothers (who built sensational furniture and cabinetry), and brothers Charles & Henry Greene (who built wonderful bungalow-style homes in California).
The Aesthetic Movement was a precursor to the Arts & Crafts Movement, soon to follow. Like the Aesthetic Movement, the Arts & Crafts was inspired by natural forms, relied on laborious handcraft, and sought to decorate a complete room including textiles, furniture, metalwork, ceramics and lighting. But where the Aesthetic Movement looked to Japan for its design genesis, the Arts & Crafts drew inspiration from the (sometimes ancient) local cultures in which it was practiced (be it Medieval Britain, Celtic Ireland, Gothic Europe, or Ancient Native America).
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