Monday, 18 October 2010

Tapestry Design by Byam Shaw

Illustration: Byam Shaw. The Blindfolding of Truth, an Allegory, c1909.

John Liston Byam Shaw or John Byam Liston Shaw, there seems to be some disagreement as to the right sequence of names, was born in Madras in India, though it has to be said that he should not be confused with being a native Indian, but was in fact of British parentage. He spent the first six years of his life in India before settling permanently in Britain.

Byam Shaw as he was popularly known, tends to be seen as being part of what has been referred to as the later generation of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, being born in 1872, long after the initial formation of the Brotherhood under Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti. However, it is perhaps more accurate to say that he himself was influenced by and even a follower of the Pre-Raphelites, rather than saying that he was part of some form of second wind for the movement, which although influential was short-lived.

Shaw, although trained as a fine artist, worked in a number of mediums both inside and outside the fine art discipline. He was known to have produced design work for both stained glass and tapestry. The tapestry example shown in this article The Blindfolding of Truth, an Allegory was produced by Shaw in 1909. Interestingly it does have a tenuous link with the Pre-Raphaelite movement as it was produced by Morris & Co at their Merton workshop. Although William Morris had died in 1896, the link between himself and the Pre-Raphaelites is one that still has merit particularly when considering both the style and subject of Shaw's tapestry composition.

The tapestry is a straightforward rendering of a composition that could equally well have started out as a book illustration. The fact that Shaw was also an able illustrator probably goes some way into explaining both the compositional nature and style. This type of narrative could still be found across Northern Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, Germany and Britain where this type of pseudo-Northern Renaissance style was still very popular and could be found in the form of illustration, fine art and indeed tapestry.

Although both Morris & Co and the work of Byam Shaw must have seemed at least in some circles, as something of an anachronism in 1909 Europe, the fact that art, design and decorative work with medieval and renaissance themes was still being produced across Europe, with Shaw's tapestry being expensively woven at Merton, shows that the imagery conjured up by these seeming pastiches of past styles, were still hugely popular with large segments of the public. 

While the many forms of Modernism were being introduced via literature, dance, fine art and indeed the decorative arts, not all were dazzled by the bold newness of the contemporary in 1909. The market was still very traditionally led and although perhaps a fairly high proportion of the younger generation were indeed captivated by the modern, they tended not to be those that had the finances for large scale interior decoration.

It is important to remember that while much of the popular and fashionable decorative arts that were available during this period would still have been the likes of Shaw's The Blindfolding of Truth, our own world has jettisoned much of this in order to concentrate on the introduction of Modernism. This does not mean that Modernism does not have merit and shouldn't indeed be highlighted during this period of the first decade of the twentieth century, but it should also be seen as only being part of the perspective. Indeed it could be said that Modernism whether in art, design or decoration was in fact a fairly small proportion of the market of the period compared to the more traditionally based, particularly when considering Shaw's native Britain.

Movements and style eras are never as clear and concise as we would like them to be. The fact that Gothic styled furniture and accessories were still being popularly sold in the 1920s, just as traditionally styled Victorian and Georgian furniture, textiles and wallpapers are being sold today, shows how complicated and diverse are the markets that cater for the publics taste. In other words the tapestry of Byam Shaw although seeming dated for 1909, could be just as popular, if not more so, than any other form of Modernist based decorative work, whether that be fine art, design or decoration. All were seemingly relevant and valued at the same time.

Reference links:
This Is a Heart The Queen Leant On: John Byam Liston Shaw. 20.00 inches by 14.63 inches. Best Quality Art Print Poster
This is a Heart the Queen Leant On Giclee Poster Print by John Byam Shaw, 18x24
Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth Entering London, 1553 Giclee Poster Print by John Byam Shaw, 12x16
The Owner of the Castle Was Giant Despair, The Pilgrim's Progress Macgregor, Pub. Jack, 1907 Giclee Poster Print by John Byam Shaw, 18x24
Do You See Yonder Wicket-Gate , The Pilgrim's Progress Macgregor, Pub.Jack, 1907 Artists Giclee Poster Print by John Byam Shaw, 18x24
Eleonora Eleonora and Her Cousin Walk Together Through the Valley of the Many Coloured Grass Giclee Poster Print by Byam Shaw, 18x24
The adventures of Akbar. Illustrated by Byam Shaw
St George Slaying the Dragon, 1908 Giclee Poster Print by John Byam Shaw, 18x24
Byam Shaw - A Selection of Paintings and Book Illustrations: Exhibition Catalogue
Old King Cole's Book of Nursery Rhymes (Facsimile Classics Series)
This Is a Heart The Queen Leant On: John Byam Liston Shaw. 14.00 inches by 10.63 inches. Best Quality Art Print Poster
Interpreter Called For a Manservant of His, The Pilgrim's Progress Macgregor, Pub. Jack, 1907 Giclee Poster Print by John Byam Shaw, 18x24

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