Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Textile Design by T Ackroyd & Son

Illustration: T Ackroyd & Son. Damask hanging, 1851.

In 1851, the Halifax company T Ackroyd & Son produced various damask hangings for the Great Exhibition in London. Textiles were significantly well represented by British companies who were probably at their most influential and most productive, though not necessarily most creative, point during the mid-nineteenth century.

Many different types of textile decoration and pattern were represented. However, a high proportion tended to follow French contemporary examples, some being little more than copies in their own right. During the first half of the nineteenth century, France still dominated European decorative arts, as it had through most of the previous century. Although national styles across the continent took steps to reflect and promote an indigenous contribution towards the continent's decorative arts, in practice most veered from straight plagiarism to heavy inspiration of whatever France was deeming to be popular and fashionable at that moment in time.

Although as stated, many examples of close French styling were represented at the Great Exhibition in 1851, many of them indeed from Britain, there was an attempt to expand the repertoire somewhat. A number of British textile companies took the opportunity that the Great Exhibition offered, by moving away from the slavish copying of French contemporary textile design. They instead proceeded to produce examples of work that were genuine attempts to broaden the scope of decoration and pattern work, more so than was perhaps usual for the textile industry, an industry it should be noted that always did and still does, err on the side of caution and the tried and tested.

One of the decorative styles that allowed movement away from the domination of French styling was that of the medieval, or gothic. This largely, though not wholly British innovation in decoration was often much broader and less concise than many critics and scholars would have warranted. Medieval often designated a loosely defined era, rather than a cultural or even geographical area. Therefore to many the phrase 'medieval' would also have included, by its very proximity to medieval Christian Europe, at least elements of Islamic decoration, particularly from those areas that interacted directly with Europe, such as Islamic Spain.

In that respect, the example shown in this article was directly inspired by decoration found at the Alhambra at Granada in southern Spain. T Ackroyd & Son were in fact at some pains to emphasise the fact that this particular textile pattern was designed in the style which pervades the Alhambra, and is carefully and exactly carried out, in strict accordance with its peculiarities. It was originally produced for the Great Exhibition in red on a rich and deep blue background, which unfortunately is not available to be seen apart from this black and white illustration from the Great Exhibition catalogue. However, it does give a very good indication of the somewhat divergent paths that French and British textile design were beginning to take and would take for the next half century, up to the introduction of Art Nouveau.

In some respects this often tentative, though sometimes ebullient gesture towards a form of independence from the French domination of European decoration, could be seen as the start of the growing confidence that could be found at least amongst the textile manufacturers, if not the retailers, of Britain. This confidence was to eventually introduce, as far as textiles were concerned, a whole host of British textile designers and those who at least worked partially within the industry during the 1850s and 1860s including William Morris, Christopher Dresser, Owen Jones, Bruce James Talbert, E W Godwin and many others. These names would in their turn help to perpetuate a largely indigenous style that would carry on throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century.

Reference links:
The Great Exhibition of 1851: A Nation on Display
Britain, the Empire, and the World at the Great Exhibition of 1851
Great Exhibition 1851 Mouse Pad
1851 Opening Great Exhibition Building Architecture
The Great Exhibition of 1851 (Texts in Culture)
Crystal Palace Mouse Pad
Echoes Of The Great Exhibition (1851)
London Life and the Great Exhibition, 1851 (Then & There)
The Great Exhibition, 1851: A collection of contemporary documents; (Jackdaw)
Lectures On the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851: Delivered Before the Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce
The World for a Shilling: How the Great Exhibition of 1851 Shaped a Nation
Journal of a trip to London, Paris, and the great exhibition, in 1851

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