Monday, 3 January 2011

Hargreaves and the Simplicity of Design

Illustration: Hargreaves. Calico print, 1849.

To start with, it must be made clear that all the illustrations from this article are derived from Henry Cole and Richard Redgrave's Journal of Design and Manufactures. The Journal itself was only published monthly between the years 1849 and 1852, but in its few short years it was able to pinpoint, with a modicum of accuracy, what was deemed to be the major failings within the British manufacturing industry, with specific attention to decoration and pattern work.

The Journal was dominated, though not exclusively so, by the mediums of textiles and wallpaper. There were extensive examples included throughout the publication of both good and bad design work, though to be fair the editorial emphasis of both Cole and Redgrave was mostly on the critically positive, rather than the negative.

Illustration: Hargreaves. Cotton print, 1849.

The English textile manufacturing company of Hargreaves featured prominently throughout the three years that the Journal was in production and their pattern work tended to be treated with a certain amount of restrained though well balanced Victorian enthusiasm. On the whole the company was responsible for a modicum of praise as it produced textile designs that were simple, yet effective, well-balanced in both composition and colour tone, and above all they seriously took the elegant observations of the natural world as both their starting and end point, as well as the simple though effective lessons and rules that garnered good yet effective surface pattern . These were all features that gained the company high standing within the design reform movement of the mid-nineteenth century.

The first example shown in this article was a dress fabric produced by Hargreaves that shows the effect that a very simple surface pattern technique can produce with a minimum of techniques. Only two colours are used along with two motifs, an open and closed bud that are then connected by the simple procedure of the use of meandering lines that become part of the plants physical nature. This simple yet strikingly effective textile design shows clearly that not all mid-nineteenth century decorative work was piled high with excessive decorative techniques. Occasionally companies could see clearly enough to produce work that was focused enough to succeed as a design in its own right, without the excessive and heavy embellishment of the often over-enthusiastic but rarely light Victorian hand.

Illustration: Hargreaves. Cotton print, 1849.

The two black and white illustrations were intended to show how a decorative pattern that at first seems overly heavy and cluggy, could be saved by the breaking up of dark areas. This was illustrated by producing the pattern work without detail at the top and then filling in the detail at the bottom. Both designs were also produced by Hargreaves, though only as the finished design at the bottom of the example. It is perhaps a matter of personal taste, rather than design sensibilities, to judge whether the pattern work looks best before of after the decorative detailing. Much would depend of course on the scale of the pattern work, and also the colouring of the piece in question. However, both are good examples as to how a few simple manoeuvres within a surface pattern design can change the dynamics of a composition and give an entirely different emphasis to the pattern itself and probably more importantly to the fabric and its use.

Illustration: Hargreaves. Printed muslin, 1849.

The fourth example illustrates a piece of textile pattern work that the journal approved of though with reservations. It was thought that the background colour could well have done without the darker horizontal striping effect and that the interpretations of the floral motifs were somewhat rudimentary and could have done with more detailing and a higher definition rather than block colouring. However, the Journal was happy with the colour balance and the general compositional makeup of the design. It also approved of the outlining of the floral work as it gave a better emphasis to the two dimensional aspect of surface pattern, a particularly important point often brought up by design reformers.

The last example, also produced by Hargreaves, shows perhaps the most complex of all the textile pieces shown in this article and therefore in some respects approached with more caution by the Journal than all the other designs featured here. Although approving of both composition and colour harmony there was a little disappointment at the over-naturalness of the design, implying that there was perhaps a little too much emphasis on three-dimensional illusion rather than the natural features and strengths of surface pattern.

Illustration: Hargreaves. Cashmere print, 1849.

On the whole throughout the differing examples it was assumed by the Journal that Hargreaves represented a company that was trying hard to recognise and strike a balance between the practical parameters of surface pattern and that of the peculiarities of the consumer market. The analysis of decorative and pattern work can sometimes be a little judgemental and can appear to be subjective. However, both Cole and Redgrave knew what they were doing and by regularly detailing and analysing the decorative work that appeared in the market place they were lending themselves towards the betterment of the decorative arts in general and surface pattern in particular. An analysd that was sorely needed in the mid-nineteenth century, particularly in Britain and is probably even more sorely needed at the start of the twenty first century with a consumer market that seemingly applies to all tastes but its own, with little emphasis placed in the way creative self-discipline, but perhaps much more emphasis on units sold. This is not to say that the reasoning was very different in the nineteenth century. However, there always needs to be a balance between the creative and the monetary and perhaps this is a feature that is lacking in much of what we buy or are encouraged to buy by a voracious retail sector that now dominates our lives, much more so than it did in the nineteenth century.

Reference links:
Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail
Late 18th & 19th Century Textiles
Vintage Victorian Textiles
Textiles for Early Victorian Clothing: 1850-1880
1862 Textile Machinery Manufactures Platt Lap Doubler
Victorian Fashions: A Pictorial Archive, 965 Illustrations (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
English and American Textiles: From 1790 to the Present
Toiles for All Seasons: French & English Printed Textiles
Printed Textiles: English and American Cottons and Linens 1700-1850 (A Winterthur Book)
Employers and Labour in the English Textile Industry, 1850-1939
British Textiles: 1700 to the Present
The Victoria & Albert Museum's Textile Collection: British Textiles from 1850 to 1900
British Wool Textile Industry, 1770-1914 (Pasold Studies in Textile History)
The Victoria & Albert Museum's Textile Collection: Design for Printed Textiles in England from 1750 to 1850 (British Printed Textiles from 1750-1850)

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