It is slowly dawning on me that Japan is possibly the mother of modernism in Europe. This was first brought to my attention when I saw ‘The Japanese House’ architecture exhibition at the Barbican last year and learning that Bauhaus architects were heavily influenced by the use of space and light in traditional Japanese architecture; and now, while I have been curating a Pinterest board on the influential work of (arguably) the worlds first product designer Christopher Dresser (1834 - 1904).
Dresser was a British designer in the Victorian age. Industry was booming and the manufacture of mass produced objects was in its infancy. Unlike the reactionary views of William Morris, Dresser saw an opportunity to disseminate his designs to a wide audience and designed for many quality manufacturers of homewares in the late 1800’s, including Wedgwood and Liberty & Co.
Though many of his designs touched on the romantic Gothic styles so prevalent in the Victorian age, other pieces are unbelievably ‘contemporary’ and could be viewed as ‘Art Deco’ or even ‘Midcentury Modern” in manufacture and form. Alessi have manufactured a handful of his designs over the years and they still produce one of his toast rack designs today.
This minimal modern aesthetic, which can be seen clearly in Dresser’s designs for metalware, was born out of two things. One was the implementation of ‘new’ technologies in manufacturing metal, ceramics and glass; the other was from his visit to Japan in 1876 which had recently reopened its ports in 1853 to foreign trade after a period of over 200 years of isolation. Dresser was the first European designer to visit Japan and became the leading light in the Victorian aesthetic of ‘Japonism’ (or ‘Cult of Japan’).
If you wish to see more examples of his work please visit my Pinterest account.