Friday, July 31, 2009

Lindsay Philip Butterfield, the British and Art Nouveau

Lindsay Philip Butterfield was one of the most successful British textile and wallpaper designers at the turn of the twentieth century. Today he is largely forgotten, although a number of contemporary critics saw him as carrying on the mantle of William Morris to a second generation of designer.

Butterfield sold his design work to most of the leading British textile and wallpaper companies of the time including: G P & J Baker, Turnbull & Stockdale, Warner, Thomas Wardle, Jeffrey & Co and Essex & Co.

His work was very much in the style and genre of William Morris, with much of his design work being floral based. However, it would be fair to say that Butterfield was more a follower of Morris as seen through the lens of Charles Francis Annesley Voysey, who Butterfield much admired.

There was a particular genre passing through much of the British textile and wallpaper design industry at the turn of the twentieth century, of which Butterfield and Voysey were an integral part. Although vaguely following, at least cosmetically, the European Art Nouveau style, many British designers were still producing work in the broadly homegrown Arts & Crafts style. In some respects this could be seen as a national style, with a particular emphasis on the flora and fauna that was natural to the British Isles.

Art Nouveau had a largely lukewarm reception in Britain, partly because many saw the genre as European in origin. Part of the reason that the Arts & Crafts movement had made such strides in Britain was the belief, true or otherwise, that the style was homegrown and had developed through following largely British customs and traditions. Many British designers, manufacturers, critics and writers had spent much of the nineteenth century trying to build up a truly British decorative style to compete with the French who dominated the design world of the nineteenth century, so it is little wonder that many in Britain were reluctant to throw away all that had been achieved in order to embrace the new fashions from France. However, much of the British public still saw France, with Paris in particular, as the centre of fashion and style and so British design tended to add what many saw as 'French gimmicks' to their own domestic work, in order to compete with and to placate the domestic market. By 1902, when Butterfield produced the wallpaper design shown above, there was a distinct, if somewhat understated attempt towards producing a form of British Art Nouveau, at least in styling, which tried to incorporate the new fashion within a largely Arts & Crafts framework.

Most designers saw the longevity of the British Arts & Crafts movement as proof of the success that the British had achieved by investing in the development of a native based design movement. Many saw the European Art Nouveau movement as purely fashion led, a style that had no roots and therefore a decorative movement that had no depth or longevity. However, Art Nouveau was to prove itself by outlasting its British critics and eventually transforming itself into the Art Deco style, while the British Arts & Crafts movement struggled to find a purpose and direction in the new century, and by the time that the Art Deco style appeared, the British movement was largely redundant or relegated to the edges of the British design world.

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