Friday, July 31, 2009

Richard Redgrave Well Spring porcelain vase

ichard Redgrave was a successful trained fine artist who, through his friendship with Henry Cole, found himself interested in and an important member of the design reform movement which was at the centre of Cole's reforming career.

Redgrave became a founding member of The Cole Group, an influential set of artists and designers who with Cole, believed that they would be able to influence the design strategy of Britain. Cole was able to recruit names like Owen Jones, William Dyce, Mathew Digby Wyatt and George Wallis amongst others. All had an interest in and a concern towards the state of British design as compared to other European nations, in particular France and Germany. It was felt by a number of critics that British manufacturing design and output had little or no direction and had an overall philosophy of quantity over quality. Cole, with tentative government support was given the aim of increasing the general standard of design in both industry and the design colleges that fed that industry.

An interesting early example of the groups reform ideas as far as design was concerned, can be seen in this early example shown above. The Well Spring vase was designed by Redgrave in 1847 and was originally intended to be produced in glass rather than porcelain.

It may not appear to us to be particularly design reform minded, but compared to much of the porcelain and glass design work that made up the bulk of the domestic and export markets of the 1840s and 1850s, this piece is very understated and subtle by comparison.

One of the main features of the vase is its criss-crossed reed pattern which was considered highly appropriate by the reformers, as the vase was to carry and contain liquid and therefore the reeds would be an instant identifier as to the purpose of the vessel.

Unfortunately the original design of the vase is lost in this 1865 porcelain version produced by Minton & Co. The overall look and feel of the vase in glass would have been light and airy with a partial illusion that the container was created from reeds, the differing coloured liquids used would have also added to that illusion.

How far this piece actually addresses any of the concerns of Cole's design reform movement, is debatable. It seems more of a gimmick or illusions toy, rather than a serious exercise in the reformation of nineteenth century design. However, it was perhaps a faltering step in the right direction and could be perceived as the beginning of the debate in the values that it was felt should be incorporated into domestic design and decoration. The reform movement was to gain pace and momentum as the century progressed, so that by the end of the nineteenth century it was considered commonplace to at least consider the function and form of domestic design, even if many manufacturers and retailers were still reluctant to take on all the reforms suggested by Cole and his group and the generations of designers and critics that followed.

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