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Title: Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) and the cult of Japan
Author: Halén, Widar
ISNI:       0000 0001 3524 3975
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 1988
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Christopher Dresser was one of the most advanced designers of the nineteenth century. He was an important art theorist and his writings were well known in Europe, America and Japan. His doctrines, among the most original of the century, stressed the importance of function, simplicity and mechanical skill. He pioneered a rational and scientific attitude to design that was based on easily available and inexpensive materials, and in modern sociolistic termns advocated the equality of status between the manufacturer and the designer. He was one of the first professionally trained designers for machine production in Europe, and his designs for carpets, textiles, wallpapers, furniture, cast iron, ceramics, metalware and entire interiors were far ahead of his time, looking forward to the geometric and functional character of much twentieth century design. These innovative creations as well as his many publications on design are marked by a distinct penchant for Oriental art and for Japanese art in particular. While studying at the School of Design in London from 1847 to 1855 Dresser was a keen student of Oriental art and he first encountered Japanese art around the time of the opening of Japan to foreign commerce in 1853-54. The import of Japanese art and artefacts to the West made a tremendous impact on Dresser and on European artists in general, who soon coined the word 'Japonisme' later to become anglicised as 'Japonism' and 'Ango-Japanese'. The Cult of Japan as it was also called in Britain during the later half of the nineteenth century became a guiding spirit in the reform movement of the day, and Dresser was one of its foremost figures. He very early on included Japanese art in his revolutionary classification of the decorative arts launched in 1861, and was continuously inspired by Japanese art throughout his career. Travelling to Japan in 1876 he had the benefit of being the first European designer to be allowed to move freely in the country, and his observations were published in his 'Japan, its Architecture, Art, and Art Manufactures' (1882). Dresser probably did more for the heralding of Japonism and the dissemination of Japanese art proper in England than any other individual. But despite this, Dresser's work has never previously been seriously assessed and given the critical appraisal it fully deserves.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History of art and visual culture ; Art ; Asia