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Title: Arts and Crafts Essays - by Members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society
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_Arts and Crafts Essays_


Members of the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition Society

_With a Preface_
By William Morris



The papers that follow this need no explanation, since they are directed
towards special sides of the Arts and Crafts. Mr. Crane has put forward
the aims of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society _as_ an Exhibition
Society, therefore I need not enlarge upon that phase of this book. But
I will write a few words on the way in which it seems to me we ought to
face the present position of that revival in decorative art of which our
Society is one of the tokens.

And, in the first place, the very fact that there is a "revival" shows
that the arts aforesaid have been sick unto death. In all such changes
the first of the new does not appear till there is little or no life
left in the old, and yet the old, even when it is all but dead, goes on
living in corruption, and refuses to get itself put quietly out of the
way and decently buried. So that while the revival advances and does
some good work, the period of corruption goes on from worse to worse,
till it arrives at the point when it can no longer be borne, and
disappears. To give a concrete example: in these last days there are
many buildings erected which (in spite of our eclecticism, our lack of a
traditional style) are at least well designed and give pleasure to the
eye; nevertheless, so hopelessly hideous and vulgar is general building
that persons of taste find themselves regretting the brown brick box
with its feeble and trumpery attempts at ornament, which characterises
the style of building current at the end of the last and beginning of
this century, because there is some style about it, and even some merit
of design, if only negative.

The position which we have to face then is this: the lack of beauty in
modern life (of decoration in the best sense of the word), which in the
earlier part of the century was unnoticed, is now recognised by a part
of the public as an evil to be remedied if possible; but by far the
larger part of civilised mankind does not feel that lack in the least,
so that no general sense of beauty is extant which would _force_ us into
the creation of a feeling for art which in its turn would _force_ us
into taking up the dropped links of tradition, and once more producing
genuine organic art. Such art as we have is not the work of the mass of
craftsmen unconscious of any definite style, but producing beauty
instinctively; conscious rather of the desire to turn out a creditable
piece of work than of any aim towards positive beauty. That is the
essential motive power towards art in past ages; but our art is the work
of a small minority composed of educated persons, fully conscious of
their aim of producing beauty, and distinguished from the great body of
workmen by the possession of that aim.

I do not, indeed, ignore the fact that there is a school of artists
belonging to this decade who set forth that beauty is not an essential
part of art; which they consider rather as an instrument for the
statement of fact, or an exhibition of the artist's intellectual
observation and skill of hand. Such a school would seem at first sight
to have an interest of its own as a genuine traditional development of
the art of the eighteenth century, which, like all intellectual
movements in that century, was negative and destructive; and this all
the more as the above-mentioned school is connected with science rather
than art. But on looking closer into the matter it will be seen that
this school cannot claim any special interest on the score of tradition.
For the eighteenth century art was quite unconscious of its tendency
towards ugliness and nullity, whereas the modern "Impressionists" loudly
proclaim their enmity to beauty, and are no more unconscious of their
aim than the artists of the revival are of their longing to link
themselves to the traditional art of the past.

Here we have then, on the one hand, a school which is pushing rather
than drifting into the domain of the empirical science of to-day, and
another which can only work through its observation of an art which was
once organic, but which died centuries ago, leaving us what by this time
has become but the wreckage of its brilliant and eager life, while at
the same time the great mass of civilisation lives on content to forgo
art almost altogether. Nevertheless the artists of both the schools
spoken of are undoubtedly honest and eager in pursuit of art under the
conditions of modern civilisation; that is to say, that they have this
much in common with the schools of tradition, that they do what they are
impelled to do, and that the public would be quite wrong in supposing
them to be swayed by mere affectation.

Now it seems to me that this impulse in men of certain minds and moods
towards certain forms of art, this genuine eclecticism, is all that we
can expect under modern civilisation; that we can expect no _general_
impulse towards the fine arts till civilisation has been transformed
into some other condition of life, the details of which we cannot
foresee. Let us then make the best of it, and admit that those who
practise art must nowadays be conscious of that practice; conscious I
mean that they are either adding a certain amount of artistic beauty and
interest to a piece of goods which would, if produced in the ordinary
way, have no beauty or artistic interest, or to produce works of art, to
supply the lack of tradition by diligently cultivating in ourselves the
sense of beauty (_pace_ the Impressionists), skill of hand, and
niceness of observation, without which only a _makeshift_ of art can be
got; and also, so far as we can, to call the attention of the public to
the fact that there are a few persons who are doing this, and even
earning a livelihood by so doing, and that therefore, in spite of the
destructive tradition of our immediate past, in spite of the great
revolution in the production of wares, which this century only has seen
on the road to completion, and which on the face of it, and perhaps
essentially, is hostile to art, in spite of all difficulties which the
evolution of the later days of society has thrown in the way of that
side of human pleasure which is called art, there is still a minority
with a good deal of life in it which is not content with what is called
utilitarianism, which, being interpreted, means the reckless waste of
life in the pursuit of the means of life.

It is this conscious cultivation of art and the attempt to interest the
public in it which the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society has set itself
to help, by calling special attention to that really most important side
of art, the decoration of utilities by furnishing them with genuine
artistic finish in place of trade finish.


_July 1893._



  with Notes on the Work of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.
    Walter Crane                                                       1

TEXTILES. William Morris                                              22

OF DECORATIVE PAINTING AND DESIGN. Walter Crane                       39

OF WALL PAPERS. Walter Crane                                          52

FICTILES. G. T. Robinson                                              62

METAL WORK. W. A. S. Benson                                           68

STONE AND WOOD CARVING. Somers Clarke                                 81

FURNITURE. Stephen Webb                                               89

STAINED GLASS. Somers Clarke                                          98

TABLE GLASS. Somers Clarke                                           106

PRINTING. William Morris and Emery Walker                            111

BOOKBINDING. T. J. Cobden-Sanderson                                  134

OF MURAL PAINTING. F. Madox Brown                                    149

OF SGRAFFITO WORK. Heywood Sumner                                    161

OF STUCCO AND GESSO. G. T. Robinson                                  172

OF CAST IRON. W. R. Lethaby                                          184

OF DYEING AS AN ART. William Morris                                  196

OF EMBROIDERY. May Morris                                            212

OF LACE. Alan S. Cole                                                224


OF DESIGNS AND WORKING DRAWINGS. Lewis F. Day                        249

FURNITURE AND THE ROOM. Edward S. Prior                              261

OF THE ROOM AND FURNITURE. Halsey Ricardo                            274

THE ENGLISH TRADITION. Reginald Blomfield                            289

CARPENTERS' FURNITURE. W. R. Lethaby                                 302

OF DECORATED FURNITURE. J. H. Pollen                                 310

OF CARVING. Stephen Webb                                             322

INTARSIA AND INLAID WOOD-WORK. T. G. Jackson                         330

WOODS AND OTHER MATERIALS. Stephen Webb                              345

OF MODERN EMBROIDERY. Mary E. Turner                                 355

OF MATERIALS. May Morris                                             365

COLOUR. May Morris                                                   376

STITCHES AND MECHANISM. Alan S. Cole                                 387

DESIGN. John D. Sedding                                              405

ON DESIGNING FOR THE ART OF EMBROIDERY. Selwyn Image                 414


The decorative artist and the handicraftsman have hitherto had but
little opportunity of displaying their work in the public eye, or rather
of appealing to it upon strictly artistic grounds in the same sense as
the pictorial artist; and it is a somewhat singular state of things that
at a time when the Arts are perhaps more looked after, and certainly
more talked about, than they have ever been before, and the beautifying
of houses, to those to whom it is possible, has become in some cases
almost a religion, so little is known of the actual designer and maker
(as distinct from the proprietary manufacturer or middleman) of those
familiar things which contribute so much to the comfort and refinement
of life--of our chairs and cabinets, our chintzes and wall-papers, our
lamps and pitchers--the Lares and Penates of our households, which with
the touch of time and association often come to be regarded with so
peculiar an affection.

Nor is this condition of affairs in regard to applied Art without an
explanation, since it is undeniable that under the modern industrial
system that personal element, which is so important in all forms of Art,
has been thrust farther and farther into the background, until the
production of what are called ornamental objects, and the supply of
ornamental additions generally, instead of growing out of organic
necessities, have become, under a misapplication of machinery, driven by
the keen competition of trade, purely commercial affairs--questions of
the supply and demand of the market artificially stimulated and
controlled by the arts of the advertiser and the salesman bidding
against each other for the favour of a capricious and passing fashion,
which too often takes the place of a real love of Art in our days.

Of late years, however, a kind of revival has been going on, as a
protest against the conviction that, with all our modern mechanical
achievements, comforts, and luxuries, life is growing "uglier every
day," as Mr. Morris puts it. Even our painters are driven to rely rather
on the accidental beauty which, like a struggling ray through a London
fog, sometimes illumes and transfigures the sordid commonplace of
everyday life. We cannot, however, live on sensational effects without
impairing our sense of form and balance--of beauty, in short. We cannot
concentrate our attention on pictorial and graphic art, and come to
regard it as the one form worth pursuing, without losing our sense of
construction and power of adaptation in design to all kinds of very
different materials and purposes--that sense of relation--that
architectonic sense which built up the great monuments of the past.

The true root and basis of all Art lies in the handicrafts. If there is
no room or chance of recognition for really artistic power and feeling
in design and craftsmanship--if Art is not recognised in the humblest
object and material, and felt to be as valuable in its own way as the
more highly rewarded pictorial skill--the arts cannot be in a sound
condition; and if artists cease to be found among the crafts there is
great danger that they will vanish from the arts also, and become
manufacturers and salesmen instead.

It was with the object of giving some visible expression to these views
that the Exhibitions of the Arts and Crafts Society were organised.

As was to be expected, many difficulties had to be encountered. In the
endeavour to assign due credit to the responsible designer and workman,
it was found sometimes difficult to do so amid the very numerous
artificers (in some cases) who under our industrial conditions
contribute to the production of a work.

It will readily be understood that the organisation of exhibitions of
this character, and with such objects as have been stated, is a far less
simple matter than an ordinary picture exhibition. Instead of having an
array of artists whose names and addresses are in every catalogue, our
constituency, as it were, outside the personal knowledge of the
Committee, had to be discovered. Under the designation of So-and-so and
Co. many a skilful designer and craftsman may be concealed; and
individual and independent artists in design and handicraft are as yet
few and far between.

However, in the belief, as elsewhere expressed, that it is little good
nourishing the tree at the head if it is dying at the root, and that,
living or dying, the desirability of an accurate diagnosis while there
is any doubt of our artistic health will at once be admitted, the
Society determined to try the experiment and so opened their first

The reception given to it having so far justified our plea for the due
recognition of the arts and crafts of design, and our belief in their
fundamental importance--the amount of public interest and support
accorded to the Exhibition having, in fact, far exceeded our
anticipations, it was determined to hold a second on the same lines, and
to endeavour to carry out, with more completeness than was at first
found possible, those principles of work, ideas, and aims in art for
which we contended, and to make the Exhibition a rallying point, as it
were, for all sympathetic workers.

Regarding design as a species of language capable of very varied
expression through the medium of different methods and materials, it
naturally follows that there is all the difference in the world between
one treatment and another, both of design and material; and, moreover,
every material has its own proper capacity and appropriate range of
expression, so that it becomes the business of the sympathetic workman
to discover this and give it due expansion.

For the absence of this discriminating sense no amount of mechanical
smoothness or imitative skill can compensate; and it is obvious that any
attempt to imitate or render the qualities peculiar to one material in
another leads the workman on a false track.

Now, we have only to consider how much of the work commonly produced,
which comes under the head of what is called "industrial art," depends
upon this very false quality of imitation (whether as to design or
material) to show how far we have departed in the ordinary processes of
manufacture and standards of trade from primitive and true artistic
instincts. The demand, artificially stimulated, is less for thought or
beauty than for novelty, and all sorts of mechanical invention are
applied, chiefly with the view of increasing the rate of production and
diminishing its cost, regardless of the fact that anything in the nature
of bad or false art is dear at any price.

Plain materials and surfaces are infinitely preferable to inorganic and
inappropriate ornament; yet there is not the simplest article of common
use made by the hand of man that is not capable of receiving some touch
of art--whether it lies in the planning and proportions, or in the final
decorative adornment; whether in the work of the smith, the carpenter,
the carver, the weaver, or the potter, and the other indispensable

With the organisation of industry on the grand scale, and the enormous
application of machinery in the interests of competitive production for
profit, when both art and industry are forced to make their appeal to
the unreal and impersonal _average_, rather than to the real and
personal _you_ and _me_, it is not wonderful that beauty should have
become divorced from use, and that attempts to concede its demands, and
the desire for it, should too often mean the ill-considered bedizenment
of meaningless and unrelated ornament.

The very producer, the designer, and craftsman, too, has been lost sight
of, and his personality submerged in that of a business firm, so that we
have reached the _reductio ad absurdum_ of an impersonal artist or
craftsman trying to produce things of beauty for an impersonal and
unknown public--a purely conjectural matter from first to last.

Under such conditions it is hardly surprising that the arts of design
should have declined, and that the idea of art should have become
limited to pictorial work (where, at least, the artist may be known, in
some relation to his public, and comparatively free).

Partly as a protest against this state of things, and partly to
concentrate the awakened feeling for beauty in the accessories of life,
the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society commenced their work.

The movement, however, towards a revival of design and handicraft, the
effort to unite--or rather to re-unite--the artist and the craftsman, so
sundered by the industrial conditions of our century, has been growing
and gathering force for some time past. It reflects in art the
intellectual movement of inquiry into fundamental principles and
necessities, and is a practical expression of the philosophy of the
conditioned. It is true it has many different sides and manifestations,
and is under many different influences and impelled by different aims.
With some the question is closely connected with the commercial
prosperity of England, and her prowess in the competitive race for
wealth; with others it is enough if the social well-being and happiness
of her people is advanced, and that the touch of art should lighten the
toil of joyless lives. The movement, indeed, represents in some sense a
revolt against the hard mechanical conventional life and its
insensibility to beauty (quite another thing to ornament). It is a
protest against that so-called industrial progress which produces shoddy
wares, the cheapness of which is paid for by the lives of their
producers and the degradation of their users. It is a protest against
the turning of men into machines, against artificial distinctions in
art, and against making the immediate market value, or possibility of
profit, the chief test of artistic merit. It also advances the claim of
all and each to the common possession of beauty in things common and
familiar, and would awaken the sense of this beauty, deadened and
depressed as it now too often is, either on the one hand by luxurious
superfluities, or on the other by the absence of the commonest
necessities and the gnawing anxiety for the means of livelihood; not to
speak of the everyday uglinesses to which we have accustomed our eyes,
confused by the flood of false taste, or darkened by the hurried life of
modern towns in which huge aggregations of humanity exist, equally
removed from both art and nature and their kindly and refining

It asserts, moreover, the value of the practice of handicraft as a good
training for the faculties, and as a most valuable counteraction to that
overstraining of purely mental effort under the fierce competitive
conditions of the day; apart from the very wholesome and real pleasure
in the fashioning of a thing with claims to art and beauty, the struggle
with and triumph over the stubborn technical necessities which refuse to
be gainsaid. And, finally, thus claiming for man this primitive and
common delight in common things made beautiful, it makes, through art,
the great socialiser for a common and kindred life, for sympathetic and
helpful fellowship, and demands conditions under which your artist and
craftsman shall be free.

"See how great a matter a little fire kindleth." Some may think this is
an extensive programme--a remote ideal for a purely artistic movement to
touch. Yet if the revival of art and handicraft is not a mere theatric
and imitative impulse; if it is not merely to gratify a passing whim of
fashion, or demand of commerce; if it has reality and roots of its own;
if it is not merely a delicate luxury--a little glow of colour at the
end of a sombre day--it can hardly mean less than what I have written.
It must mean either the sunset or the dawn.

The success which had hitherto attended the efforts of our Society, the
sympathy and response elicited by the claims which had been advanced by
us on behalf of the Arts and Crafts of Design, and (despite difficulties
and imperfections) I think it may be said the character of our
exhibitions, and last, but not least, the public interest and support,
manifested in various ways, and from different parts of the country,
went far to prove both their necessity and importance.

We were therefore encouraged to open a third Exhibition in the autumn of
1890. In this last it was the Society's object to make in it leading
features of two crafts in which good design and handicraft are of the
utmost importance, namely, Furniture and Embroidery; and endeavours were
made to get together good examples of each.

It may be noted that while some well-known firms, who had hitherto held
aloof, now exhibited with us, the old difficulty about the names of the
responsible executants continued; but while some evaded the question,
others were models of exactitude in this respect, proving that in this
as in other questions where there is a will there is a way.

The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, while at first, of necessity,
depending on the work of a comparatively limited circle, had no wish to
be narrower than the recognition of certain fundamental principles in
design will allow, and, indeed, desired but to receive and to show the
_best_ after its kind in contemporary design and handicraft. Judgment is
not always infallible, and the best is not always forthcoming, and in a
mixed exhibition it is difficult to maintain an unvarying standard. At
present, indeed, an exhibition may be said to be but a necessary evil;
but it is the only means of obtaining a standard, and giving publicity
to the works of Designer and Craftsman; but it must be more or less of a
compromise, and of course no more can be done than to make an
exhibition of contemporary work representative of current ideas and
skill, since it is impossible to get outside our own time.

In some quarters it appears to have been supposed that our Exhibitions
are intended to appeal, by the exhibition of cheap and saleable
articles, to what are rudely termed "the masses"; we appeal to _all_
certainly, but it should be remembered that cheapness in art and
handicraft is well-nigh impossible, save in some forms of more or less
mechanical reproduction. In fact, cheapness as a rule, in the sense of
low-priced production, can only be obtained at the cost of
cheapness--that is, the cheapening of human life and labour; surely, in
reality, a most wasteful and extravagant cheapness! It is difficult to
see how, under present economic conditions, it can be otherwise. Art
is, in its true sense, after all, the crown and flowering of life and
labour, and we cannot reasonably expect to gain that crown except at the
true value of the human life and labour of which it is the result.

Of course there is the difference of cost between materials to be taken
into account: a table may be of oak or of deal; a cloth may be of silk
or of linen; but the labour, skill, taste, intelligence, thought, and
fancy, which give the sense of art to the work, are much the same, and,
being bound up with human lives, need the means of life in its
completion for their proper sustenance.

At all events, I think it may be said that the principle of the
essential unity and interdependence of the arts has been again
asserted--the brotherhood of designer and craftsman; that goes for
something, with whatever imperfections or disadvantages its
acknowledgment may have been obscured.

In putting this principle before the public, the Arts and Crafts
Exhibition Society has availed itself from the first of both lecture and
essay, as well as the display of examples. Lectures and demonstrations
were given during the progress of the Exhibitions, and essays written by
well-known workers in the crafts of which they treated have accompanied
the catalogues. These papers have now been collected together, and
revised by their authors, and appear in book form under the editorship
of Mr. William Morris, whose name has been practically associated with
the revival of beauty in the arts and crafts of design in many ways
before our Society came into existence, and who with his co-workers may
be said to have been the pioneer of our English Renascence, which it is
our earnest desire to foster and perpetuate.

Every movement which has any substance and vitality must expect to
encounter misrepresentation, and even abuse, as well as sympathy and
support. In its work, so far, the Society to which I have the honour to
belong has had its share of both, perhaps.

Those pledged to the support of existing conditions, whether in art or
social life, are always sensitive to attacks upon their weak points, and
it is not possible to avoid touching them to any man who ventures to
look an inch or two beyond the immediate present. But the hostility of
some is as much a mark of vitality and progress as the sympathy of
others. The sun strikes hottest as the traveller climbs the hill; and we
must be content to leave the value of our work to the unfailing test of



There are several ways of ornamenting a woven cloth: (1) real tapestry,
(2) carpet-weaving, (3) mechanical weaving, (4) printing or painting,
and (5) embroidery. There has been no improvement (indeed, as to the
main processes, no change) in the manufacture of the wares in all these
branches since the fourteenth century, as far as the wares themselves
are concerned; whatever improvements have been introduced have been
purely commercial, and have had to do merely with reducing the cost of
production; nay, more, the commercial improvements have on the whole
been decidedly injurious to the quality of the wares themselves.

The noblest of the weaving arts is Tapestry, in which there is nothing
mechanical: it may be looked upon as a mosaic of pieces of colour made
up of dyed threads, and is capable of producing wall ornament of any
degree of elaboration within the proper limits of duly considered
decorative work.

As in all wall-decoration, the first thing to be considered in the
designing of Tapestry is the force, purity, and elegance of the
_silhouette_ of the objects represented, and nothing vague or
indeterminate is admissible. But special excellences can be expected
from it. Depth of tone, richness of colour, and exquisite gradation of
tints are easily to be obtained in Tapestry; and it also demands that
crispness and abundance of beautiful detail which was the especial
characteristic of fully developed Mediæval Art. The style of even the
best period of the Renaissance is wholly unfit for Tapestry: accordingly
we find that Tapestry retained its Gothic character longer than any
other of the pictorial arts. A comparison of the wall-hangings in the
Great Hall at Hampton Court with those in the Solar or Drawing-room,
will make this superiority of the earlier design for its purpose clear
to any one not lacking in artistic perception: and the comparison is all
the fairer, as both the Gothic tapestries of the Solar and the
post-Gothic hangings of the Hall are pre-eminently good of their kinds.
Not to go into a description of the process of weaving tapestry, which
would be futile without illustrations, I may say that in
contradistinction to mechanical weaving, the warp is quite hidden, with
the result that the colours are as solid as they can be made in

Carpet-weaving is somewhat of the nature of Tapestry: it also is wholly
unmechanical, but its use as a floor-cloth somewhat degrades it,
especially in our northern or western countries, where people come out
of the muddy streets into rooms without taking off their shoes.
Carpet-weaving undoubtedly arose among peoples living a tent life, and
for such a dwelling as a tent, carpets are the best possible ornaments.

Carpets form a mosaic of small squares of worsted, or hair, or silk
threads, tied into a coarse canvas, which is made as the work
progresses. Owing to the comparative coarseness of the work, the designs
should always be very elementary in form, and _suggestive_ merely of
forms of leafage, flowers, beasts and birds, etc. The soft gradations
of tint to which Tapestry lends itself are unfit for Carpet-weaving;
beauty and variety of colour must be attained by harmonious
juxtaposition of tints, bounded by judiciously chosen outlines; and the
pattern should lie absolutely flat upon the ground. On the whole, in
designing carpets the method of _contrast_ is the best one to employ,
and blue and red, quite frankly used, with white or very light outlines
on a dark ground, and black or some very dark colour on a light ground,
are the main colours on which the designer should depend.

In making the above remarks I have been thinking only of the genuine or
hand-made carpets. The mechanically-made carpets of to-day must be
looked upon as makeshifts for cheapness' sake. Of these, the velvet pile
and Brussels are simply coarse worsted velvets woven over wires like
other velvet, and cut, in the case of the velvet pile; and Kidderminster
carpets are stout cloths, in which abundance of warp (a warp to each
weft) is used for the sake of wear and tear. The velvet carpets need the
same kind of design as to colour and quality as the real carpets; only,
as the colours are necessarily limited in number, and the pattern must
repeat at certain distances, the design should be simpler and smaller
than in a real carpet. A Kidderminster carpet calls for a small design
in which the different planes, or plies, as they are called, are well

Mechanical weaving has to repeat the pattern on the cloth within
comparatively narrow limits; the number of colours also is limited in
most cases to four or five. In most cloths so woven, therefore, the
best plan seems to be to choose a pleasant ground colour and to
superimpose a pattern mainly composed of either a lighter shade of that
colour, or a colour in no very strong contrast to the ground; and then,
if you are using several colours, to light up this general arrangement
either with a more forcible outline, or by spots of stronger colour
carefully disposed. Often the lighter shade on the darker suffices, and
hardly calls for anything else: some very beautiful cloths are merely
damasks, in which the warp and weft are of the same colour, but a
different tone is obtained by the figure and the ground being woven with
a longer or shorter twill: the _tabby_ being tied by the warp very
often, the _satin_ much more rarely. In any case, the patterned webs
produced by mechanical weaving, if the ornament is to be effective and
worth the doing, require that same Gothic crispness and clearness of
detail which has been spoken of before: the geometrical structure of the
pattern, which is a necessity in all recurring patterns, should be
boldly insisted upon, so as to draw the eye from accidental figures,
which the recurrence of the pattern is apt to produce.

The meaningless stripes and spots and other tormentings of the simple
twill of the web, which are so common in the woven ornament of the
eighteenth century and in our own times, should be carefully avoided:
all these things are the last resource of a jaded invention and a
contempt of the simple and fresh beauty that comes of a sympathetic
_suggestion_ of natural forms: if the pattern be vigorously and firmly
drawn with a true feeling for the beauty of line and _silhouette_, the
play of light and shade on the material of the simple twill will give
all the necessary variety. I invite my readers to make another
comparison: to go to the South Kensington Museum and study the
invaluable fragments of the stuffs of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries of Syrian and Sicilian manufacture, or the almost equally
beautiful webs of Persian design, which are later in date, but instinct
with the purest and best Eastern feeling; they may also note the
splendid stuffs produced mostly in Italy in the later Middle Ages, which
are unsurpassed for richness and _effect_ of design, and when they have
impressed their minds with the productions of this great historic
school, let them contrast with them the work of the vile Pompadour
period, passing by the early seventeenth century as a period of
transition into corruption. They will then (if, once more, they have
real artistic perception) see at once the difference between the results
of irrepressible imagination and love of beauty, on the one hand, and,
on the other, of restless and weary vacuity of mind, forced by the
exigencies of fashion to do something or other to the innocent surface
of the cloth in order to distinguish it in the market from other cloths;
between the handiwork of the free craftsman doing as he _pleased_ with
his work, and the drudgery of the "operative" set to his task by the
tradesman competing for the custom of a frivolous public, which had
forgotten that there was such a thing as art.

The next method of ornamenting cloth is by painting it or printing on it
with dyes. As to the painting of cloths with dyes by hand, which is no
doubt a very old and widely practised art, it has now quite disappeared
(modern society not being rich enough to pay the necessary price for
such work), and its place has now been taken by printing by block or
cylinder-machine. The remarks made on the design for mechanically woven
cloths apply pretty much to these printed stuffs: only, in the first
place, more play of delicate and pretty colour is possible, and more
variety of colour also; and in the second, much more use can be made of
hatching and dotting, which are obviously suitable to the method of
block-printing. In the many-coloured printed cloths, frank red and blue
are again the mainstays of the colour arrangement; these colours,
softened by the paler shades of red, outlined with black and made more
tender by the addition of yellow in small quantities, mostly forming
part of brightish greens, make up the colouring of the old Persian
prints, which carry the art as far as it can be carried.

It must be added that no textile ornament has suffered so much as
cloth-printing from those above-mentioned commercial inventions. A
hundred years ago the processes for printing on cloth differed little
from those used by the Indians and Persians; and even up to within forty
years ago they produced colours that were in themselves good enough,
however inartistically they might be used. Then came one of the most
wonderful and most useless of the inventions of modern Chemistry, that
of the dyes made from coal-tar, producing a series of hideous colours,
crude, livid--and cheap,--which every person of taste loathes, but which
nevertheless we can by no means get rid of until we are able to struggle
successfully against the doom of cheap and nasty which has overtaken

Last of the methods of ornamenting cloth comes Embroidery: of the design
for which it must be said that one of its aims should be the exhibition
of beautiful material. Furthermore, it is not worth doing unless it is
either very copious and rich, or very delicate--or both. For such an art
nothing patchy or scrappy, or half-starved, should be done: there is no
excuse for doing anything which is not strikingly beautiful; and that
more especially as the exuberance of beauty of the work of the East and
of Mediæval Europe, and even of the time of the Renaissance, is at hand
to reproach us. It may be well here to warn those occupied in Embroidery
against the feeble imitations of Japanese art which are so disastrously
common amongst us. The Japanese are admirable naturalists, wonderfully
skilful draughtsmen, deft beyond all others in mere execution of
whatever they take in hand; and also great masters of style within
certain narrow limitations. But with all this, a Japanese design is
absolutely worthless unless it is executed with Japanese skill. In
truth, with all their brilliant qualities as handicraftsmen, which have
so dazzled us, the Japanese have no architectural, and therefore no
decorative, instinct. Their works of art are isolated and blankly
individualistic, and in consequence, unless where they rise, as they
sometimes do, to the dignity of a suggestion for a picture (always
devoid of human interest), they remain mere wonderful toys, things quite
outside the pale of the evolution of art, which, I repeat, cannot be
carried on without the architectural sense that connects it with the
history of mankind.

To conclude with some general remarks about designing for textiles: the
aim should be to combine clearness of form and firmness of structure
with the mystery which comes of abundance and richness of detail; and
this is easier of attainment in woven goods than in flat painted
decoration and paper-hangings; because in the former the stuffs usually
hang in folds and the pattern is broken more or less, while in the
latter it is spread out flat against the wall. Do not introduce any
lines or objects which cannot be explained by the structure of the
pattern; it is just this logical sequence of form, this growth which
looks as if, under the circumstances, it could not have been otherwise,
which prevents the eye wearying of the repetition of the pattern.

Never introduce any shading for the purpose of making an object look
round; whatever shading you use should be used for explanation only, to
show what you mean by such and such a piece of drawing; and even that
you had better be sparing of.

Do not be afraid of large patterns; if properly designed they are more
restful to the eye than small ones: on the whole, a pattern where the
structure is large and the details much broken up is the most useful.
Large patterns are not necessarily startling; this comes more of violent
relief of the figure from the ground, or inharmonious colouring:
beautiful and logical form relieved from the ground by well-managed
contrast or gradation, and lying flat on the ground, will never weary
the eye. Very small rooms, as well as very large ones, look best
ornamented with large patterns, whatever you do with the middling-sized

As final maxims: never forget the material you are working with, and
try always to use it for doing what it can do best: if you feel
yourself hampered by the material in which you are working, instead of
being helped by it, you have so far not learned your business, any more
than a would-be poet has, who complains of the hardship of writing in
measure and rhyme. The special limitations of the material should be a
pleasure to you, not a hindrance: a designer, therefore, should always
thoroughly understand the processes of the special manufacture he is
dealing with, or the result will be a mere _tour de force_. On the other
hand, it is the pleasure in understanding the capabilities of a special
material, and using them for suggesting (not imitating) natural beauty
and incident, that gives the _raison d'être_ of decorative art.



The term Decorative painting implies the existence of painting which is
not decorative: a strange state of things for an art which primarily and
pre-eminently appeals to the eye. If we look back to the times when the
arts and crafts were in their most flourishing and vigorous condition,
and dwelt together, like brethren, in unity--say to the fifteenth
century--such a distinction did not exist. Painting only differed in its
application, and in degree, not in kind. In the painting of a MS., of
the panels of a coffer, of a ceiling, a wall, or an altar-piece, the
painter was alike--however different his theme and conception--possessed
with a paramount impulse to decorate, to make the space or surface he
dealt with as lovely to the eye in design and colour as he had skill to

The art of painting has, however, become considerably differentiated
since those days. We are here in the nineteenth century encumbered with
many distinctions in the art. There is obviously much painting which is
not decorative, or ornamental in any sense, which has indeed quite other
objects. It may be the presentment of the more superficial natural
facts, phases, or accidents of light; the pictorial dramatising of life
or past history; the pointing of a moral; or the embodiment of romance
and poetic thought or symbol. Not but what it is quite possible for a
painter to deal with such things and yet to produce a work that shall be

A picture, of course, may be a piece of decorative art of the most
beautiful kind; but to begin with, if it is an easel picture, it is not
necessarily related to anything but itself: its painter is not bound to
consider anything outside its own dimensions; and, indeed, the practice
of holding large and mixed picture-shows has taught him the uselessness
of so doing.

Then, too, the demand for literal presentment of the superficial facts
or phases of nature often removes the painter and his picture still
farther from the architectural, decorative, and constructive artist and
the handicraftsman, who are bound to think of plan, and design, and
materials--of the adaptation of their work, in short--while the painter
seeks only to be an unbiassed recorder of all accidents and sensational
conditions of nature and life,--and so we get our illustrated newspapers
on a grand scale.

An illustrated newspaper, however, in spite of the skill and enterprise
it may absorb, is not somehow a joy for ever; and, after all, if
literalism and instantaneous appearances are the only things worth
striving for in painting, the photograph beats any painter at that.

If truth is the object of the modern painter of pictures--truth as
distinct from or opposed to beauty--beauty is certainly the object of
the decorative painter, but beauty not necessarily severed from truth.
Without beauty, however, decoration has no reason for existence; indeed
it can hardly be said to exist.

Next to beauty, the first essential of a decoration is that it shall be
related to its environment, that it shall express or acknowledge the
conditions under which it exists. If a fresco on a wall, for instance,
it adorns the wall without attempting to look like a hole cut in it
through which something is accidentally seen; if a painting on a vase,
it acknowledges the convexity of the shape, and helps to express instead
of contradicting it; if on a panel in a cabinet or door, it spreads
itself in an appropriate filling on an organic plan to cover it; being,
in short, ornamental by its very nature, its first business is to

There exist, therefore, certain definite tests for the work of the
decorative artist. Does the design fit its place and material? Is it in
scale with its surroundings and in harmony with itself? Is it fair and
lovely in colour? Has it beauty and invention? Has it thought and poetic
feeling? These are the demands a decorator has to answer, and by his
answer he must stand or fall; but such questions show that the scope of
decoration is no mean one.

It must be acknowledged that a mixed exhibition does not easily afford
the fairest or completest tests of such qualities. An exhibition is at
best a compromise, a convenience, a means of comparison, and to enable
work to be shown to the public; but of course is, after all, only really
and properly exhibited when it is in the place and position and light
for which it was destined. The tests by which to judge a designer's work
are only complete then.

As the stem and branches to the leaves, flowers, and fruit of a tree, so
is design to painting. In decoration one cannot exist without the other,
as the beauty of a figure depends upon the well-built and
well-proportioned skeleton and its mechanism. You cannot separate a
house from its plan and foundations. So it is in decoration; often
thought of lightly as something trivial and superficial, a merely
aimless combination of curves and colours, or a mere _réchauffé_ of the
dead languages of art, but really demanding the best thought and
capacity of a man; and in the range of its application it is not less

The mural painter is not only a painter, but a poet, historian,
dramatist, philosopher. What should we know, how much should we realise,
of the ancient world and its life without him, and his brother the
architectural sculptor? How would ancient Egypt live without her wall
paintings--or Rome, or Pompeii, or Mediæval Italy? How much of beauty as
well as of history is contained in the illuminated pages of the books of
the Middle Ages!

Some modern essays in mural painting show that the habit of mind and
method of work fostered by the production of trifles for the picture
market is not favourable to monumental painting. Neither the mood nor
the skill, indeed, can be grown like a mushroom; such works as the
Sistine Chapel, the Stanzi of Raphael, or the Apartimenti Borgia, are
the result of long practice through many centuries, and intimate
relationship and harmony in the arts, as well as a certain unity of
public sentiment.

The true soil for the growth of the painter in this higher sense is a
rich and varied external life: familiarity from early youth with the
uses of materials and methods, and the hand facility which comes of
close and constant acquaintanceship with the tools of the artist, who
sums up and includes in himself other crafts, such as modelling,
carving, and the hammering of metal, architectural design, and a
knowledge of all the ways man has used to beautify and deck the
surroundings and accessories of life to satisfy his delight in beauty.

We know that painting was strictly an applied art in its earlier
history, and all through the Middle Ages painters were in close alliance
with the other crafts of design, and their work in one craft no doubt
reacted on and influenced that in another, while each was kept distinct.
At all events, painters like Albert Dürer and Holbein were also masters
of design in all ways.

Through the various arts and crafts of the Greek, Mediæval, or Early
Renaissance periods, there is evident, from the examples which have come
down to us, a certain unity and common character in design, asserting
itself through all diverse individualities: each art is kept distinct,
with a complete recognition of the capacity and advantages of its own
particular method and purpose.

In our age, for various reasons (social, commercial, economic), the
specialised and purely pictorial painter is dominant. His aims and
methods influence other arts and crafts, but by no means advantageously
as a rule; since, unchecked by judicious ideas of design, attempts are
made in unsuitable materials to produce so-called realistic force, and
superficial and accidental appearances dependent on peculiar qualities
of lighting and atmosphere, quite out of place in any other method than
painting, or in any place but an easel picture.

From such tendencies, such influences as these, in the matter of applied
art and design, we are striving to recover. One of the first results
is, perhaps, this apparently artificial distinction between decorative
and other painting. But along with this we have painters whose easel
pictures are in feeling and treatment quite adaptable as wall and panel
decorations, and they are painters who, as a rule, have studied other
methods in art, and drawn their inspiration from the mode of Mediæval or
Early Renaissance times.

Much might be said of different methods and materials of work in
decorative painting, but I have hardly space here. The decorative
painter prefers a certain flatness of effect, and therefore such methods
as fresco, in which the colours are laid on while the plaster ground is
wet, and tempera naturally appeal to him. In the latter the colours
ground in water and used with size, or white and yolk of egg, or
prepared with starch, worked on a dry ground, drying lighter than when
they are put on, have a peculiar luminous quality, while the surface is
free from any gloss. Both these methods need direct painting and
finishing as the work proceeds.

By a method of working in ordinary oil colours on a ground of fibrous
plaster, using rectified spirit of turpentine or benzine as a medium,
much of the quality of fresco or tempera may be obtained, with the
advantage that the plaster ground may be a movable panel.

There are, however, other fields for the decorative painter than wall
painting; as, for instance, domestic furniture, which may vary in degree
of elaboration from the highly ornate cassone or marriage coffer of
Mediæval Italy to the wreaths and sprays which decked chairs and
bed-posts even within our century. There has been of late some revival
of painting as applied chiefly to the panels of cabinets, or the
decoration of piano fronts and cases.

The same causes produce the same results. With the search after, and
desire for, beauty in life, we are again driven to study the laws of
beauty in design and painting; and in so doing painters will find again
the lost thread, the golden link of connection and intimate association
with the sister arts and handicrafts, whereof none is before or after
another, none is greater or less than the other.



While the tradition and practice of mural painting as applied to
interior walls and ceilings of houses still linger in Italy, in the form
of often skilful if not always tasteful tempera work, in more western
countries, like England, France, and America, under the economic
conditions and customs of commercial civilisation, with its smoky
cities, and its houses built by the hundred to one pattern, perhaps, and
let on short terms, as regards domestic decoration--except in the case
of a few wealthy freeholders--mural painting has ceased to exist. Its
place has been taken by what after all is but a substitute for it,
namely, wall paper.

I am not aware that any specimen of wall paper has been discovered that
has claims to any higher antiquity than the sixteenth century, and it
only came much into use in the last, increasing in the present, until it
has become well-nigh a universal covering for domestic walls, and at the
same time has shown a remarkable development in design, varying from
very unpretending patterns and printings in one colour to elaborate
block-printed designs in many colours, besides cheap machine-printed
papers, where all the tints are printed from the design on a roller at

Since Mr. William Morris has shown what beauty and character in pattern,
and good and delicate choice of tint can do for us, giving in short a
new impulse in design, a great amount of ingenuity and enterprise has
been spent on wall papers in England, and in the better kinds a very
distinct advance has been made upon the patterns of inconceivable
hideousness, often of French origin, of the period of the Second
Empire--a period which perhaps represents the most degraded level of
taste in decoration generally.

The designer of patterns for wall papers heretofore has been content to
imitate other materials, and adapt the characteristics of the patterns
found, say, in silk damask hangings or tapestry, or even imitate the
veining of wood, or marble, or tiles; but since the revival of interest
in art, the study of its history, and knowledge of style, a new impulse
has been given, and patterns are constructed with more direct reference
to their beauty, and interest as such, while strictly adapted to the
methods of manufacture. Great pains are often taken by our principal
makers to secure good designs and harmonious colourings, and though a
manufacturer and director of works is always more or less controlled by
the exigencies of the market and the demands of the tentative
salesman--considerations which have no natural connection with art,
though highly important as economic conditions affecting its
welfare--very remarkable results have been produced, and a special
development of applied design may almost be said to have come into
existence with the modern use of wall papers. The manufacture suffers
like most others from the keenness and unscrupulousness of commercial
competition, which leads to the production of specious imitations of
_bonâ fide_ designs, and unauthorised use of designs originally intended
for other purposes, and this of course presses unfairly upon the more
conscientious maker, so long as the public do not decline to be

English wall papers are made in lengths 21 inches wide. French wall
papers are 18 inches wide. This has probably been found most convenient
in working in block-printing: it is obvious to any one who has seen the
printers at work that a wider block than 21 inches would be unwieldy,
since the block is printed by hand, being suspended from above by a
cord, and guided by the workman's hand from the well of colour, into
which it is dipped, to the paper flat on a table before him.

The designer must work to the given width, and though his design may
vary in depth, must never exceed 21 inches square, except where double
blocks are used. His main business is to devise his pattern so that it
will repeat satisfactorily over an indefinite wall space without running
into awkward holes or lines. It may be easy enough to draw a spray or
two of leaves or flowers which will stand by themselves, but to combine
them in an organic pattern which shall repeat pleasantly over a wall
surface requires much ingenuity and a knowledge of the conditions of the
manufacture, apart from play of fancy and artistic skill.

One way of concealing the joints of the repeat of the pattern is by
contriving what is called a drop-repeat, so that, in hanging, the
paper-hanger, instead of placing each repeat of pattern side by side, is
enabled to join the pattern at a point its own depth below, which varies
the effect, and arranges the chief features or masses on an alternating

The modern habit of regarding the walls of a room chiefly as a
background to pictures, furniture, or people, and perhaps the smallness
of the average room, has brought rather small, thickly dispersed, leafy
patterns into vogue, retiring in colour for the most part. While,
however, we used to see rotund and accidental bunches of roses (the
pictorial or sketchy treatment of which contrasted awkwardly with their
formal repetition), we now get a certain sense of adaptation, and the
necessity of a certain flatness of treatment; and most of us who have
given much thought to the subject feel that when natural forms are dealt
with, under such conditions, suggestion is better than any attempt at
realisation, or naturalistic or pictorial treatment, and that a design
must be constructed upon some systematic plan, if not absolutely
controlled by a geometric basis.

Wall papers are printed from blocks prepared from designs, the outlines
of which are reproduced by means of flat brass wire driven edgeways into
the wood block. One block for each tint is used. First one colour is
printed on a length of paper, a piece of 12 yards long and 21 inches
wide, which is passed over sticks suspended across the workshop. When
the first colour is dry the next is printed, and so on; the colours
being mixed with size and put in shallow trays or wells, into which the
blocks are dipped.

A cheaper kind is printed by steam power from rollers on which the
design has been reproduced in the same way by brass wire, which holds
the colour; but in the case of machine-printed papers all the tints are
printed at once. Thus the pattern is often imperfect and blurred.

A more elaborate and costly kind of wall paper is that which is stamped
and gilded, in emulation of stamped and gilded leather, which it
resembles in effect and quality of surface. For this method the design
is reproduced in relief as a _repoussée_ brass plate, and from this a
mould or matrix is made, and the paper being damped is stamped in a
press into the matrix, and so takes the pattern in relief, which is
generally covered with white metal and lacquered to a gold hue, and this
again may be rubbed in with black, which by filling the interstices
gives emphasis to the design and darkens the gold to bronze; or the
gilded surface may be treated in any variety of colour by means of
painting or lacquer, or simply relieved by colouring the ground.

But few of us own our own walls, or the ground they stand upon: but few
of us can afford to employ ourselves or skilled artists and craftsmen
in painting our rooms with beautiful fancies: but if we can get
well-designed repeating patterns by the yard, in agreeable tints, with a
pleasant flavour perchance of nature or antiquity, for a few shillings
or pounds, ought we not to be happy? At all events, wall-paper makers
should naturally think so.



Earliest amongst the inventions of man and his endeavour to unite Art
with Craft is the Fictile Art. His first needs in domestic life, his
first utensils, his first efforts at civilisation, came from the Mother
Earth, whose son he believed himself to be, and his ashes or his bones
returned to Earth enshrined in the fictile vases he created from their
common clay. And these Fictiles tell the story of his first
Art-instincts, and of his yearnings to unite beauty with use. They tell,
too, more of his history than is enshrined and preserved by any other
art; for almost all we know of many a people and many a tongue is
learned from the fictile record, the sole relic of past civilisations
which the Destroyer Time has left us.

Begun in the simplest fashion, fashioned by the simplest means, created
from the commonest materials, Fictile Art grew with man's intellectual
growth, and Fictile Craft grew with his knowledge; the latter
conquering, in this our day, when the craftsman strangles the artist
alike in this as in all other arts. To truly foster and forward the art,
the craftsman and the artist should, where possible, be united, or at
least should work in common, as was the case when, in each civilisation,
the Potter's Art flourished most, and when the scientific base was of
less account than was the art employed upon it. In its earliest stages
the local clay sufficed for the formative portion of the work, and the
faiences of most European countries offer more artistic results to us
than do the more scientifically compounded porcelains. In the former
case the native clay seemed more easily to ally itself with native art,
to record more of current history, to create artistic genius rather than
to be content with attempting to copy misunderstood efforts of other
peoples and other times. But when science ransacked the earth for
foreign bodies and ingredients, foreign decorative ideas came with them
and Fictile Art was no more a vernacular one. It attempted to disguise
itself, to show the craftsman superior to the artist; and then came the
Manufacturer and the reign of quantity over quality, the casting in
moulds by the gross and the printing by the thousands. Be it understood
these remarks only apply to the introduction of porcelain into Europe.
In the East where the clay is native, the art is native; the potter's
hand and the wheel yet maintain the power of giving the potter his
individuality as the creator and the artist, and save him from being but
the servant and the slave of a machine.

Between faience and porcelain comes, midway, Stoneware, in which many
wonderfully, and some fearfully, made things have been done of late, but
which possesses the combined qualities of faience and porcelain--the
ease of manipulation of the former, and the hardness and durability of
the latter; but the tendency to over-elaborate the detail of its
decoration, and rely less on the beauty of its semi-glossy surface than
on meretricious ornament, has rather spoiled a very hopeful movement in
Ceramic Art. Probably the wisest course to pursue at the present would
be to pay more attention to faiences decorated with simple glazes or
with "slip" decoration, and this especially in modelled work. A
continuation of the artistic career of the Della Robbia family is yet an
unfulfilled desideratum, notwithstanding that glazed faiences have never
since their time ceased to be made, and that glazed figure work of large
scale prevailed in the eighteenth century. Unglazed terra cotta, an
artistic product eminently suited to our climate and to our urban
architecture, has but partially developed itself, and this more in the
direction of moulded and cast work than that of really plastic art; and
albeit that from its dawn to this present the Fictile Art has been
exercised abundantly, its rôle is by no means exhausted. The artist and
the craftsman have yet a wide field before them, but it would be well
that the former should, for some while to come, take the lead. Science
has too long reigned supreme in a domain wherein she should have been
not more than equal sovereign. She has had her triumphs, great triumphs
too, triumphs which have been fraught with good in an utilitarian sense,
but she has tyrannised too rigidly over the realm of Art. Let us now try
to equalise the dual rule.



In discussing the artistic aspect of metal work, we have to take into
account the physical properties and appropriate treatment of the
following metals: the precious metals, gold and silver; copper, both
pure and alloyed with other metals, especially tin and zinc in various
proportions to form the many kinds of brass and bronze; lead, with a
group of alloys of which pewter is typical; and iron, in the three forms
of cast iron, wrought iron, and steel. All these have been made to serve
the purpose of the artist, and the manipulation of them, while
presenting many differences in detail, presents certain broad
characteristics in common which distinguish them from the raw material
of other crafts. Whether they are found native in the metallic state as
is usual in the case of gold, or combined with many other minerals in
the form of ore as is more common with other metals, fire is the primal
agency by which they are made available for our needs. The first stage
in their manipulation is to melt and cast them into ingots of a size
convenient to the purpose intended. Secondly, all these metals when
pure, and many alloys, are in varying degree malleable and ductile, are,
in fact, if sufficient force be applied, plastic. Hence arises the first
broad division in the treatment of metals. The fluid metal may, by the
use of suitable moulds, be cast at once to the shape required, or the
casting may be treated merely as the starting-point for a whole series
of operations--forging, rolling, chipping, chasing, wire-drawing, and
many more. Another property of the metals which must be noticed is, that
not only can separate masses of metals be melted down and fused into
one, but it is possible, under various conditions, of which the one
invariably necessary is perfectly clean surfaces of contact, to unite
separate portions of the same or different metals without fusion of the
mass. For our present purpose the most important instance of this is the
process of soldering, by which two surfaces are united by the
application of sufficient heat to melt more fusible metal which is
introduced between them, and which combines with both so as firmly to
unite them on solidifying. Closely allied to this are the processes by
which one metal is, for purposes of adornment or preservation from
corrosion, coated with a thin film or deposit of another, usually more
costly, metal.

Though hereafter electro-metallurgy may assert its claim to artistic
originality as a third division, for the present all metal work, so far
as its artistic aspect depends upon process, falls naturally into one of
the two broad divisions of cast metal and wrought metal. Both have been
employed from a time long anterior to written history; ornaments of
beaten gold, and tools of cast bronze, are alike found among the relics
of very early stages of civilisation, and in early stages both alike are
artistic. The choice between the two processes is determined by such
considerations as convenience of manufacture and the physical properties
of the metals, and the different purposes in view. When a thick and
comparatively massive shape is required, it is often easier to cast it
at once. For thinner and lighter forms it is usually more convenient to
treat the ingot or crude product of the furnace as mere raw material for
a long series of workings under the hammer, or its patent mechanical
equivalents, the rolling and pressing mills of modern mechanics. The
choice is further influenced by the toughness generally characteristic
of wrought metal, whereas the alloys which yield the cleanest castings
are by no means universally the best in other respects. Iron is the
extreme instance of this: ordinary cast iron being an impure form of the
metal, which is too brittle to be worked under the hammer, but is
readily cast into moulds, being fluid at a temperature which, though
high, is easily obtained in a blast furnace. Wrought iron, however,
which is usually obtained from cast iron by a process called puddling,
whereby the impurities are burnt out, does not become fluid enough to
pour into moulds; but on the other hand, pieces at a white heat can be
united into a solid mass by skilful hammering, a process which is called
welding, and, together with the fact that from its great hardness it is
usually worked hot, is specially distinctive of the blacksmith's craft.
In no other metal is the separation between the two branches so wide as
in iron. The misdirected skill of some modern iron-founders has caused
the name of cast iron to be regarded as the very negative of art, and
has even thrown suspicion on the process of casting itself as one of
questionable honesty. Nevertheless, as a craft capable of giving final
shape to metal, it has manifestly an artistic aspect, and, in fact,
bronze statuary, a fine art pure and simple, is reproduced from the
clay model merely by moulding and casting. We must therefore look for
the artistic conditions in the preparation of the model or pattern, the
impress of which in sand or loam forms the mould; the pattern may be
carved in wood or modelled in clay, but the handling of the wood or clay
is modified by the conditions under which the form is reproduced. And
lastly, the finished object may either retain the surface formed as the
metal solidifies, as in the case of the bronzes cast by the wax process,
or the skin may be removed by the use of cutting tools, chisels and
files and gravers, so that, as in the case of many of the better French
bronzes, the finished work is strictly carved work. On the contrary,
much silversmith's work, as well as such simple objects as Chinese gongs
and Indian "lotahs," after being cast approximately to shape are
finished by hammer work, that is, treated as plastic material with tools
that force the material into shape instead of cutting the shape out of
the mass by removing exterior portions of material. Attempts to imitate
both processes by casting only, thus dispensing with the cost of
finishing, are common, but as they dispense likewise with all beauty in
the product, even if they do not substitute varnished and tinted zinc
for better metal, their success is commercial only.

We have thus three characteristic kinds of surface resulting from the
conditions of treatment, marking out three natural divisions of the art:
and be it noted that questions of surface or texture are all-important
in the arts; beauty is skin deep. First, the natural skin of the metal
solidified in contact with the mould, and more or less closely
imitative of the surface of the original model, usually for our purposes
a plastic surface; secondly, there is carved, technically called chased,
work; and thirdly, beaten or wrought work, which in ornament is termed

Superimposed on these we have the cross divisions of the crafts
according to the special metal operated on, and in the existing
industrial organisation the groups thus obtained have to be further
divided into many sub-heads, according to the articles produced; and
finally, another commercial distinction has to be drawn which greatly
affects the present condition of handicraft, that is, the division of
the several trades into craftsmen and salesmen. There can be no doubt
that the extent of the existing dissociation of the producing craftsman
from the consumer is an evil for the arts, and that the growing
preponderance of great stores is inimical to excellence of workmanship.
It is, perhaps, an advantage for the workman to be relieved from the
office of salesman; the position of the village smith plying his calling
in face of his customers might not suit every craft, but the services of
the middleman are dearly bought at the price of artistic freedom. It is
too often in the power of the middleman to dictate the quality of
workmanship, too often his seeming interest to ordain that it shall be

The choice of a metal for any particular purpose is determined by
physical properties combined with considerations of cost. Iron, if only
for its cheapness, is the material for the largest works of metal; while
in the form of steel it is the best available material for many very
small works, watch-springs for instance: it has the defect of liability
to rust; the surfaces of other metals may tarnish, but iron rusts
through. For the present only one application of cast iron concerns
us--its use for grates and stoves. The point to remember is, that as the
material has but little beauty, its employment should be restricted to
the quantity prescribed by the demands of utility. Wrought iron, on the
contrary, gives very great scope to the artist, and it offers this
peculiar advantage, that the necessity of striking while the iron is hot
enforces such free dexterity of handling in the ordinary smith, that he
has comparatively little to learn if set to produce ornamental work, and
thus renewed interest in the art has found craftsmen enough who could
readily respond to the demand made upon them.

Copper, distinguished among metals by its glowing red tint, has as a
material for artistic work been overshadowed by its alloys, brass and
bronze; partly because they make sounder castings, partly it is to be
feared from the approach of their colour to gold. Holding an
intermediate position between iron and the precious metals, they are the
material of innumerable household utensils and smaller architectural

Lead, tin, and zinc scarcely concern the artist to-day, though neither
plumber nor pewterer has always been restricted to plain utilitarianism.
Gold and silver have been distinguished in all ages as the precious
metals, both for their comparative rarity and their freedom from
corrosion, and their extreme beauty. They are both extremely malleable
and very readily worked. Unhappily there is little original English work
being done in these metals. The more ordinary wares have all life and
feeling taken out of them by mechanical finish, an abrasive process
being employed to remove every sign of tool-marks. The all-important
surface is thus obliterated. As to design, fashion oscillates between
copies of one past period and another. A comparison of one of these
copies with an original will make the distinction between the work of a
man paid to do his quickest and one paid to do his best clearer than
volumes of description. Indeed, when all is said, a writer can but
indicate the logic that underlies the craft, or hint at the relation
which subsists between the process, the material, and the finished ware:
the distinction between good and bad in art eludes definition; it is not
an affair of reason, but of perception.



The crafts of the stone and wood carver may fairly be taken in review at
the same time, although they differ in themselves.

It is a misfortune that there should be so great a gulf as there is
between the craftsman who is called, and considers himself to be
properly called, "a sculptor" and his fellow-craftsman who is called "a
carver." In these days the "sculptor" is but too often a man who would
think it a condescension to execute what, for want of a better name, we
must call decorative work. In truth, the sculptor is the outcome of
that entire separation which has come about between the love of beauty,
once common in everyday life, and art, as it is now called--a thing
degraded to the purposes of a toy, a mere ornament for the rich. The
sculptor is trained to make these ornaments, things which have no
relation to their surroundings, but which may be placed now in a
drawing-room, now in a conservatory or a public square, alone and
unsheltered. He is a child of the studio.

The result of this training is, he has lost all knowledge how to produce
work of a decorative character. He understands nothing of design in a
wide sense, but being able to model a figure with tolerable success he
rests therewith content. Being designed, as it is, in the studio, his
work is wanting in sympathy with its surroundings; it does not fall into
its place, it is not a part of a complete conception.

Things were not so when sculpture and what, for want of a better term,
we have called "stone and wood carving" were at their prime.

The Greek craftsman could produce both the great figure of the god,
which stood alone as the central object in the temple, and (working in
thorough sympathy with the architect) the decorative sculpture of less
importance which was attached to the building round about, and without
which the beauty of the fabric was incomplete.

So also the great Florentine sculptors spent themselves with equal zeal
on a door, the enclosure of a choir, a pulpit, or a tomb, which in those
days meant not merely the effigy of the departed, but a complete design
of many parts all full of beauty and skill.

In the great days of Mediæval Art sculpture played a part of the highest
importance. The works then produced are not only excellent in
themselves, but are so designed as to form a part of the building they
adorn. How thoroughly unfinished would be the west front of the
Cathedral at Wells, or the portals of Amiens or Reims, without their

How rarely can we feel this sense of satisfaction, of unity of result,
between the work of the sculptor and the architect in our buildings of
to-day. The figures are "stood about" like ornaments on the mantelpiece.
The architect seems as unable to prepare for them as the sculptor to
make them. We seldom see congruity even between the figure and the
pedestal on which it stands.

The want of this extended sympathy leads to another ill result. Wood,
stone, and metal, different as they are, are treated by the artist in
much the same fashion. The original model in clay seems to stand behind
everything. The "artist" makes the clay model; his subordinates work it
out in one or another material. The result can only be unsatisfactory
because the natural limitations fixed by the qualities of the different
materials have been neglected, whereas they should stand forth
prominently in the mind of the artist from the moment he first conceives
his design.

Marble, stones--some hard, some soft,--terra cotta, metals, or wood,
each demand a difference of treatment. For example, the fibrous nature
of wood enables the craftsman to produce work which would fall to pieces
at the first blow if executed in stone. The polished and varied surface
of marble demands a treatment of surface and section of mouldings which
in stone would seem tame and poor. Again, it must not be forgotten that
most works in stone or marble are built up. They are composed of many
blocks standing one on the other. With wood it is quite different. Used
in thick pieces it splits; good wood-work is therefore framed together,
the framing and intermediate panelling lending itself to the richest
decoration; but anything in the design which suggests stone construction
is obviously wrong. In short, wood must be treated as a material that is
fibrous and tenacious, and in planks or slabs; stone or marble as of
close, even texture, brittle and in blocks.

Consequent on these differences of texture, we find that the tools and
method of handling them used by the wood-carver differ in many respects
from those used by the worker in stone or marble. One material is
scooped and cut out, the other is attacked by a constant repetition of

In the history of Mediæval Art we find that the craft of the
stone-carver was perfectly understood long before that of his brother
craftsman in wood. Whilst the first had all through Europe attained
great perfection in the thirteenth century, the second did not reach the
same standard till the fifteenth, and with the classic revival it died
out. Nothing displays more fully the adaptation of design and decoration
to the material than much of the fifteenth-century stall-work in our
English cathedrals. These could only be executed in wood; the design is
suited to that material only; but when the Italian influence creeps in,
the designs adopted are in fact suited to fine stone, marble, or
alabaster, and not to wood.

Until the craftsman in stone and wood is more of an architect, and the
architect more of a craftsman, we cannot hope for improvement.



The institution of schools of art and design, and the efforts of serials
and magazines devoted to artistic matters, have had their proper effect
in the creation of a pretty general distaste for the clumsy and
inartistic forms which characterised cabinets and furniture generally
some years back. Unfortunately for the movement, some manufacturers saw
their opportunity in the demand thus created for better and more
artistic shapes to produce bad and ill-made copies of good designs,
which undermined the self-respect of the unfortunate man (frequently a
good and sufficient craftsman) whose ill hap it was to be obliged to
make them, and vexed the soul of the equally unfortunate purchaser.

The introduction of machinery for moulding, which left only the fitting
and polishing to be done by the craftsman, and which enabled
manufacturers to produce two or three cabinets in the time formerly
occupied in the making of one, was all against the quality and stability
of the work. No good work was ever done in a hurry: the craftsman may be
rapid, but his rapidity is the result of very deliberate thought, and
not of hurry. Good furniture, however, cannot be made rapidly. All wood,
no matter how long it is kept, nor how dry it may be superficially, will
always shrink again when cut into.

It follows that the longer the interval between the cutting up of the
wood, and its fitting together, the better for the work. In the old
times the parts of a cabinet lay about in the workman's benchway for
weeks, and even months, and were continually turned over and handled by
him while he was engaged on the mouldings and other details. The wood
thus became really dry, and no further shrinkage could take place after
it was put together.

A word here about the designing of cabinets.

Modern furniture designers are far too much influenced by considerations
of style, and sacrifice a good deal that is valuable in order to conform
to certain rules which, though sound enough in their relation to
architecture, do not really apply to furniture at all. Much more
pleasing, and not necessarily less artistic work would be produced,
were designers, and handicraftsmen too, encouraged to allow their
imagination more scope, and to get more of their own individuality into
their work, instead of being the slaves of styles invented by people who
lived under quite different conditions from those now prevailing.

Mouldings as applied to cabinets are nearly always too coarse, and
project too much. This applies equally to the carvings, which should
always be quite subordinate to the general design and mouldings, and (in
its application to surfaces) should be in low relief. This is quite
compatible with all necessary vigour as well as refinement. The idea
that boldness--viz. high projection of parts in carving--has anything to
do with vigour is a common one, but is quite erroneous. All the power
and vigour which he is capable of putting into anything, the clever
carver can put into a piece of ornament which shall not project more
than a quarter of an inch from the ground in any part. Indeed, I have
known good carvers who did their best work within those limits.

Knowledge of line, of the management of planes, with dexterity in the
handling of surfaces, is all he requires. Another common mistake is to
suppose that smoothness of surface has anything to do with finish
properly so called. If only half the time which is commonly spent in
smoothing and polishing carved surfaces was devoted to the more thorough
study and development of the various parts of the design, and the
correction of the outlines, the surface might very well be left to take
care of itself, and the work would be the better for it.

There is not space in this paper to do more than glance at a few other
methods in ordinary use for cabinet decoration. Marquetry, inlays of
ivory, and various other materials have always been extensively used,
and sometimes with excellent effect. In many old examples the surface of
the solid wood was cut away to the pattern, and various other kinds of
wood pressed into the lines so sunk. The method more generally adopted
now is to insert the pattern into veneer which has been prepared to
receive it, and mount the whole on a solid panel or shape with glue.

The besetting sin of the modern designer or maker of marquetry is a
tendency to "loud" colour and violent contrasts of both colour and
grain. It is common to see as many as a dozen different kinds of wood
used in the decoration of a modern cabinet--some of them stained woods,
and the colours of no two of them in harmony.

The best work in this kind depends for its effect on a rich, though it
may be low tone of colour. It is seldom that more than two or three
different kinds of wood are used, but each kind is so carefully selected
for the purpose of the design, and is used in so many different ways,
that, while the all-important "tone" is kept throughout, the variety of
surface is almost infinite. For this reason, though it is not necessary
that the designer should actually cut the work himself, it is most
essential that he should always be within call of the cutter, and should
himself select every piece of wood which is introduced into the design.
This kind of work is sometimes shaded with hot sand; at other times a
darker wood is introduced into the pattern for the shadows. The latter
is the better way; the former is the cheaper.

The polishing of cabinet work. I have so strong an objection in this
connection to the French polisher and all his works and ways, that,
notwithstanding the popular prejudice in favour of brilliant surfaces, I
would have none of him. Formerly the cabinetmaker was accustomed to
polish his own work, sometimes by exposing the finished surfaces to the
light for a few weeks in order to darken them, and then applying beeswax
with plentiful rubbing. This was the earliest and the best method, but
in later times a polish composed of naphtha and shellac was used. The
latter polish, though open to many of the objections which may be urged
against that now in use, was at least hard and lasting, which can hardly
be said of its modern substitute.

The action of the more reputable cabinetmaking firms has been, of late,
almost wholly in the direction of better design and construction; but a
still better guarantee of progress in the future of the craft is found
in the fact that the craftsman who takes an artistic and intelligent,
and not a merely mechanical interest in his work, is now often to be
met. To such men greater individual freedom is alone wanting.



In these days there is a tendency to judge the merits of stained glass
from the standpoint of the archæologist. It is good or bad in so far as
it is directly imitative of work of the fourteenth or fifteenth century.
The art had reached to a surprising degree of beauty and perfection in
the fifteenth century, and although under the influence of the
Renaissance some good work was done, it rapidly declined only to lift
its head once more with the revived study of the architecture of the
Middle Ages.

The burning energy of Pugin, which nothing could escape, was directed
towards this end, but the attainment of a mere archæological correctness
was the chief aim in view. The crude draughtsmanship of the ancient
craftsman was diligently imitated, but the spirit and charm of the
original was lost, as, in a mere imitation, it must be. In the revival
of the art, whilst there was an attempt to imitate the drawing, there
was no attempt to reproduce the quality of the ancient glass. Thus,
brilliant, transparent, and unbroken tints were used, lacking all the
richness and splendour of colour so characteristic of the originals.
Under these conditions of blind imitation the modern worker in stained
glass produced things probably more hideous than the world ever saw

Departing altogether from the traditions of the mediæval schools,
whether ancient or modern, there has arisen another school which has
found its chief exponents at Munich. The object of these people has
been, ignoring the condition under which they must necessarily work, to
produce an ordinary picture in enamelled colours upon sheets of glass.
The result has been the production of mere transparencies no better than
painted blinds.

What then, it may be asked, are the limiting conditions, imposed upon
him by the nature of the materials, within which the craftsman must work
to produce a satisfactory result?

In the first place, a stained glass window is not an easel picture. It
does not stand within a frame, as does the easel picture, in isolation
from the objects surrounding it; it is not even an object to be looked
at by itself; its duty is, not only to be beautiful, but to play its
part in the adornment of the building in which it is placed, being
subordinated to the effect the interior is intended to produce as a
whole. It is, in fact, but one of many parts that go to _produce a
complete result_. A visit to one of our mediæval churches, such as York
Minster, Gloucester Cathedral, or Malvern Priory, church buildings,
which still retain much of their ancient glass, and a comparison of the
unity of effect there experienced with the internecine struggle
exhibited in most buildings furnished by the glass painters of to-day,
will surely convince the most indifferent that there is yet much to be

Secondly, the great difference between coloured glass and painted glass
must be kept in view. A coloured glass window is in the nature of a
mosaic. Not only are no large pieces of glass used, but each piece is
separated from and at the same time joined to its neighbour by a thin
grooved strip of lead which holds the two. "_Coloured glass_ is obtained
by a mixture of metallic oxides whilst in a state of fusion. This
colouring pervades the substance of the glass and becomes incorporated
with it."[1] It is termed "pot-metal." An examination of such a piece of
glass will show it to be full of varieties of a given colour, uneven in
thickness, full of little air-bubbles and other accidents which cause
the rays of light to play in and through it with endless variety of
effect. It is the exact opposite to the clear sheet of ordinary

To build up a decorative work (and such a form of expression may be
found very appropriate in this craft) in coloured glass, the pieces
must be carefully selected, the gradations of tint in a given piece
being made use of to gain the result aimed at. The leaded "canes" by
which the whole is held together are made use of to aid the effect. Fine
lines and hatchings are painted as with "silver stain," and in this
respect only is there any approach to enamelling in the making of a
coloured glass window. The glass mosaic as above described is held in
its place in the window by horizontal iron bars, and the position of
these is a matter of some importance, and is by no means overlooked by
the artist in considering the effect of his finished work. A
well-designed coloured glass window is, in fact, like nothing else in
the world but itself. It is not only a mosaic; it is not merely a
picture. It is the honest outcome of the use of glass for making a
beautiful window which shall transmit light and not look like anything
but what it is. The effect of the work is obtained by the contrast of
the rich colours of the pot-metal with the pearly tones of the clear

We must now describe a _painted_ window, so that the distinction between
a coloured and a painted window may be clearly made out. Quoting from
the same book as before--"To paint glass the artist uses a plate of
translucent glass, and applies the design and colouring with vitrifiable
colours. These colours, true enamels, are the product of metallic oxides
combined with vitreous compounds called fluxes. Through the medium of
these, assisted by a strong heat, the colouring matters are fixed upon
the plate of glass." In the painted window we are invited to forget that
glass is being used. Shadows are obtained by loading the surface with
enamel colours; the fullest rotundity of modelling is aimed at; the lead
and iron so essentially necessary to the construction and safety of the
window are concealed with extraordinary skill and ingenuity. The
spectator perceives a hole in the wall with a very indifferent picture
in it--overdone in the high lights, smoky and unpleasant in the shadows,
in no sense decorative. We need concern ourselves no more with painted
windows; they are thoroughly false and unworthy of consideration.

Of coloured or stained windows, as they are more commonly called, many
are made, mostly bad, but there are amongst us a few who know how to
make them well, and these are better than any made elsewhere in Europe
at this time.



[1] _Industrial Arts_, "Historical Sketches," p. 195, published for the
Committee of Council on Education. Chapman and Hall.


Few materials lend themselves more readily to the skill of the craftsman
than glass. The fluid or viscous condition of the "metal" as it comes
from the "pot," the way in which it is shaped by the breath of the
craftsman, and by his skill in making use of centrifugal force, these
and many other things too numerous to mention are all manifested in the
triumphs of the Venetian glass-blower. At the first glance we see that
the vessel he has made is of a material once liquid. He takes the
fullest advantage of the conditions under which he works, and the
result is a beautiful thing which can be produced in but one way.

For many centuries the old methods were followed, but with the power to
produce the "metal," or glass of extreme purity and transparency, came
the desire to leave the old paths, and produce work in imitation of
crystal. The wheel came into play, and cut and engraved glass became
general. At first there was nothing but a genuine advance or variation
on the old modes.

The specimens of clear glass made at the end of the seventeenth and
beginning of the eighteenth centuries are well designed to suit the
capabilities of the material. The form given to the liquid metal by the
craftsman's skill is still manifest, its delicate transparency
accentuated here and there by cutting the surface into small facets, or
engraving upon it graceful designs; but as skill increased so taste
degraded. The graceful outlines and natural curves of the old workers
gave place to distortions of line but too common in all decorative works
of the period. A little later and the material was produced in mere
lumps, cut and tormented into a thousand surfaces, suggesting that the
work was made from the solid, as, in part, it was. This miserable stuff
reached its climax in the early years of the present reign.

Since then a great reaction has taken place. For example, the old
decanter, a massive lump of misshapen material better suited to the
purpose of braining a burglar than decorating a table, has given place
to a light and gracefully formed vessel, covered in many cases with
well-designed surface engraving, and thoroughly suited both to the uses
it is intended to fulfil and the material of which it is made. And not
only so, but a distinct variation and development upon the old types has
been made. The works produced have not been merely copies, but they have
their own character. It is not necessary to describe the craft of the
glass-blower. It is sufficient to say that he deals with a material
which, when it comes to his hands, is a liquid, solidifying rapidly on
exposure to the air; that there is hardly a limit to the delicacy of the
film that can be made; and, in addition to using a material of one
colour, different colours can be laid one over the other, the outer ones
being afterwards cut through by the wheel, leaving a pattern in one
colour on a ground of another.

There has developed itself of late an unfortunate tendency to stray from
the path of improvement,[1] but a due consideration on the part both of
the purchaser and of the craftsman of how the material should be used
will result, it may be hoped, in farther advances on the right road.



[1] Novelty rather than improvement is the rock on which our craftsmen
are but too often wrecked.


Printing, in the only sense with which we are at present concerned,
differs from most if not from all the arts and crafts represented in the
Exhibition in being comparatively modern. For although the Chinese took
impressions from wood blocks engraved in relief for centuries before the
wood-cutters of the Netherlands, by a similar process, produced the
block books, which were the immediate predecessors of the true printed
book, the invention of movable metal letters in the middle of the
fifteenth century may justly be considered as the invention of the art
of printing. And it is worth mention in passing that, as an example of
fine typography, the earliest book printed with movable types, the
Gutenberg, or "forty-two line Bible" of about 1455, has never been

Printing, then, for our purpose, may be considered as the art of making
books by means of movable types. Now, as all books not primarily
intended as picture-books consist principally of types composed to form
letterpress, it is of the first importance that the letter used should
be fine in form; especially as no more time is occupied, or cost
incurred, in casting, setting, or printing beautiful letters than in the
same operations with ugly ones. And it was a matter of course that in
the Middle Ages, when the craftsmen took care that beautiful form should
always be a part of their productions whatever they were, the forms of
printed letters should be beautiful, and that their arrangement on the
page should be reasonable and a help to the shapeliness of the letters
themselves. The Middle Ages brought caligraphy to perfection, and it was
natural therefore that the forms of printed letters should follow more
or less closely those of the written character, and they followed them
very closely. The first books were printed in black letter, _i.e._ the
letter which was a Gothic development of the ancient Roman character,
and which developed more completely and satisfactorily on the side of
the "lower-case" than the capital letters; the "lower-case" being in
fact invented in the _early_ Middle Ages. The earliest book printed with
movable type, the aforesaid Gutenberg Bible, is printed in letters which
are an exact imitation of the more formal ecclesiastical writing which
obtained at that time; this has since been called "missal type," and was
in fact the kind of letter used in the many splendid missals, psalters,
etc., produced by printing in the fifteenth century. But the first Bible
actually dated (which also was printed at Maintz by Peter Schoeffer in
the year 1462) imitates a much freer hand, simpler, rounder, and less
_spiky_, and therefore far pleasanter and easier to read. On the whole
the type of this book may be considered the _ne-plus-ultra_ of Gothic
type, especially as regards the lower-case letters; and type very
similar was used during the next fifteen or twenty years not only by
Schoeffer, but by printers in Strasburg, Basle, Paris, Lubeck, and
other cities. But though on the whole, except in Italy, Gothic letter
was most often used, a very few years saw the birth of Roman character
not only in Italy, but in Germany and France. In 1465 Sweynheim and
Pannartz began printing in the monastery of Subiaco near Rome, and used
an exceedingly beautiful type, which is indeed to look at a transition
between Gothic and Roman, but which must certainly have come from the
study of the twelfth or even the eleventh century MSS. They printed very
few books in this type, three only; but in their very first books in
Rome, beginning with the year 1468, they discarded this for a more
completely Roman and far less beautiful letter. But about the same year
Mentelin at Strasburg began to print in a type which is distinctly
Roman; and the next year Gunther Zeiner at Augsburg followed suit; while
in 1470 at Paris Udalric Gering and his associates turned out the first
books printed in France, also in Roman character. The Roman type of all
these printers is similar in character, and is very simple and legible,
and unaffectedly designed for _use_; but it is by no means without
beauty. It must be said that it is in no way like the transition type of
Subiaco, and though more Roman than that, yet scarcely more like the
complete Roman type of the earliest printers of Rome.

A further development of the Roman letter took place at Venice. John of
Spires and his brother Vindelin, followed by Nicholas Jenson, began to
print in that city, 1469, 1470; their type is on the lines of the German
and French rather than of the Roman printers. Of Jenson it must be said
that he carried the development of Roman type as far as it can go: his
letter is admirably clear and regular, but at least as beautiful as any
other Roman type. After his death in the "fourteen eighties," or at
least by 1490, printing in Venice had declined very much; and though the
famous family of Aldus restored its technical excellence, rejecting
battered letters, and paying great attention to the "press work" or
actual process of _printing_, yet their type is artistically on a much
lower level than Jenson's, and in fact they must be considered to have
ended the age of fine printing in Italy.

Jenson, however, had many contemporaries who used beautiful type, some
of which--as, _e.g._, that of Jacobus Rubeus or Jacques le Rouge--is
scarcely distinguishable from his. It was these great Venetian printers,
together with their brethren of Rome, Milan, Parma, and one or two other
cities, who produced the splendid editions of the Classics, which are
one of the great glories of the printer's art, and are worthy
representatives of the eager enthusiasm for the revived learning of that
epoch. By far the greater part of these _Italian_ printers, it should be
mentioned, were Germans or Frenchmen, working under the influence of
Italian opinion and aims.

It must be understood that through the whole of the fifteenth and the
first quarter of the sixteenth centuries the Roman letter was used side
by side with the Gothic. Even in Italy most of the theological and law
books were printed in Gothic letter, which was generally more formally
Gothic than the printing of the German workmen, many of whose types,
indeed, like that of the Subiaco works, are of a transitional character.
This was notably the case with the early works printed at Ulm, and in a
somewhat lesser degree at Augsburg. In fact Gunther Zeiner's first type
(afterwards used by Schussler) is remarkably like the type of the
before-mentioned Subiaco books.

In the Low Countries and Cologne, which were very fertile of printed
books, Gothic was the favourite. The characteristic Dutch type, as
represented by the excellent printer Gerard Leew, is very pronounced and
uncompromising Gothic. This type was introduced into England by Wynkyn
de Worde, Caxton's successor, and was used there with very little
variation all through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and
indeed into the eighteenth. Most of Caxton's own types are of an earlier
character, though they also much resemble Flemish or Cologne letter.
After the end of the fifteenth century the degradation of printing,
especially in Germany and Italy, went on apace; and by the end of the
sixteenth century there was no really beautiful printing done: the
best, mostly French or Low-Country, was neat and clear, but without any
_distinction_; the worst, which perhaps was the English, was a terrible
falling-off from the work of the earlier presses; and things got worse
and worse through the whole of the seventeenth century, so that in the
eighteenth printing was very miserably performed. In England about this
time, an attempt was made (notably by Caslon, who started business in
London as a type-founder in 1720) to improve the letter in form.
Caslon's type is clear and neat, and fairly well designed; he seems to
have taken the letter of the Elzevirs of the seventeenth century for his
model: type cast from his matrices is still in everyday use.

In spite, however, of his praiseworthy efforts, printing had still one
last degradation to undergo. The seventeenth century founts were bad
rather negatively than positively. But for the beauty of the earlier
work they might have seemed tolerable. It was reserved for the founders
of the later eighteenth century to produce letters which are
_positively_ ugly, and which, it may be added, are dazzling and
unpleasant to the eye owing to the clumsy thickening and vulgar thinning
of the lines: for the seventeenth-century letters are at least pure and
simple in line. The Italian, Bodoni, and the Frenchman, Didot, were the
leaders in this luckless change, though our own Baskerville, who was at
work some years before them, went much on the same lines; but his
letters, though uninteresting and poor, are not nearly so gross and
vulgar as those of either the Italian or the Frenchman.

With this change the art of printing touched bottom, so far as fine
printing is concerned, though paper did not get to its worst till about
1840. The Chiswick press in 1844 revived Caslon's founts, printing for
Messrs. Longman the Diary of Lady Willoughby. This experiment was so far
successful that about 1850 Messrs. Miller and Richard of Edinburgh were
induced to cut punches for a series of "old style" letters. These and
similar founts, cast by the above firm and others, have now come into
general use and are obviously a great improvement on the ordinary
"modern style" in use in England, which is in fact the Bodoni type a
little reduced in ugliness. The design of the letters of this modern
"old style" leaves a good deal to be desired, and the whole effect is a
little too gray, owing to the thinness of the letters. It must be
remembered, however, that most modern printing is done by machinery on
soft paper, and not by the hand press, and these somewhat wiry letters
are suitable for the machine process, which would not do justice to
letters of more generous design.

It is discouraging to note that the improvement of the last fifty years
is almost wholly confined to Great Britain. Here and there a book is
printed in France or Germany with some pretension to good taste, but the
general revival of the old forms has made no way in those countries.
Italy is contentedly stagnant. America has produced a good many showy
books, the typography, paper, and illustrations of which are, however,
all wrong, oddity rather than rational beauty and meaning being
apparently the thing sought for both in the letters and the

To say a few words on the principles of design in typography: it is
obvious that legibility is the first thing to be aimed at in the forms
of the letters; this is best furthered by the avoidance of irrational
swellings and spiky projections, and by the using of careful purity of
line. Even the Caslon type when enlarged shows great shortcomings in
this respect: the ends of many of the letters such as the t and e are
hooked up in a vulgar and meaningless way, instead of ending in the
sharp and clear stroke of Jenson's letters; there is a grossness in the
upper finishings of letters like the c, the a, and so on, an ugly
pear-shaped swelling defacing the form of the letter: in short, it
happens to this craft, as to others, that the utilitarian practice,
though it professes to avoid ornament, still clings to a foolish,
because misunderstood conventionality, deduced from what was once
ornament, and is by no means _useful_; which title can only be claimed
by _artistic_ practice, whether the art in it be conscious or

In no characters is the contrast between the ugly and vulgar
illegibility of the modern type and the elegance and legibility of the
ancient more striking than in the Arabic numerals. In the old print each
figure has its definite individuality, and one cannot be mistaken for
the other; in reading the modern figures the eyes must be strained
before the reader can have any reasonable assurance that he has a 5, an
8, or a 3 before him, unless the press work is of the best: this is
awkward if you have to read Bradshaw's Guide in a hurry.

One of the differences between the fine type and the utilitarian must
probably be put down to a misapprehension of a commercial necessity:
this is the narrowing of the modern letters. Most of Jenson's letters
are designed within a square, the modern letters are narrowed by a third
or thereabout; but while this gain of space very much hampers the
possibility of beauty of design, it is not a real gain, for the modern
printer throws the gain away by putting inordinately wide spaces between
his lines, which, probably, the lateral compression of his letters
renders necessary. Commercialism again compels the use of type too small
in size to be comfortable reading: the size known as "Long primer" ought
to be the smallest size used in a book meant to be read. Here, again, if
the practice of "leading" were retrenched larger type could be used
without enhancing the price of a book.

One very important matter in "setting up" for fine printing is the
"spacing," that is, the lateral distance of words from one another. In
good printing the spaces between the words should be as near as possible
equal (it is impossible that they should be quite equal except in lines
of poetry); modern printers understand this, but it is only practised in
the very best establishments. But another point which they should attend
to they almost always disregard; this is the tendency to the formation
of ugly meandering white lines or "rivers" in the page, a blemish which
can be nearly, though not wholly, avoided by care and forethought, the
desirable thing being "the breaking of the line" as in bonding masonry
or brickwork, thus:

 ====  ====

The general _solidity_ of a page is much to be sought for: modern
printers generally overdo the "whites" in the spacing, a defect probably
forced on them by the characterless quality of the letters. For where
these are boldly and carefully designed, and each letter is thoroughly
individual in form, the words may be set much closer together, without
loss of clearness. No definite rules, however, except the avoidance of
"rivers" and excess of white, can be given for the spacing, which
requires the constant exercise of judgment and taste on the part of the

The position of the page on the paper should be considered if the book
is to have a satisfactory look. Here once more the almost invariable
modern practice is in opposition to a natural sense of proportion. From
the time when books first took their present shape till the end of the
sixteenth century, or indeed later, the page so lay on the paper that
there was more space allowed to the bottom and fore margin than to the
top and back of the paper, thus:

  |   xxxxx | xxxxx   |
  |   xxxxx | xxxxx   |
  |   xxxxx | xxxxx   |
  |   xxxxx | xxxxx   |
  |   xxxxx | xxxxx   |
  |   xxxxx | xxxxx   |
  |         |         |

the unit of the book being looked on as the two pages forming an
opening. The modern printer, in the teeth of the evidence given by his
own eyes, considers the single page as the unit, and prints the page in
the middle of his paper--only nominally so, however, in many cases,
since when he uses a headline he counts that in, the result as measured
by the eye being that the lower margin is less than the top one, and
that the whole opening has an upside-down look vertically, and that
laterally the page looks as if it were being driven off the paper.

The paper on which the printing is to be done is a necessary part of our
subject: of this it may be said that though there is some good paper
made now, it is never used except for very expensive books, although it
would not materially increase the cost in all but the very cheapest. The
paper that is used for ordinary books is exceedingly bad even in this
country, but is beaten in the race for vileness by that made in America,
which is the worst conceivable. There seems to be no reason why ordinary
paper should not be better made, even allowing the necessity for a very
low price; but any improvement must be based on showing openly that the
cheap article _is_ cheap, _e.g._ the cheap paper should not sacrifice
toughness and durability to a smooth and white surface, which should be
indications of a delicacy of material and manufacture which would of
necessity increase its cost. One fruitful source of badness in paper is
the habit that publishers have of eking out a thin volume by printing it
on thick paper almost of the substance of cardboard, a device which
deceives nobody, and makes a book very unpleasant to read. On the whole,
a small book should be printed on paper which is as thin as may be
without being transparent. The paper used for printing the small highly
ornamented French service-books about the beginning of the sixteenth
century is a model in this respect, being thin, tough, and opaque.
However, the fact must not be blinked that machine-made paper cannot in
the nature of things be made of so good a texture as that made by hand.

The ornamentation of printed books is too wide a subject to be dealt
with fully here; but one thing must be said on it. The essential point
to be remembered is that the ornament, whatever it is, whether picture
or pattern-work, should form _part of the page_, should be a part of the
whole scheme of the book. Simple as this proposition is, it is necessary
to be stated, because the modern practice is to disregard the relation
between the printing and the ornament altogether, so that if the two are
helpful to one another it is a mere matter of accident. The due relation
of letter to pictures and other ornament was thoroughly understood by
the old printers; so that even when the woodcuts are very rude indeed,
the proportions of the page still give pleasure by the sense of richness
that the cuts and letter together convey. When, as is most often the
case, there is actual beauty in the cuts, the books so ornamented are
amongst the most delightful works of art that have ever been produced.
Therefore, granted well-designed type, due spacing of the lines and
words, and proper position of the page on the paper, all books might be
at least comely and well-looking: and if to these good qualities were
added really beautiful ornament and pictures, printed books might once
again illustrate to the full the position of our Society that a work of
utility might be also a work of art, if we cared to make it so.



Modern bookbinding dates from the application of printing to literature,
and in essentials has remained unchanged to the present day, though in
those outward characteristics, which appeal to the touch and to the eye,
and constitute binding in an artistic sense, it has gone through many
changes for better and for worse, which, in the opinion of the writer,
have resulted, in the main, in the exaggeration of technical skill and
in the death of artistic fancy.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first operation of the modern binder is to fold or refold the
printed sheet into a section, and to gather the sections, numbered or
lettered at the foot, in their proper order into a volume.

The sections are then taken, one by one, placed face downwards in a
frame, and sewn through the back by a continuous thread running
backwards and forwards along the backs of the sections to upright
strings fastened at regular intervals in the sewing frame. This process
unites the sections to one another in series one after the other, and
permits the perusal of the book by the simple turning of leaf after leaf
upon the hinge formed by the thread and the back of the section.

A volume, or series of sections, so treated, the ends of the string
being properly secured, is essentially "bound"; all that is subsequently
done is done for the protection or for the decoration of the volume or
of its cover.

The sides of a volume are protected by millboards, called shortly
"boards." The boards themselves and the back are protected by a cover of
leather, vellum, silk, linen, or paper, wholly or in part. The edges of
the volume are protected by the projection of the boards beyond them at
top, bottom, and fore-edge, and usually by being cut smooth and gilt.

A volume so bound and protected may be decorated by tooling or otherwise
upon all the exposed surfaces (upon the edges, the sides, and the back)
and may be designated by lettering upon the back or the sides.

The degree in which a bound book is protected and decorated will
determine the class to which the binding will belong.

(1) In _cloth binding_, the cover, called a "case," is made apart from
the book, and is attached as a whole after the book is sewn.

(2) In _half binding_, the cover is built up for and on each individual
book, but the boards of which it is composed are only partly covered
with the leather or other material which covers the back.

(3) In _whole binding_, the boards are wholly covered with leather or
other durable material, which in half binding covers only a portion of

(4) In _extra binding_, whole binding is advanced a stage higher by
decoration. Of course in the various stages the details vary
commensurately with the stage itself, being more or less elaborate as
the stage is higher or lower in the scale.

The process of _extra binding_ set out in more detail is as follows:--

(1) First the sections are folded or refolded.

(2) Then "end-papers"--sections of plain paper added at the beginning
and end of the volume to protect the first and last, the most exposed,
sections of printed matter constituting the volume proper--having been
prepared and added, the sections are beaten, or rolled, or pressed, to
make them "solid."

The end-papers are usually added at a later stage, and are pasted on,
and not sewn, but, in the opinion of the writer, it is better to add
them at this stage, and to sew them and not to paste them.

(3) Then the sections are sewn as already described.

(4) When sewn the volume passes into the hands of the "forwarder," who

(5) "Makes" the back, beating it round, if the back is to be round, and
"backing" it, or making it fan out from the centre to right and left
and project at the edges, to form a kind of ridge to receive and to
protect the edges of the boards which form the sides of the cover.

(6) The back having been made, the "boards" (made of millboard, and
originally of wood) for the protection of the sides are made and cut to
shape, and attached by lacing into them the ends of the strings upon
which the book has been sewn.

(7) The boards having been attached, the edges of the book are now cut
smooth and even at the top, bottom, and fore-edge, the edges of the
boards being used as guides for the purpose. In some cases the order is
reversed, and the edges are first cut and then the boards.

(8) The edges may now be coloured and gilt, and if it is proposed to
"gauffer" or to decorate them with tooling, they are so treated at this

(9) The head-band is next worked on at head and tail, and the back lined
with paper or leather or other material to keep the head-band in its
place and to strengthen the back itself.

The book is now ready to be covered.

(10) If the book is covered with leather, the leather is carefully pared
all round the edges and along the line of the back, to make the edges
sharp and the joints free.

(11) The book having been covered, the depression on the inside of the
boards caused by the overlap of the leather is filled in with paper, so
that the entire inner surface may be smooth and even, and ready to
receive the first and last leaves of the end-papers, which finally are
cut to shape and pasted down, leaving the borders only uncovered.

Sometimes, however, the first and last leaves of the "end-papers" are of
silk, and the "joint" of leather, in which case, of course, the
end-papers are not pasted down, but the insides of the boards are
independently treated, and are covered, sometimes with leather,
sometimes with silk or other material.

The book is now "forwarded," and passes into the hands of the "finisher"
to be tooled or decorated, or "finished" as it is called.

The decoration in gold on the surface of leather is wrought out, bit by
bit, by means of small brass stamps called "tools."

The steps of the process are shortly as follows:--

(12) The pattern having been settled and worked out on paper, it is
"transferred" to, or marked out on, the various surfaces to which it is
to be applied.

Each surface is then prepared in succession, and, if large, bit by bit,
to receive the gold.

(13) First the leather is washed with water or with vinegar.

(14) Then the pattern is pencilled over with "glaire" (white of egg
beaten up and drained off), or the surface is wholly washed with it.

(15) Next it is smeared lightly with grease or oil.

(16) And, finally, the gold (gold leaf) is applied by a pad of cotton
wool, or a flat thin brush called a "tip."

(17) The pattern, visible through the gold, is now reimpressed or worked
with the tools heated to about the temperature of boiling water, and the
unimpressed or waste gold is removed by an oiled rag, leaving the
pattern in gold and the rest of the leather clear.

       *       *       *       *       *

These several operations are, in England, usually distributed among
five classes of persons.

(1) The _superintendent_ or person responsible for the whole work.

(2) The _sewer_, usually a woman, who folds, sews, and makes the

(3) The _book-edge gilder_, who gilds the edges. Usually a craft apart.

(4) The _forwarder_, who performs all the other operations leading up to
the finishing.

(5) The _finisher_, who decorates and letters the volume after it is

In Paris the work is still further distributed, a special workman
(_couvreur_) being employed to prepare the leather for covering and to

In the opinion of the writer, the work, as a craft of beauty, suffers,
as do the workmen, from the allocation of different operations to
different workmen. The work should be conceived of as one, and be
wholly executed by one person, or at most by two, and especially should
there be no distinction between "finisher" and "forwarder," between
"executant" and "artist."

       *       *       *       *       *

The following technical names may serve to call attention to the
principal features of a bound book.

(1) The _back_, the posterior edge of the volume upon which at the
present time the title is usually placed. Formerly it was placed on the
fore-edge or side.

The back may be (a) convex or concave or flat; (b) marked
horizontally with bands, or smooth from head to tail; (c) tight, the
leather or other covering adhering to the back itself, or hollow, the
leather or other covering not so adhering; and (d) stiff or flexible.

(2) _Edges_, the three other edges of the book,--the top, the bottom,
and the fore-edge.

(3) _Bands_, the cords upon which the book is sewn, and which, if not
"let in" or embedded in the back, appear on it as parallel ridges. The
ridges are, however, usually artificial, the real bands being "let in"
to facilitate the sewing, and their places supplied by thin slips of
leather cut to resemble them and glued on the back. This process also
enables the forwarder to give great sharpness and finish to this part of
his work, if he think it worth while.

(4) _Between-bands_, the space between the bands.

(5) _Head_ and _tail_, the top and bottom of the back.

(6) The _head-band_ and _head-cap_, the fillet of silk worked in
buttonhole stitch at the head and tail, and the cap or cover of leather
over it. The head-band had its origin probably in the desire to
strengthen the back and to resist the strain when a book is pulled by
head or tail from the shelf.

(7) _Boards_, the sides of the cover, stiff or limp, thick or thin, in
all degrees.

(8) _Squares_, the projection of the boards beyond the edges of the
book. These may be shallow or deep in all degrees, limited only by the
purpose they have to fulfil and the danger they will themselves be
exposed to if too deep.

(9) _Borders_, the overlaps of leather on the insides of the boards.

(10) _Proof_, the rough edges of leaves left uncut in cutting the edges
to show where the original margin was, and to prove that the cutting has
not been too severe.

The life of bookbinding is in the dainty mutation of its mutable
elements--back, bands, boards, squares, decoration. These elements admit
of almost endless variation, singly and in combination, in kind and in
degree. In fact, however, they are now almost always uniformly treated
or worked up to one type or set of types. This is the death of
bookbinding as a craft of beauty.

The finish, moreover, or execution, has outrun invention, and is the
great characteristic of modern bookbinding. This again, the inversion of
the due order, is, in the opinion of the writer, but as the carving on
the tomb of a dead art, and itself dead.

A well-bound beautiful book is neither of one type, nor finished so that
its highest praise is that "had it been made by a machine it could not
have been made better." It is individual; it is instinct with the hand
of him who made it; it is pleasant to feel, to handle, and to see; it is
the original work of an original mind working in freedom simultaneously
with hand and heart and brain to produce a thing of use, which all time
shall agree ever more and more also to call "a thing of beauty."



There seems no precise reason why the subject of this note should differ
much from that of Mr. Crane's article on "Decorative Painting" (pp.
39-51). "Mural Painting" need not, as such, consist of any one sort of
painting more than another. "Decorative Painting" does seem, on the
other hand, to indicate a certain desire or undertaking to render the
object painted more pleasant to the beholder's eye.

From long habit, however, chiefly induced by the constant practice of
the Italians of modern times, "Mural Painting" has come to be looked
upon as figure painting (in fact, the human figure exclusively) on
walls--and no other sort of objects can sufficiently impart that dignity
to a building which it seems to crave for. I can think of no valid
reason why a set of rooms, or walls, should not be decorated with
animals in lieu of "humans," as the late Mr. Trelawney used to call us:
one wall to be devoted to monkeys, a second to be filled in with tigers,
a third to be given up to horses, etc. etc. I know men in England, and,
I believe, some artists, who would be delighted with the substitution.
But I hope the general sense of the public would be set against such
subjects, and the lowering effects of them on every one, and the kind of
humiliation we should feel at knowing them to exist.

I have been informed that in Berlin the walls of the rooms where the
antique statues are kept have been painted with mixed subjects
representing antique buildings with antique Greek views and landscapes,
to back up, as it were, the statues. I must own it, that without having
seen the decoration in question, I feel filled with extreme aversion for
the plan. The more so when one considers the extreme unlikelihood of the
same being made tolerable in colour at Berlin. I have also been told
that some painters in the North of England, bitten with a desire to
decorate buildings, have painted one set of rooms with landscapes. This,
without the least knowledge of the works in question, as landscapes, I
must allow I regret. There is, it seems to me, an unbridgeable chasm,
not to be passed, between landscape art and the decoration of walls; for
the very essence of the landscape art is distance, whereas the very
essence of the wall-picture is its solidity, or, at least, its not
appearing to be a hole in the wall. On the matter of subjects fit for
painting on walls I may have a few words to say farther on in this
paper, but first I had better set down what little I have to advise with
regard to the material and mode of executing.

The old-fashioned Italian or "Buon Fresco" I look upon as practically
given up in this country, and every other European country that has not
a climate to equal Italy. If the climate of Paris will not admit of this
process, how much less is our damp, foggy, changeable atmosphere likely
to put up with it for many years! It is true that the frescoes of
William Dyce have lasted for some thirty years without apparent damage;
but also it is the case that the Queen's Robing Rooms in the House of
Lords have been specially guarded against atmospheric changes of
temperature. Next to real fresco, there has been in repute for a time
the waterglass process, in which Daniel Maclise's great paintings have
been executed. I see no precise reason why these noble works should not
last, and defy climate for many, many long years yet; though from want
of experience he very much endangered this durability through the too
lavish application of the medium. But in Germany, the country of
waterglass, the process is already in bad repute. The third alternative,
"spirit fresco," or what we in England claim as the Gambier-Parry
process, has, I understand, superseded it. I have myself painted in this
system seven works on the walls of the Manchester Town Hall, and have
had no reason to complain of their behaviour. Since beginning the
series, however, a fresh change has come over the fortunes of mural art
in the fact that, in France (what most strongly recommends itself to
common sense), the mural painters have now taken to painting on canvas,
which is afterwards cemented, or what the French call "maronflée," on to
the wall. White-lead and oil, with a very small admixture of rosin
melted in oil, are the ingredients used. It is laid on cold and
plentifully on the wall and on the back of the picture, and the painting
pressed down with a cloth or handkerchief: nothing further being
required, saving to guard the edges of the canvas from curling up before
the white-lead has had time to harden. The advantage of this process of
cementing lies in the fact that with each succeeding year it must become
harder and more like stone in its consistency. The canvases may be
prepared as if for oil painting, and painted with common oil-colours
flatted (or matted) afterwards by gum-elemi and spike-oil. Or the canvas
may be prepared with the Gambier-Parry colour and painted in that very
_mat_ medium. The canvases should if possible be fine in texture, as
better adapted for adhering to the wall. The advantage of this process
is that, should at any time, through neglect, damp invade the wall, and
the canvas show a tendency to get loose, it would be easy to replace it;
or the canvas might be altogether detached from the wall and strained as
a picture.

I must now return to the choice of subject, a matter of much importance,
but on which it is difficult to give advice. One thing, however, may be
urged as a rule, and that is, that very dark or Rembrandtesque subjects
are particularly unsuited for mural paintings. I cannot go into the
reasons for this, but a slight experiment ought to satisfy the painter,
having once heard the principle enunciated: that is, if he belong to the
class likely to succeed at such work.

Another _sine qua non_ as to subject is that the painter himself must be
allowed to select it. It is true that certain limitations may be
accorded--for instance, the artist may be required to select a subject
with certain tendencies in it--but the actual invention of the subject
and working out of it must be his. In fact, the painter himself is the
only judge of what he is likely to carry out well and of the subjects
that are paintable. Then much depends on whom the works are for; if for
the general public, and carried out with their money, care (it seems to
me but fair) should be taken that the subjects are such as they can
understand and take interest in. If, on the contrary, you are painting
for highly-cultured people with a turn for Greek myths, it is quite
another thing; then, such a subject as "Eros reproaching his brother
Anteros for his coldness" might be one offering opportunities for shades
of sentiment suited to the givers of the commissions concerned. But for
such as have not been trained to entertain these refinements, downright
facts, either in history or in sociology, are calculated most to excite
the imagination. It is not always necessary for the spectator to be
exact in his conclusions. I remember once at Manchester, the members of
a Young Men's Christian Association had come to a meeting in the great
hall. Some of them were there too soon, and so were looking round the
room. One observed: "What's this about?" His friend answered: "Fallen
off a ladder, the police are running him in!" Well, this was not quite
correct. A wounded young Danish chieftain was being hurried out of
Manchester on his comrade's shoulders, with a view to save his life. The
Phrygian helmets of the Danes indicated neither firemen nor policemen;
but the idea was one of misfortune, and care bestowed on it--and did as
well, and showed sympathy in a somewhat uncultivated, though
well-intentioned, class of Lancastrians. On the other hand, I have
noticed that subjects that interest infallibly all classes, educated or
illiterate, are religious subjects. It is not a question of piety--but
comes from the simple breadth of poetry and humanity usually involved in
this class of subject. That the amount of religiosity in either
spectator or producer has nothing to do with the feeling is clear if we

The Spaniards are one of the most religious peoples ever known, and yet
their art is singularly deficient in this quality. Were there ever two
great painters as wanting in the sacred feeling as Velasquez and
Murillo? and yet, in all probability, they were more religious than

It only remains for me to point to the fact that mural painting, when it
has been practised jointly by those who were at the same time
easel-painters, has invariably raised those painters to far higher
flights and instances of style than they seem capable of in the smaller
path. Take the examples left us, say by Raphael and Michel Angelo, or
some of the earlier masters, such as the "Fulminati" of Signorelli,
compared with his specimens in our National Gallery; or the works left
on walls by even less favoured artists, such as Domenichino and Andrea
del Sarto, or the French de la Roche's "Hémicycle," or our own great
painters Dyce and Maclise's frescoes; the same rise in style, the same
improvement, is everywhere to be noticed, both in drawing, in colour,
and in flesh-painting.



The Italian words Graffiato, Sgraffiato, or Sgraffito, mean "Scratched,"
and scratched work is the oldest form of graphic expression and surface
decoration used by man.

The term Sgraffito is, however, specially used to denote decoration
scratched or incised upon plaster or potter's clay while still soft, and
for beauty of effect depends either solely upon lines thus incised
according to design, with the resulting contrast of surfaces, or partly
upon such lines and contrast, and partly upon an under-coat of colour
revealed by the incisions; while, again, the means at disposal may be
increased by varying the colours of the under-coat in accordance with
the design.

Of the potter's sgraffito I have no experience, but it is my present
purpose briefly and practically to examine the method, special
aptitudes, and limitations of polychrome sgraffito as applied to the
plasterer's craft.

First, then, as to method. Given the wall intended to be treated:
granted the completion of the scheme of decoration, the cartoons having
been executed in several colours and the outlines firmly pricked, and
further, all things being ready for beginning work. Hack off any
existing plaster from the wall: when bare, rake and sweep out the joints
thoroughly: when clean, give the wall as much water as it will drink:
lay the coarse coat, leaving the face rough in order to make a good key
for the next coat: when sufficiently set, fix your cartoon in its
destined position with slate nails: pounce through the pricked outlines:
remove the cartoon: replace the nails in the register holes: mark in
with a brush in white oil paint the spaces for the different colours as
shown in the cartoon, and pounced in outline on the coarse coat, placing
the letters B, R, Y, etc., as the case may be, in order to show the
plasterer where to lay the different colours--Black, Red, Yellow, etc.:
give the wall as much water as it will drink: lay the colour coat in
accordance with the lettered spaces on the coarse coat, taking care not
to displace the register nails, and leaving plenty of key for the final
surface coat.

In laying the colour coat, calculate how much of the colour surface it
may be advisable to get on the wall, as the same duration of time
should be maintained throughout the work between the laying of the
colour coat and the following on with the final surface coat--for this
reason, if the colour coat sets hard before the final coat is laid, it
will not be possible to scrape up the colour to its full strength
wherever it may be revealed by incision of the design. When sufficiently
set, _i.e._ in about 24 hours, follow on with the final surface coat,
only laying as much as can be cut and cleaned up in a day: when this is
sufficiently steady, fix up the cartoon in its registered position:
pounce through the pricked outlines: remove the cartoon and cut the
design in the surface coat before it sets: then, if your register is
correct, you will cut through to different colours according to the
design, and in the course of a few days the work should set as hard and
homogeneous as stone, and as damp-proof as the nature of things permits.

The three coats above referred to may be gauged as follows:--

_Coarse Coat._--2 or 3 of sharp clean sand to 1 of Portland, to be laid
about 3/4 inch in thickness. This coat is to promote an even suction and
to keep back damp.

_Colour Coat._--1 of colour to 1-1/2 of old Portland, to be laid about
1/8 inch in thickness. Specially prepared distemper colours should be
used, and amongst such may be mentioned golden ochre, Turkey red, Indian
red, manganese black, lime blue, and umber.

_Final Surface Coat._--Aberthaw lime and selenitic cement, both sifted
through a fine sieve--the proportions of the gauge depend upon the heat
of the lime: or, Parian cement sifted as above--air-slaked for 24
hours, and gauged with water coloured with ochre, so as to give a creamy
tone when the plaster dries out: or, 3 of selenitic cement to 2 of
silver sand, both sifted as above--this may be used for out-door work.

Individual taste and experience must decide as to the thickness of the
final coat, but if laid between 1/8 and 1/12 inch, and the lines cut
with slanting edges, a side light gives emphasis to the finished result,
making the outlines tell alternately as they take the light or cast a
shadow. Plasterers' small tools of various kinds and knife-blades fixed
in tool handles will be found suited to the simple craft of cutting and
clearing off the final surface coat; but as to this a craftsman finds
his own tools by experience, and indeed by the same acquired perception
must be interpreted all the foregoing directions, and specially that
ambiguous word, dear to the writers of recipes,--_Sufficient_.

Thus far method. Now, as to special aptitudes and limitations. Sgraffito
work may claim a special aptitude for design whose centre of aim is
line. It has no beauty of material like glass, no mystery of surface
like mosaic, no pre-eminence of subtly-woven tone and colour like
tapestry; yet it gives freer play to line than any of these mentioned
fields of design, and a cartoon for sgraffito can be executed in
facsimile, undeviated by warp and woof, and unchecked by angular tesseræ
or lead lines. True, hardness of design may easily result from this
aptitude, indeed is to a certain extent inherent to the method under
examination, but in overcoming this danger and in making the most of
this aptitude is the artist discovered.

Sgraffito from its very nature "asserts the wall"; that is, preserves
the solid appearance of the building which it is intended to decorate.
The decoration is in the wall rather than on the wall. It seems to be
organic. The inner surface of the actual wall changes colour in puzzling
but orderly sequence, as the upper surface passes into expressive lines
and spaces, delivers its simple message, and then relapses into silence;
but whether incised with intricate design, or left in plain relieving
spaces, the wall receives no further treatment, the marks of float,
trowel, and scraper remain, and combine to make a natural surface.

It compels the work to be executed _in situ_. The studio must be
exchanged for the scaffold, and the result should justify the
inconvenience. However carefully the scheme of decoration may be
designed, slight yet important modifications and readjustments will
probably be found necessary in the transfer from cartoon to wall; and
though the ascent of the scaffold may seem an indignity to those who
prefer to suffer vicariously in the execution of their works, and though
we of the nineteenth know, as Cennini of the fifteenth century knew,
"that painting pictures is the proper employment of a gentleman, and
with velvet on his back he may paint what he pleases," still the fact
remains, that if decoration is to attain that inevitable fitness for its
place which is the fulfilment of design, this "proper employment of a
gentleman" must be postponed, and velvet exchanged for blouse.

It compels a quick, sure manner of work; and this quickness of
execution, due to the setting nature of the final coat, and to the
consequent necessity of working against time, gives an appearance of
strenuous ease to the firm incisions and spaces by which the design is
expressed, and a living energy of line to the whole. Again, the setting
nature of the colour coat suggests, and naturally lends itself to, an
occasional addition in the shape of mosaic to the means at disposal, and
a little glitter here and there will be found to go a long way in giving
points of emphasis and play to large surfaces.

It compels the artist to adopt a limited colour scheme--a limitation,
and yet one which may almost be welcomed as an aptitude, for of colours
in decorative work multiplication may be said to be a vexation.

Finally, the limitations of sgraffito as a method of expression are the
same as those of all incised or line work. By it you can express ideas
and suggest life, but you cannot realise,--cannot imitate the natural
objects on which your graphic language is founded. The means at
disposal are too scanty. Item: white lines and spaces relieved against
and slightly raised on a coloured ground; coloured lines and spaces
slightly sunk on a white surface; intricacy relieved by simplicity of
line, and again either relieved by plain spaces of coloured ground or
white surface. Indeed they are simple means. Yet line still remains the
readiest manner of graphic expression; and if in the strength of
limitation our past masters of the arts and crafts have had power to
"free, arouse, dilate" by their simple record of hand and soul, we also
should be able to bring forth new achievement from old method, and to
suggest the life and express the ideas which sway the latter years of
our own century.



Few things are more disheartening to the pursuer of plastic art than
finding that, when he has carried his own labour to a certain point, he
has to entrust it to another in order to render it permanent and useful.
If he models in clay and wishes it burnt into terra cotta, the shrinkage
and risk in firing, and the danger in transport to the kiln, are a
nightmare to him. If he wishes it cast in plaster, the distortion by
waste-moulding, or the cost of piece-moulding, are serious grievances to
him, considering that after all he has but a friable result; and though
this latter objection is minimised by Mrs. Laxton Clark's ingenious
process of indurating plaster, yet I am persuaded that most modellers
would prefer to complete their work in some permanent form with their
own hands.

Having this desirable end in view, I wish to draw their attention to
some disused processes which once largely prevailed, by which the artist
is enabled to finish, and render durable and vendible, his work, without
having to part with it or pay for another's aid.

These old processes are modelling in Stucco-duro and Gesso.

Stucco-duro, although of very ancient practice, is now practically a
lost art. The materials required are simply well-burnt and slacked lime,
a little fine sand, and some finely-ground unburnt lime-stone or white
marble dust. These are well tempered together with water and beaten up
with sticks until a good workable paste results. In fact, the
preparation of the materials is exactly the same as that described by
Vitruvius, who recommends that the fragments of marble be sifted into
three degrees of fineness, using the coarser for the rough bossage, the
medium for the general modelling, and the finest for the surface finish,
after which it can be polished with chalk and powdered lime if
necessary. Indeed, to so fine a surface can this material be brought,
and so highly can it be polished, that he mentions its use for mirrors.

The only caution that it is needful to give is to avoid working too
quickly; for, as Sir Henry Wooton, King James's ambassador at Venice,
who greatly advocated the use of stucco-duro, observed, the stucco
worker "makes his figures by addition and the carver by subtraction,"
and to avoid too great risk of the work cracking in drying, these
additions must be made slowly where the relief is great. If the relief
is very great, or if a figure of large dimensions is essayed, it may be
needful even to delay the drying of the stucco, and the addition of a
little stiff paste will insure this, so that the work may be
consecutively worked upon for many days.

From the remains of the stucco work of classic times left us, we can
realise how perfectly workable this material was; and if you examine the
plaster casts taken from some most delicate low-relief plaques in stucco
exhumed some ten years ago near the Villa Farnesina at Rome, or the
rougher and readier fragments of stucco-duro itself from some
Italo-Greek tombs, both of which are to be seen in the South Kensington
Museum, you will at once be convinced of the great applicability of the

With the decadence of classic art some portion of the process seems to
have been lost, and the use of pounded travertine was substituted for
white marble; but, as the _bassi-relievi_ of the early Renaissance were
mostly decorated with colour, this was not important. The ground colours
seem generally to have been laid on whilst the stucco was wet, as in
fresco, and the details heightened with tempera or encaustic colours,
sometimes with accessories enriched in gilt "gesso" (of which
hereafter). Many remains of these exist, and in the Nineteenth Winter
Exhibition of the Royal Academy there were no less than twelve very
interesting examples of it exhibited, and in the South Kensington Museum
are some few moderately good illustrations of it.

It was not, however, until the sixteenth century that the old means of
producing the highly-finished white stucchi were rediscovered, and this
revival of the art as an architectonic accessory is due to the
exhumation of the baths of Titus under Leo X. Raphael and Giovanni da
Udine were then so struck with the beauty of the stucco work thus
exposed to view that its re-use was at once determined upon, and the
Loggia of the Vatican was the first result of many experiments, though
the re-invented process seems to have been precisely that described by
Vitruvius. Naturally, the art of modelling in stucco at once became
popular: the patronage of it by the Pope, and the practice of it by the
artists who worked for him, gave it the highest sanction, and hardly a
building of any architectural importance was erected in Italy during the
sixteenth century that did not bear evidence of the artistic craft of
the stuccatori.

There has just (Autumn, 1889) arrived at the South Kensington Museum a
model of the central hall of the Villa Madama in Rome, thus decorated by
Giulio Romano and Giovanni da Udine, which exemplifies the adaptability
of the process; and in this model Cav. Mariani has employed stucco-duro
for its execution, showing to how high a pitch of finish this material
is capable of being carried. Indeed, it was used by goldsmiths for the
models for their craft, as being less liable to injury than wax, yet
capable of receiving equally delicate treatment; and Benvenuto Cellini
modelled the celebrated "button," with "that magnificent big diamond" in
the middle, for the cope of Pope Clement, with all its intricate detail,
in this material. How minute this work of some six inches diameter was
may be inferred from Cellini's own description of it. Above the diamond,
in the centre of the piece, was shown God the Father seated, in the act
of giving the benediction; below were three children, who, with their
arms upraised, were supporting the jewel. One of them, in the middle,
was in full relief, the other two in half-relief. "All round I set a
crowd of cherubs in divers attitudes. A mantle undulated to the wind
around the figure of the Father, from the folds of which cherubs peeped
out; and there were many other ornaments besides, which," adds he, and
for once we may believe him, "made a very beautiful effect." At the same
time, figures larger than life, indeed colossal figures, were executed
in it, and in our own country the Italian artists brought over by our
Henry VIII. worked in that style for his vanished palace of Nonsuch.
Gradually, stucco-duro fell into disuse, and coarse pargetry and
modelled plaster ceilings became in later years its sole and degenerate

Gesso is really a painter's art rather than a sculptor's, and consists
in impasto painting with a mixture of plaster of Paris or whiting in
glue (the composition with which the ground of his pictures is laid)
after roughly modelling the higher forms with tow or some fibrous
material incorporated with the gesso; but it is questionable if gesso is
the best vehicle for any but the lowest relief. By it the most subtle
and delicate variation of surface can be obtained, and the finest lines
pencilled, analogous, in fact, to the fine _pâte sur pâte_ work in
porcelain. Its chief use in early times was in the accessories of
painting, as the nimbi, attributes, and jewellery of the personage
represented, and it was almost entirely used as a ground-work for
gilding upon. Abundant illustration of this usage will be found in the
pictures by the early Italian masters in the National Gallery. The
retables of altars were largely decorated in this material, a notable
example being that still existing in Westminster Abbey.

Many of the gorgeous accessories to the panoply of war in mediæval
times, such as decorative shields and the lighter military
accoutrements, were thus ornamented in low relief, and on the
high-cruppered and high-peaked saddles it was abundantly displayed. In
the sixteenth-century work of Germany it seems to have received an
admixture of finely-pounded lithographic stone, or hone stone, by which
it became of such hardness as to be taken for sculpture in these
materials. Its chief use, however, was for the decoration of the
caskets and ornamental objects which make up the refinement of domestic
life, and the base representative of it which figures on our
picture-frames claims a noble ancestry.

Its tenacity, when well prepared, is exceedingly great, and I have used
it on glass, on polished marble, on porcelain, and such like
non-absorbent surfaces, from which it can scarcely be separated without
destruction of its base. Indeed, for miniature art, gesso possesses
innumerable advantages not presented by any other medium, but it is
hardly available for larger works.

Time and space will not permit my entering more fully into these two
forms of plastic art; but seeing that we are annually receiving such
large accessions to the numbers of our modellers, and as, of course, it
is not possible for all these to achieve success in, or find a means of
living by, the art of sculpture in marble, I have sought to indicate a
home-art means by which, at very moderate cost, they can bring their
labours in useful form before the world, and at the same time learn and



Cast iron is nearly our humblest material, and with associations less
than all artistic, for it has been almost hopelessly vulgarised in the
present century, so much so that Mr. Ruskin, with his fearless use of
paradox to shock one into thought, has laid it down that cast iron is an
artistic solecism, impossible for architectural service now, or at any
time. And yet, although we can never claim for iron the beauty of
bronze, it is in some degree a parallel material, and has been used with
appreciation in many ways up to the beginning of this century.

Iron was already known in Sussex at the coming of the Romans. Throughout
this county and Kent, in out-of-the-way farm-houses, iron fire-backs to
open hearths, fine specimens of the founder's art, are still in daily
use as they have been for three hundred years or more. Some have Gothic
diapers and meanders of vine with heraldic badges and initials, and are
evidently cast from models made in the fifteenth century, patterns that
remained in stock and were cast from again and again. Others, of the
following centuries, have coat-arms and supporters, salamanders in the
flames, figures, a triton or centaur, or even a scene, the Judgment of
Solomon, or Marriage of Alexander, or, more appropriately, mere
pattern-work, vases of flowers and the like. However crude they may be,
and some are absurdly inadequate as sculpture, the sense of treatment
and relief suitable to the material never fails to give them a fit

With these backs cast-iron fire-dogs are often found, of which some
Gothic examples also remain, simple in form with soft dull modelling;
later, these were often a mere obelisk on a base surmounted by a ball or
a bird, or rude terminal figures; sometimes a more delicate full figure,
the limbs well together, so that nothing projects from the general
post-like form; and within their limitations they are not without grace
and character.

In Frant church, near Tunbridge, are several cast-iron grave slabs about
six feet long by half that width, perfectly flat, one with a single
shield of arms and some letters, others with several; they are quite
successful, natural, and not in the least vulgar.

Iron railings are the most usual form of cast iron as an accessory to
architecture; the earlier examples of these in London are thoroughly fit
for their purpose and their material; sturdily simple forms of gently
swelling curves, or with slightly rounded reliefs. The original railing
at St. Paul's, of Lamberhurst iron, is the finest of these, a large
portion of which around the west front was removed in 1873. Another
example encloses the portico of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. The railing
of the central area of Berkeley Square is beautifully designed, and
there are instances here, as in Grosvenor Square, where cast iron is
used together with wrought, a difficult combination.

Balcony railings and staircase balustrades are quite general to houses
of the late eighteenth century. Refined and thoroughly good of their
kind, they never fail to please, and never, of course, imitate wrought
iron. The design is always direct, unpretentious and effortless, in a
manner that became at this time quite a tradition.

The verandahs also, of which there are so many in Piccadilly or Mayfair,
with posts reeded and of delicate profiles, are of the same kind,
confessedly cast iron, and never without the characterising dulness of
the forms, so that they have no jutting members to be broken off, to
expose a repulsive jagged fracture. The opposite of all these qualities
may be found in the "expensive"-looking railing on the Embankment
enclosing the gardens, whose tiny fretted and fretful forms invite an
experiment often successful.

It must be understood that cast iron should be merely a flat
lattice-like design, obviously cast _in panels_, or plain post and rail
construction with cast uprights and terminal knops tenoned into rails,
so that there is no doubt of straightforward unaffected fitting. The
British Museum screen may be taken to instance how ample ability will
not redeem false principles of design: the construction is not clear,
nor are the forms sufficiently simple, the result being only a high
order of commonplace grandeur.

Even the lamp-posts set up in the beginning of the century for oil
lights, a few of which have not yet been improved away from back
streets, show the same care for appropriate form. Some of the Pall Mall
Clubs, again, have well-designed candelabra of a more pretentious kind;
also London and Waterloo Bridges.

The fire-grates, both with hobs and close fronts, that came into use
about the middle of the last century, are decorated all over the field
with tiny flutings, beads, and leaf mouldings, sometimes even with
little figure medallions, and carry delicacy to its limit. The better
examples are entirely successful, both in form and in the ornamentation,
which, adapted to this new purpose, does no more than gracefully
acknowledge its debt to the past, just as the best ornament at all times
is neither original nor copied: it must recognise tradition, and add
something which shall be the tradition of the future. The method
followed is to keep the general form quite simple and the areas flat,
while the decoration, just an embroidery of the surface, is of one
substance and in the slightest possible relief. Other larger grates
there were with plain surfaces simply framed with mouldings.

Even the sculptor has not refused iron. Pliny says there were two
statues in Rhodes, one of iron and copper, and the other, a Hercules,
entirely of iron. In the palace at Prague there is a St. George horsed
and armed, the work of the fourteenth century. The qualities natural to
iron which it has to offer for sculpture may best be appreciated by
seeing the examples at the Museum of Geology, in Jermyn Street. On the
staircase there are two large dogs, two ornamental candelabra, and two
figures; the dogs, although not fine as sculpture, are well treated, in
mass and surface, for the metal. In the same museum there is a smaller
statue still better for surface and finish, a French work signed and
dated 1841, and, therefore, half an antique. But for ordinary
foundry-work without surface finish--probably the most appropriate,
certainly the most available, method--the little lions on the outer rail
at the British Museum are proof of how sufficient feeling for design
will dignify any material for any object; they are by the late Alfred
Stevens, and are thoroughly iron beasts, so slightly modelled that they
would be only blocked out for bronze. In the Geological Museum are also
specimens of Berlin and Ilsenburg manufacture; they serve to point the
moral that ingenuity is not art, nor tenuity refinement.

The question of rust is a difficult one, the oxide not being an added
beauty like the patina acquired by bronze, yet the decay of cast iron is
much less than is generally thought, especially on large smooth
surfaces, if the casting has been once treated by an oil bath or a
coating of hot tar: the celebrated iron pillar of Delhi, some twenty
feet high, has stood for fourteen centuries, and shows, it is said,
little evidence of decay. It would be interesting to see how cast
spheres of good iron would be affected in our climate, if occasionally
coated with a lacquer. In painting, the range of tints best approved is
black through gray to white: the simple negative gray gives a pleasant
unobtrusiveness to the well-designed iron-work of the Northern Station
in Paris, whereas our almost universal Indian red is a very bad
choice--a hot coarse colour, you must see it, and be irritated, and it
is surely the only colour that gets worse as it bleaches in the sun.
Gilding is suitable to a certain extent; but for internal work the
homely black-leading cannot be bettered.

To put together the results obtained in our examination of examples.

(1) The metal must be both good and carefully manipulated.

(2) The design must be thought out through the material and its
traditional methods.

(3) The pattern must have the ornament modelled, not carved, as is
almost universally the case now, carving in wood being entirely unfit
to give the soft suggestive relief required both by the nature of the
sand-mould into which it is impressed, and the crystalline structure of
the metal when cast.

(4) Flat surfaces like grate fronts may be decorated with some intricacy
if the relief is delicate. But the relief must be less than the basis of
attachment, so that the moulding may be easily practicable, and no
portions invite one to test how easily they might be detached.

(5) Objects in the round must have a simple and substantial bounding
form with but little ornament, and that only suggested. This applies
equally to figures. In them homogeneous structure is of the first

(6) When possible, the surface should be finished and left as a metal
casting. It may, however, be entirely gilt. If painted, the colour must
be neutral and gray.

Casting in iron has been so abased and abused that it is almost
difficult to believe that the metal has anything to offer to the arts.
At no other time and in no other country would a national staple
commodity have been so degraded. Yet in its strength under pressure, but
fragility to a blow, in certain qualities of texture and of required
manipulation, it invites a specially characterised treatment in the
design, and it offers one of the few materials naturally black available
in the colour arrangement of interiors.



Dyeing is a very ancient art; from the earliest times of the ancient
civilisations till within about forty years ago there had been no
essential change in it, and not much change of any kind. Up to the time
of the discovery of the process of Prussian-blue dyeing in about 1810
(it was known as a pigment thirty or forty years earlier), the only
changes in the art were the result of the introduction of the American
insect dye (cochineal), which gradually superseded the European one
(kermes), and the American wood-dyes now known as logwood and
Brazil-wood: the latter differs little from the Asiatic and African Red
Saunders, and other red dye-woods; the former has cheapened and worsened
black-dyeing, in so far as it has taken the place of the indigo-vat as a
basis. The American quercitron bark gives us also a useful additional
yellow dye.

These changes, and one or two others, however, did little towards
revolutionising the art; that revolution was left for our own days, and
resulted from the discovery of what are known as the Aniline dyes,
deduced by a long process from the plants of the coal-measures. Of these
dyes it must be enough to say that their discovery, while conferring the
greatest honour on the abstract science of chemistry, and while doing
great service to capitalists in their hunt after profits, has terribly
injured the art of dyeing, and for the general public has nearly
destroyed it as an art. Henceforward there is an absolute divorce
between the _commercial process_ and the _art_ of dyeing. Anyone wanting
to produce dyed textiles with any artistic quality in them must entirely
forgo the modern and commercial methods in favour of those which are at
least as old as Pliny, who speaks of them as being old in his time.

Now, in order to dye textiles in patterns or otherwise, we need four
colours to start with--to wit, blue, red, yellow, and brown; green,
purple, black, and all intermediate shades can be made from a mixture of
these colours.

Blue is given us by indigo and woad, which do not differ in colour in
the least, their chemical product being the same. Woad may be called
northern indigo; and indigo tropical or sub-tropical woad.

Note that until the introduction of Prussian blue about 1810 there was
_no_ other blue dye except this indigotine that could be called a dye;
the other blue dyes were mere stains which would not bear the sun for
more than a few days.

Red is yielded by the insect dyes kermes, lac-dye, and cochineal, and by
the vegetable dye madder. Of these, kermes is the king; brighter than
madder and at once more permanent and more beautiful than cochineal: the
latter on an aluminous basis gives a rather cold crimson, and on a tin
basis a rather hot scarlet (_e.g._ the dress-coat of a line officer).
Madder yields on wool a deep-toned blood-red, somewhat bricky and
tending to scarlet. On cotton and linen, all imaginable shades of red
according to the process. It is not of much use in dyeing silk, which it
is apt to "blind"; _i.e._ it takes off the gloss. Lac-dye gives a hot
and not pleasant scarlet, as may be noted in a private militiaman's
coat. The French liners' trousers, by the way, are, or were, dyed with
madder, so that their countrymen sometimes call them the
"Madder-wearers"; but their cloth is somewhat too cheaply dyed to do
credit to the drysaltery.

Besides these permanent red dyes there are others produced from woods,
called in the Middle Ages by the general name of "Brazil"; whence the
name of the American country, because the conquerors found so much
dyeing-wood growing there. Some of these wood-dyes are very beautiful in
colour; but unluckily they are none of them permanent, as you may see by
examining the beautiful stuffs of the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries at the South Kensington Museum, in which you will scarcely
find any red, but plenty of fawn-colour, which is in fact the wood-red
of 500 years ago thus faded. If you turn from them to the Gothic
tapestries, and note the reds in them, you will have the measure of the
relative permanence of kermes and "Brazil," the tapestry reds being all
dyed with kermes, and still retaining the greater part of their colour.
The mediæval dyers must be partly excused, however, because "Brazil" is
especially a silk dye, kermes sharing somewhat in the ill qualities of
madder for silk; though I have dyed silk in kermes and got very
beautiful and powerful colours by means of it.

Yellow dyes are chiefly given us by weld (sometimes called wild
mignonette), quercitron bark (above mentioned), and old fustic, an
American dye-wood. Of these weld is much the prettiest, and is the
yellow silk dye _par excellence_, though it dyes wool well enough. But
yellow dyes are the commonest to be met with in nature, and our fields
and hedgerows bear plenty of greening-weeds, as our forefathers called
them, since they used them chiefly for greening blue woollen cloth; for,
as you may well believe, they, being good colourists, had no great taste
for yellow woollen stuff. Dyers'-broom, saw-wort, the twigs of the
poplar, the osier, and the birch, heather, broom, flowers and twigs,
will all of them give yellows of more or less permanence. Of these I
have tried poplar and osier twigs, which both gave a strong yellow, but
the former not a very permanent one.

Speaking generally, yellow dyes are the least permanent of all, as once
more you may see by looking at an old tapestry, in which the greens have
always faded more than the reds or blues; the best yellow dyes, however,
lose only their brighter shade, the "lemon" colour, and leave a residuum
of brownish yellow, which still makes a kind of a green over the blue.

Brown is best got from the roots of the walnut tree, or in their default
from the green husks of the nuts. This material is especially best for
"saddening," as the old dyers used to call it. The best and most
enduring blacks also were done with this simple dye-stuff, the goods
being first dyed in the indigo or woad-vat till they were a very dark
blue and then browned into black by means of the walnut-root. Catechu,
the inspissated juice of a plant or plants, which comes to us from
India, also gives rich and useful permanent browns of various shades.

Green is obtained by dyeing a blue of the required shade in the
indigo-vat, and then greening it with a good yellow dye, adding what
else may be necessary (as, _e.g._, madder) to modify the colour
according to taste.

Purple is got by blueing in the indigo-vat, and afterwards by a bath of
cochineal, or kermes, or madder; all intermediate shades of claret and
murrey and russet can be got by these drugs helped out by "saddening."

Black, as aforesaid, is best made by dyeing dark blue wool with brown;
and walnut is better than iron for the brown part, because the
iron-brown is apt to rot the fibre; as once more you will see in some
pieces of old tapestry or old Persian carpets, where the black is quite
perished, or at least in the case of the carpet gone down to the knots.
All intermediate shades can, as aforesaid, be got by the blending of
these prime colours, or by using weak baths of them. For instance, all
shades of flesh colour can be got by means of weak baths of madder and
walnut "saddening"; madder or cochineal mixed with weld gives us orange,
and with saddening all imaginable shades between yellow and red,
including the ambers, maize-colour, etc. The crimsons in Gothic
tapestries must have been got by dyeing kermes over pale shades of blue,
since the crimson red-dye, cochineal, had not yet come to Europe.

A word or two (entirely unscientific) about the processes of this
old-fashioned or artistic dyeing.

In the first place, all _dyes_ must be soluble colours, differing in
this respect from _pigments_; most of which are insoluble, and are only
very finely divided, as, _e.g._, ultramarine, umber, terre-verte.

Next, dyes may be divided into those which need a mordant and those
which do not; or, as the old chemist Bancroft very conveniently
expresses it, into _adjective_ and _substantive_ dyes.

Indigo is the great substantive dye: the indigo has to be de-oxidised
and thereby made soluble, in which state it loses its blue colour in
proportion as the solution is complete; the goods are plunged into this
solution and worked in it "between two waters," as the phrase goes, and
when exposed to the air the indigo they have got on them is swiftly
oxidised, and once more becomes insoluble. This process is repeated till
the required shade is got. All shades of blue can be got by this means,
from the pale "watchet," as our forefathers called it, up to the blue
which the eighteenth-century French dyers called "Bleu d'enfer." Navy
Blue is the politer name for it to-day in England. I must add that,
though this seems an easy process, the setting of the blue-vat is a
ticklish job, and requires, I should say, more experience than any other
dyeing process.

The brown dyes, walnut and catechu, need no mordant, and are substantive
dyes; some of the yellows also can be dyed without mordant, but are
much improved by it. The red dyes, kermes and madder, and the yellow
dye weld, are especially mordant or adjective dyes: they are all dyed on
an aluminous basis. To put the matter plainly, the goods are worked in a
solution of alum (usually with a little acid added), and after an
interval of a day or two (ageing) are dyed in a bath of the dissolved

A lake is thus formed on the fibre which is in most cases very durable.
The effect of this "mordanting" of the fibre is clearest seen in the
maddering of printed cotton goods, which are first printed with
aluminous mordants of various degrees of strength (or with iron if black
is needed, or a mixture of iron with alumina for purple), and then dyed
wholesale in the madder-beck: the result being that the parts which have
been mordanted come out various shades of red, etc., according to the
strength or composition of the mordant, while the unmordanted parts
remain a dirty pink, which has to be "cleared" into white by soaping and
exposure to the sun and air; which process both brightens and fixes the
dyed parts.

Pliny saw this going on in Egypt, and it puzzled him very much, that a
cloth dyed in one colour should come out coloured diversely.

That reminds me to say a word on the fish-dye of the ancients: it was a
substantive dye and behaved somewhat as indigo. It was very permanent.
The colour was a real purple in the modern sense of the word, _i.e._ a
colour or shades of a colour between red and blue. The real Byzantine
books which are written on purple vellum give you some, at least, of its
shades. The ancients, you must remember, used words for colours in a way
that seems vague to us, because they were generally thinking of the
tone rather than the _tint_. When they wanted to _specify_ a red dye
they would not use the word purpureus, but coccineus, _i.e._ scarlet of

The art of dyeing, I am bound to say, is a difficult one, needing for
its practice a good craftsman, with plenty of experience. Matching a
colour by means of it is an agreeable but somewhat anxious game to play.

As to the artistic value of these dye-stuffs, most of which, together
with the necessary mordant alumina, the world discovered in early times
(I mean early _historical_ times), I must tell you that they all make in
their simplest forms beautiful colours; they need no muddling into
artistic usefulness, when you need your colours bright (as I hope you
usually do), and they can be modified and toned without dirtying, as the
foul blotches of the capitalist dyer cannot be. Like all dyes, they are
not eternal; the sun in lighting them and beautifying them consumes
them; yet gradually, and for the most part kindly, as (to use my example
for the last time in this paper) you will see if you look at the Gothic
tapestries in the drawing-room at Hampton Court. These colours in fading
still remain beautiful, and never, even after long wear, pass into
nothingness, through that stage of livid ugliness which distinguishes
the commercial dyes as nuisances, even more than their short and by no
means merry life.

I may also note that no textiles dyed blue or green, otherwise than by
indigo, keep an agreeable colour by candle-light: many quite bright
greens turning into sheer drab. A fashionable blue which simulates
indigo turns into a slaty purple by candle-light; and Prussian blues
are also much damaged by it. I except from this condemnation a
commercial green known as gas-green, which is as abominable as its name,
both by daylight and gaslight, and indeed one would almost expect it to
make unlighted midnight hideous.



The technicalities of Embroidery are very simple and its tools
few--practically consisting of a needle, and nothing else. The work can
be wrought loose in the hand, or stretched in a frame, which latter mode
is often advisable, always when smooth and minute work is aimed at.
There are no mysteries of method beyond a few elementary rules that can
be quickly learnt; no way to perfection except that of care and patience
and love of the work itself. This being so, the more is demanded from
design and execution: we look for complete triumph over the limitations
of process and material, and, what is equally important, a certain
judgment and self-restraint; and, in short, those mental qualities that
distinguish mechanical from intelligent work. The latitude allowed to
the worker; the lavishness and ingenuity displayed in the stitches
employed; in short, the vivid expression of the worker's individuality,
form a great part of the success of needlework.

The varieties of stitch are too many to be closely described without
diagrams, but the chief are as follows:--

Chain-stitch consists of loops simulating the links of a simple chain.
Some of the most famous work of the Middle Ages was worked in this
stitch, which is enduring, and of its nature necessitates careful
execution. We are more familiar with it in the dainty work of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in the airy brightness and
simplicity of which lies a peculiar charm, contrasted with the more
pompous and pretentious work of the same period. This stitch is also
wrought with a hook on any loose material stretched in a tambour frame.

Tapestry-stitch consists of a building-up of stitches laid one beside
another, and gives a surface slightly resembling that of tapestry. I
give the name as it is so often used, but it is vague, and leads to the
confusion that exists in people's minds between loom-tapestry and
embroidery. The stitch is worked in a frame, and is particularly
suitable for the drapery of figures and anything that requires skilful
blending of several colours, or a certain amount of shading. This
facility of "painting" with the needle is in itself a danger, for it
tempts some people to produce a highly shaded imitation of a picture, an
attempt which must be a failure both as a decorative and as a pictorial
achievement. It cannot be said too often that the essential qualities of
all good needlework are a broad surface, bold lines and pure, brilliant
and, as a rule, simple colouring; all of which being qualities
attainable through, and prescribed by, the limitations of this art.

Appliqué has been, and is still, a favourite method of work, which
Vasari tells us Botticelli praised as being very suitable to
processional banners and hangings used in the open air, as it is solid
and enduring, also bold and effective in style. It is more accurately
described as a _method_ of work in which various stitches are made use
of, for it consists of designs embroidered on a stout ground and then
cut out and laid on silk or velvet, and edged round with lines of gold
or silk, and sometimes with pearls. It requires considerable deftness
and judgment in applying, as the work could well be spoilt by clumsy and
heavy finishing. It is now looked upon as solely ecclesiastical, I
believe, and is associated in our minds with garish red, gold and white,
and with dull geometric ornament, though there is absolutely no reason
why church embroidery of to-day should be limited to ungraceful forms
and staring colours. A certain period of work, thick and solid, but not
very interesting, either as to method or design, has been stereotyped
into what is known as Ecclesiastical Embroidery, the mechanical
characteristics of the style being, of course, emphasised and
exaggerated in the process. Church work will never be of the finest
while these characteristics are insisted on; the more pity, as it is
seemly that the richest and noblest work should be devoted to churches,
and to all buildings that belong to and are an expression of the
communal life of the people. Another and simpler form of applied work is
to cut out the desired forms in one material and lay upon another,
securing the appliqué with stitches round the outline, which are hidden
by an edging cord. The work may be further enriched by light ornament of
lines and flourishes laid directly on the ground material.

Couching is an effective method of work, in which broad masses of silk
or gold thread are laid down and secured by a network or diaper of
crossing threads, through which the under surface shines very prettily.
It is often used in conjunction with appliqué. There are as many
varieties of couching stitches as the worker has invention for; in some
the threads are laid simply and flatly on the form to be covered, while
in others a slight relief is obtained by layers of soft linen thread
which form a kind of moulding or stuffing, and which are covered by the
silk threads or whatever is to be the final decorative surface.

The ingenious patchwork coverlets of our grandmothers, formed of scraps
of old gowns pieced together in certain symmetrical forms, constitute
the romance of family history, but this method has an older origin than
would be imagined. Queen Isis-em-Kheb's embalmed body went down the Nile
to its burial-place under a canopy that was lately discovered, and is
preserved in the Boulak Museum. It consists of many squares of
gazelle-hide of different colours sewn together and ornamented with
various devices. Under the name of patchwork, or mosaic-like piecing
together of different coloured stuffs, comes also the Persian work made
at Resht. Bits of fine cloth are cut out for leaves, flowers, and so
forth, and neatly stitched together with great accuracy. This done, the
work is further carried out and enriched by chain and other stitches.
The result is perfectly smooth flat work, no easy feat when done on a
large scale, as it often is.

Darning and running need little explanation. The former stitch is
familiar to us in the well-known Cretan and Turkish cloths: the stitch
here is used mechanically in parallel lines, and simulates weaving, so
that these handsome borders in a deep rich red might as well have come
from the loom as from the needle. Another method of darning is looser
and coarser, and suitable only for cloths and hangings not subject to
much wear and rubbing; the stitches follow the curves of the design,
which the needle paints, as it were, shading and blending the colours.
It is necessary to use this facility for shading temperately, however,
or the flatness essential to decorative work is lost.

The foregoing is a rough list of stitches which could be copiously
supplemented, but that I am obliged to pass on to another important
point, that of design. If needlework is to be looked upon seriously, it
is necessary to secure appropriate and practicable designs. Where the
worker does not invent for herself, she should at least interpret her
designer, just as the designer interprets and does not attempt to
imitate nature. It follows from this, that it is better to avoid using
designs of artists who know nothing of the capacities of needlework, and
design beautiful and intricate forms without reference to the execution,
the result being unsatisfactory and incomplete. Regarding the design
itself, broad bold lines should be chosen, and broad harmonious colour
(which should be roughly planned before setting to work), with as much
minute work, and stitches introducing play of colour, as befits the
purpose of the work and humour of the worker; there should be no
scratching, no indefiniteness of form or colour, no vagueness that
allows the eye to puzzle over the design--beyond that indefinable sense
of mystery which arrests the attention and withholds the full charm of
the work for a moment, to unfold it to those who stop to give it more
than a glance. But there are so many different stitches and so many
different modes of setting to work, that it will soon be seen that these
few hints do not apply to all of them. One method, for instance,
consists of trusting entirely to design, and leaves colour out of
account: white work on white linen, white on dark ground, or black or
dark blue upon white. Again, some work depends more on magnificence of
colour than on form, as, for example, the handsome Italian hangings of
the seventeenth century, worked in floss-silk, on linen sometimes, and
sometimes on a dusky open canvas which makes the silks gleam and glow
like precious stones.

In thus slightly describing the methods chiefly used in embroidery, I do
so principally from old examples, as modern embroidery, being a
dilettante pastime, has little distinct character, and is, in its best
points, usually imitative. Eastern work still retains the old
professional skill, but beauty of colour is rapidly disappearing, and
little attention is paid to durability of the dyes used. In speaking
rather slightingly of modern needlework, I must add that its non-success
is often due more to the use of poor materials than to want of skill in
working. It is surely folly to waste time over work that looks shabby in
a month. The worker should use judgment and thought to procure
materials, not necessarily rich, but each good and genuine of its kind.
Lastly, she should not be sparing of her own handiwork, for, while a
slightly executed piece of work depends wholly on design, in one where
the actual stitchery is more elaborate, but the design less masterly,
the patience and thought lavished on it render it in a different way
equally pleasing, and bring it more within the scope of the amateur.



Lace is a term freely used at the present time to describe various sorts
of open ornament in thread work, the successful effect of which depends
very much upon the contrasting of more or less closely-textured forms
with grounds or intervening spaces filled in with meshes of equal size
or with cross-ties, bars, etc. Whence it has come to pass that fabrics
having an appearance of this description, such as embroideries upon
nets, cut linen works, drawn thread works, and machine-woven
counterfeits of lace-like fabrics, are frequently called laces. But
they differ in make from those productions of certain specialised
handicrafts to which from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries lace
owes its fame.

These specialised handicrafts are divisible into two branches. The one
branch involves the employment of a needle to loop a continuous thread
into varieties of shapes and devices; the other is in the nature of
making corresponding or similar ornament by twisting and plaiting
together a number of separate threads, the loose ends of which have to
be fastened in a row on a cushion or pillow, the supply of the threads
being wound around the heads of lengthened bobbins, so shaped for
convenience in handling. The first-named branch is needlepoint
lace-making; the second, bobbin or pillow lace-making. Needlepoint
lace-making may be regarded as a species of embroidery, whilst bobbin
or pillow lace-making is closely allied to the twisting and knotting
together of threads for fringes. Embroidery, however, postulates a
foundation of material to be enriched with needlework, whereas
needlepoint and pillow lace are wrought independently of any
corresponding foundation of material.

The production of slender needles and small metal pins is an important
incident in the history of lace-making by hand. Broadly speaking, the
manufacture for a widespread consumption of such metal pins and needles
does not date earlier than the fourteenth century. Without small
implements of this character delicate lace-making is not possible. It is
therefore fair to assume that although historic nations like the
Egyptian, Assyrian, Hebrew, Greek, and Roman, made use of fringes and
knotted cords upon their hangings, cloaks, and tunics, lace was unknown
to them. Their bone, wooden, or metal pins and needles were suited to
certain classes of embroidery and to the making of nets, looped cords,
etc., but not to such lace-making as we know it from the early days of
the sixteenth century.

About the end of the fifteenth century, with the development in Europe
of fine linen for underclothing, collars and cuffs just visible beyond
the outer garments came into vogue, and a taste was speedily manifested
for trimming linen undershirts, collars and cuffs, with insertions and
borders of kindred material. This taste seems to have been first
displayed in a marked manner by Venetian and Flemish women; for the
earliest known books of engraved patterns for linen ornamental borders
and insertions are those which were published during the commencement
of the sixteenth century at Venice and Antwerp. But such patterns were
designed in the first place for various sorts of embroidery upon a
material, such as darning upon canvas (_punto fa su la rete a maglia
quadra_), drawn thread work of reticulated patterns (_punto tirato_ or
_punto a reticella_), and cut work (_punto tagliato_). Patterns for
quite other sorts of work, such as point in the air (_punto in aere_)
and thread work twisted and plaited by means of little leaden weights or
bobbins (_merletti a piombini_), were about thirty years later in
publication. These two last-named classes of work are respectively
identifiable (_punto in aere_) with needlepoint and (_merletti a
piombini_) with bobbin lace-making; and they seem to date from about

The sixteenth-century and earliest known needlepoint laces (_punto in
aere_) are of narrow lengths or bands, the patterns of which are
composed principally of repeated open squares filled in with circular,
star, and other geometric shapes, set upon diagonal and cross lines
which radiate from the centre of each square to its corners and sides.
When the bands were to serve as borders they would have a dentated
edging added to them; this edging might be made of either needlepoint or
bobbin lace. As time went on the dimensions of both lace bands and lace
vandykes increased so that, whilst these served as trimmings to linen,
lace of considerable width and various shapes came to be made, and
ruffs, collars, and cuffs were wholly made of it. Such lace was thin and
wiry in appearance. The leading lines of the patterns formed squares and
geometrical figures, amongst which were disposed small wheel and seed
forms, little triangles, and such like. A few years later the details
of these geometrically planned patterns became more varied, tiny human
figures, fruits, vases and flowers, being used as ornamental details.
But a more distinct change in character of pattern was effected when
flowing scrolls with leaf and blossom devices, held together by means of
little ties or bars, were adopted. Different portions of the scrolls and
blossoms with their connecting links or bars would often be enriched
with little loops or _picots_, with stitched reliefs, and varieties of
close and open work. Then came a taste for arranging the bars or ties
into trellis grounds, or grounds of hexagons, over which small
ornamental devices would be scattered in balanced groups. At the same
time, the bobbin or pillow lace-workers produced grounds of small
equal-size meshes in plaited threads. This inventiveness on the part of
the bobbin or pillow workers reacted upon the needlepoint workers, who
in their turn produced still more delicate grounds with meshes of single
and double twisted threads.

Lace, passing from stage to stage, thus became a filmy tissue or fabric,
and its original use as a somewhat stiff, wiry-looking trimming to linen
consequently changed. Larger articles than borders, collars, and cuffs
were made of the new filmy material, and lace flounces, veils, loose
sleeves, curtains, and bed-covers were produced. This transition may be
traced through the first hundred and twenty years of lace-making. It
culminated during the succeeding ninety years in a development of
fanciful pattern-making, in which realistic representation of flowers,
trees, cupids, warriors, sportsmen, animals of the chase, emblems of all
sorts, rococo and architectural ornament, is typical. Whilst the
eighteenth century may perhaps be regarded as a period of questionable
propriety in the employment of ornament hardly appropriate to the
twisting, plaiting, and looping together of threads, it is nevertheless
notable for _tours de force_ in lace-making achieved without regard to
cost or trouble. From this stage, the climax of which may be placed
about 1760, the designing of lace patterns declined; and from the end of
the eighteenth to the first twenty years or so of the nineteenth
centuries, laces, although still made with the needle and bobbins,
became little more than finely-meshed nets powdered over with dots or
leaves, or single blossoms, or tiny sprays.

Within the limits of a brief note like the present, it is not possible
to discuss local peculiarities in methods of work and styles of design
which established the characters of the various Venetian and other
Italian points, of the French points of Alençon and Argentan, of the
cloudy Valenciennes, Mechlin, and Brussels laces. Neither can one touch
upon the nurturing of the industry by nuns in convents, by workers
subsidised by State grants, and so forth. It would require more space
than is available to fairly discuss what styles of ornament are least or
most suited to lace-making; or whether lace is less rightly employed as
a tissue for the making of entire articles of costume or of household
use, than as an ornamental accessory or trimming to costume.

Whilst very much lace is a fantastic adjunct to costume, serving a
purpose sometimes like that of _appoggiature_ and _fioriture_ in music,
other lace, such as the carved-ivory-looking scrolls of Venetian raised
points, which are principally associated with the _jabots_ and ruffles
of kings, ministers, and marshals, and with the ornamentation of
priests' vestments, is certainly more dignified in character. The loops,
twists, and plaits of threads are more noticeable in laces of
comparatively small dimensions than they are in laces of great size.
Size rather tempts the lace-worker to strive for ready effect, and to
sacrifice the minuteness and finish of hand work, which give quality of
preciousness to lace. The _via media_ to this quality lies between two
extremes; namely, applying dainty threads to the interpretation of badly
shaped and ill-grouped forms on the one hand, and on the other hand
adopting a style of ornament which depends upon largeness of detail and
massiveness in grouping, and is therefore unsuited to lace. Without
finish of handicraft, producing beautiful ornament suited to the
material in which it is expressed, lace worthy the name cannot be made.

The industry is still pursued in France, Belgium, Venice, Austria,
Bohemia, and Ireland. Honiton has acquired a notoriety for its pillow
laces, many of which some hundred years ago were as varied and well
executed as Brussels pillow laces. Other English towns in the Midland
counties followed the lead chiefly of Mechlin, Valenciennes, Lille, and
Arras, but were rarely as successful as their leaders. Saxony, Russia,
and the Auvergne produce quantities of pillow laces, having little
pretence to design, though capable of pretty effects when artistically
worn. There is no question that the want of a sustained intelligence in
appreciating ingenious hand-made laces has told severely upon the
industry; and as with other artistic handicrafts, so with lace-making,
machinery has very considerably supplanted the hand. There is at present
a limited revival in the demand for hand-made laces, and efforts are
made at certain centres to give new life to the industry by infusing
into it artistic feeling derived from a study of work done during the
periods when the art flourished.



Book illustration is supposed to have made a great advance in the last
few years. No doubt it has, but this advance has not been made on any
definite principle, but, as it were, in and out of a network of
cross-purposes. No attempt has been made to classify illustration in
relation to the purpose it has to fulfil.

Broadly speaking, this purpose is threefold. It is either utilitarian,
or partly utilitarian partly artistic, or purely artistic. The first may
be dismissed at once. Such drawings as technical diagrams must be clear
and accurate, but by their very nature they are non-artistic, and in
regard to art it is a case of "hands off" to the draughtsman.

Illustration as an art, that is, book decoration, begins with the second
class. From this standpoint an illustration involves something more than
mere drawing. In the first place, the drawing must illustrate the
subject, but as the drawing will not be set in a plain mount, but
surrounded or bordered by printed type, there is the further problem of
the relation of the drawing to the printed type. The relative importance
attached to the printed type or the drawing is the crucial point for the
illustrator. If all his thoughts are concentrated on his own drawing,
one line to him will be much as another; but if he considers his
illustration as going with the type to form one homogeneous design,
each line becomes a matter of deliberate intention.

Now, in the early days of printing, when both type and illustration were
printed off a single block, the latter standpoint was adopted as a
matter of course, and as the art developed and men of genuine ability
applied themselves to design, this intimate relation between printer and
designer produced results of inimitable beauty. Each page of a fine
Aldine is a work of art in itself. The eye can run over page after page
for the simple pleasure of its decoration. No black blots in a sea of
ignoble type break the quiet dignity of the page; each part of it works
together with the rest for one premeditated harmony. But gradually, with
the severance of the arts, the printer lost sight of the artist, and the
latter cared only for himself; and there came the inevitable result
which has followed this selfishness in all the other arts of design.
Printing ceased to be an art at all, and the art of book decoration died
of neglect; the illustrator made his drawing without thought of the
type, and left it to the printer to pitch it into the text, and
reproduce it as best he could.

The low-water mark in artistic illustration was reached perhaps in the
early part of this century, and the greatest offender was Turner
himself. The illustrations which Turner made for Rogers's Poems show no
sort of modification of his habitual practice in painting. They may have
been beautiful in themselves, but it evidently never entered into
Turner's head that the method, which was admirable in a picture aided by
all the resources of colour, was beside the mark when applied to the
printed page with all the limitations of black and white and the simple
line. One looks in vain in Turner's illustrations for any evidence that
he was conscious of the existence of the rest of the page at all.
Something more than a landscape painter's knowledge of drawing is
necessary. The custom of getting illustrations from painters who have
little knowledge of decorative design has led to the invention of all
sorts of mechanical processes in order to transfer easel-work direct to
the printed page. The effect of this upon book decoration has been
deadly. Process-work of this sort has gone far to kill wood-engraving;
and as to its result, instead of a uniform texture of line woven as it
were over the entire page, the eye is arrested by harsh patches of black
or gray which show a disregard of the printed type which is little less
than brutal. Leaving recent work out of account, one exception only can
be made, and that is in the case of William Blake.

The inherent conditions of book decoration point to the line drawn by
hand, and reproduced, either by wood-engraving or by direct facsimile
process, as its proper method. Indeed, the ideal of paginal beauty would
be reached by leaving both the text and the illustrative design to hand,
if not to one hand. This, however, is out of the question; the cost
alone is prohibitive. The point for the book-decorator to consider is,
what sort of line will range best with the type. In the case of the
second division of our classification, which, in default of a better
name, may be called "record work," it is impossible to apply to the line
the amount of abstraction and selection which would be necessary in pure
design. To do so, for instance, in the case of an architectural
illustration, would destroy the "vraisemblance" which is of the essence
of such a drawing. Even in this case, however, the line ought to be very
carefully considered. It is important to recollect that the type
establishes a sort of scale of its own, and, taking ordinary lettering,
this would exclude very minute work where the lines are close together
and there is much cross-hatching; and also simple outline work such as
Retsch used to labour at, for the latter errs on the side of tenuity and
meagreness as much as process-reproduction of brush-work sins in the
opposite extreme. The line used in architectural illustration should be
free, accurate, and unfaltering, drawn with sufficient technical
knowledge of architecture to enable the draughtsman to know where he can
stop without injury to his subject. The line should not be obstinate,
but so light and subtle as to reflect without effort each thought that
flits across the artist's mind. Vierge has shown how much can be done in
this way. With a few free lines and the contrast of some dark piece of
shading in exactly the right place, he will often tell you more of a
subject than will the most elaborately finished picture. This is the
method to aim at in architectural illustration. The poetry of
architecture and its highest qualities of dignity of mass and outline
are smothered by that laborious accuracy which covers every part of the
drawing with a vain repetition of unfeeling lines.

Where, however, the illustration is purely imaginative, the decorative
standpoint should be kept steadily in view, and the process of selection
and abstraction carried very much farther. Here, at length, the
illustrator can so order his design that the drawing and the printed
type form a single piece of decoration, not disregarding the type, but
using it as in itself a means of obtaining texture and scale and
distributed effect. The type is, as it were, the technical datum of the
design, which determines the scale of the line to be used with it. With
a wiry type no doubt a wiry drawing is desirable, but the types of the
great periods of printing are firm in outline and large and ample in
distribution. Assuming, then, that one of these types can be used, the
line of the accompanying design should be strongly drawn, and designed
from end to end with full allowance for the white paper. No better model
can be followed than Dürer's woodcuts. The amount of work which Dürer
would get out of a single line is something extraordinary, and perhaps
to us impossible; for in view of our complex modern ideas and total
absence of tradition, probably no modern designer can hope to attain to
the great German's magnificent directness and tremendous intensity of

Deliberate selection, both in subject and treatment, becomes therefore a
matter of the first importance. The designer should reject subjects
which do not admit of a decorative treatment. His business is not with
science, or morals, but with art for its own sake; he should, therefore,
select his subject with a single eye to its artistic possibilities. As
to the line itself, it is impossible to offer any suggestion, for the
line used is as much a part of the designer's idea as the words of a
poem are of a poet's poetry; and the invention of these must come of
itself. But once in consciousness, the line must be put under rigid
control as simply a means of expression. There is an insidious danger in
the line. Designers sometimes seem to be inebriated with their own
cunning; they go on drawing line after line, apparently for the simple
pleasure of deftly placing them side by side, or at best to produce some
spurious imitation of texture. As soon as the line is made an end in
itself, it becomes a wearisome thing. The use of the line and the
imitation of texture should be absolutely subordinated to the decorative
purposes of the design, and the neglect of this rule is as bad art as if
a musician, from perverse delight in the intricacies of a fugue, were to
lose his theme in a chaos of counterpoint.

If, then, to conclude, we are to return to the best traditions of book
decoration, the artist must abandon the selfish isolation in which he
has hitherto worked. He must regard the printed type not as a necessary
evil, but as a valuable material for the decoration of the page, and
the type and the illustration should be considered in strict relation to
each other. This will involve a self-restraint far more rigid than any
required in etching, because the point to be aimed at is not so much the
direct suggestion of nature, as the best decorative treatment of the
line in relation to the entire page. Thus, to the skill of the
draughtsman must be added the far-seeing imagination of the designer,
which, instead of being content with a hole-and-corner success,
involving disgrace to the rest of the page, embraces in its
consciousness all the materials available for the beautification of the
page as a whole. It is only by this severe intellectual effort, by this
self-abnegation, by this ready acceptance of the union of the arts, that
the art of book illustration can again attain to a permanent value.



The drawings which most deeply interest the workman are working
drawings--just the last to be appreciated by the public, because they
are the last to be understood. The most admired of show drawings are to
us craftsmen comparatively without interest. We recognise the
"competition" drawing at once; we see how it was made in order to secure
the commission, not with a view to its effect in execution (which is the
true and only end of a design), and we do not wonder at the failure of
competitions in general. For the man who cares least, if even he knows
at all, how a design will appear in execution is the most likely to
perpetrate a prettiness which may gain the favour of the inexpert, with
whom the selection is likely to rest.

The general public, and all in fact who are technically ignorant on the
subject, need to be warned that the most attractive and what are called
"taking" drawings are just those which are least likely to be
designs--still less _bonâ fide_ working drawings. The real workman has
not the time, even if he had the inclination, to "finish up" his
drawings to the point that is generally considered pleasing; the
inventive spirit has not the patience. We have each of us the failings
complementary to our faculties, and _vice versâ_; and you will usually
find--certainly it is my experience--that the makers of very
elaborately finished drawings seldom do anything but what we have often
seen before; and that men of any individuality, actual designers that is
to say, have a way of considering a drawing finished as soon as ever it
expresses what they mean.

You may take it, then, as a general rule that highly finished and
elaborate drawings are got up for show, "finished for exhibition" as
they say (in compliance with the supposed requirements of an exhibition
rather than with a view to practical purposes), and that drawings
completed only so far as is necessary, precise in their details,
disfigured by notes in writing, sections, and so on, are at least
genuine workaday designs.

If you ask what a design should be like--well, like a design. It is
altogether a different thing from a picture; it is almost the reverse of
it. Practically no man has, as I said, the leisure, even if he had the
ability, to make an effective finished picture of a thing yet to be
carried out--perhaps _not_ to be carried out. This last is a most
serious consideration for him, and may have a sad effect upon his work.
The artist who could afford thus to give himself away gratis would
certainly not do so; the man who might be willing to do it could not;
for if he has "got no work to do"--that is at least presumptive evidence
that he is not precisely a master of his craft.

The design that looks like a picture is likely to be at best a
reminiscence of something done before; and the more often it has been
done the more likely it is to be pictorially successful--and by so much
the less is it, strictly speaking, a design.

This applies especially to designs on a small scale, such as are
usually submitted to catch the rare commission. To imitate in a
full-sized cartoon the texture of material, the casualty of reflected
light, and other such accidents of effect, is sheer nonsense, and no
practical workman would think of such a thing. A painter put to the
uncongenial task of decorative design might be excused for attempting to
make his productions pass muster by workmanship excellent in itself,
although not in the least to the point: one does what one can, or what
one must; and if a man has a faculty he needs must show it. Only, the
perfection of painting will not, for all that, make design.

In the first small sketch-design, everything need not of course be
expressed; but it should be indicated--for the purpose is simply to
explain the scheme proposed: so much of pictorial representation as may
be necessary to that is desirable, and no more. It should be in the
nature of a diagram, specific enough to illustrate the idea and how it
is to be worked out. It ought by strict rights to commit one definitely
to a certain method of execution, as a written specification would; and
may often with advantage be helped out by written notes, which explain
more definitely than any pictorial rendering just how this is to be
wrought, that cast, the other chased, and so on, as the case may be.

Whatever the method of expression the artist may adopt, he should be
perfectly clear in his own mind how his design is to be worked out; and
he ought to make it clear also to any one with sufficient technical
knowledge to understand a drawing.

In the first sketch for a window, for example, he need not show every
lead and every piece of glass; but there should be no possible mistake
as to how it is to be glazed, or which is "painted" glass and which is
"mosaic." To omit the necessary bars in a sketch for glass seems to me a
weak concession to the prejudice of the public. One _may_ have to
concede such points sometimes; but the concession is due less to
necessity than to the--what shall we call it?--not perhaps exactly the
cowardice, but at all events the timidity, of the artist.

In a full-sized working drawing or cartoon everything material to the
design should be expressed, and that as definitely as possible. In a
cartoon for glass (to take again the same example) every lead-line
should be shown, as well as the saddle bars; to omit them is about as
excusable as it would be to leave out the sections from a design for
cabinet work. It is contended sometimes that such details are not
necessary, that the artist can bear all that in mind. Doubtless he can,
more or less; but I am inclined to believe more strongly in the _less_.
At any rate he will much more certainly have them in view whilst he
keeps them visibly before his eyes. One thing that deters him is the
fear of offending the client, who will not believe, when he sees leads
and bars in a drawing, how little they are likely to assert themselves
in the glass.

Very much the same thing applies to designs and working drawings
generally. A thorough craftsman never suggests a form or colour without
realising in his own mind how he will be able to get such form or colour
in the actual work; and in his working drawing he explains that fully,
making allowance even for some not impossible dulness of apprehension on
the part of the executant. Thus, if a pattern is to be woven he
indicates the cards to be employed, he arranges what parts are
"single," what "double," as the weavers call it, what changes in the
shuttle are proposed, and by the crossing of which threads certain
intermediate tints are to be obtained.

Or again, if the design is for wall-paper printing, he arranges not only
for the blocks, but the order in which they shall be printed; and
provides for possible printing in "flock," or for the printing of one
transparent colour over another, so as to get more colours than there
are blocks used, and so on.

In either case, too, he shows quite plainly the limits of each colour,
not so much seeking the softness of effect which is his ultimate aim, as
the precision which will enable the block or card cutter to see at a
glance what he means,--even at the risk of a certain hardness in his
drawing; for the drawing is in itself of no account; it is only the
means to an end; and his end is the stuff, the paper, or whatever it
may be, in execution.

A workman intent on his design will sacrifice his drawing to it--harden
it, as I said, for the sake of emphasis, annotate it, patch it, cut it
up into pieces to prove it, if need be do anything to make his meaning
clear to the workman who comes after him. It is as a rule only the
dilettante who is dainty about preserving his drawings.

To an artist very much in repute there may be some temptation to be
careful of his designs, and to elaborate them (himself, or by the hands
of his assistants), because, so finished, they have a commercial value
as drawings--but this is at best pot-boiling; and the only men who are
subject to this temptation are just those who might be proof against it.
Men of such rank that even their working drawings are in demand have no
very urgent need to work for the pot; and the working drawings of men
to whom pounds and shillings must needs be a real consideration are not
sought after.

In the case of very smart and highly finished drawings by comparatively
unknown designers--of ninety-nine out of a hundred, that is to say, or
nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand perhaps--elaboration
implies either that, having little to say, a man fills up his time in
saying it at unnecessary length, or that he is working for exhibition.

And why not work for exhibition? it may be asked. There is a simple
answer to that: The exhibition pitch is in much too high a key, and in
the long run it will ruin the faculty of the workman who adopts it.

It is only fair to admit that an exhibition of fragmentary and
unfinished drawings, soiled, tattered, and torn, as they almost
invariably come from the workshop or factory, would make a very poor
show--which may be an argument against exhibiting them at all. Certainly
it is a reason for mending, cleaning, and mounting them, and putting
them in some sort of frame (for what is not worth the pains of making
presentable is not worth showing), but that is a very different thing
from working designs up to picture pitch.

When all is said, designs, if exhibited, appeal primarily to designers.
_We_ all want to see each other's work, and especially each other's way
of working; but it should not be altogether uninteresting to the
intelligent amateur to see what working drawings are, and to compare
them with the kind of specious competition drawings by which he is so
apt to be misled.



The art of furnishing runs on two wheels--the room and the furniture. As
in the bicycle, the inordinate development of one wheel at the expense
of its colleague has been not without some great feats, yet too often
has provoked catastrophe; so furnishing makes safest progression when,
with a juster proportion, its two wheels are kept to moderate and
uniform diameters. The room should be for the furniture just as much as
the furniture for the room.

Of late it has not been so; we have been indulging in the
"disproportionately wheeled" type, and the result has been to crowd our
rooms, and reduce them to insignificance. Even locomotion in them is
often embarrassing, especially when the upholsterer has been allowed
_carte blanche_. But, apart from this, there is a sense of repletion in
these masses of chattel--miscellanies brought together with no
subordination to each other, or to the effect of the room as a whole.
Taken in the single piece, our furniture is sometimes not without its
merit, but it is rarely exempt from self-assertion, or, to use a slang
term, "fussiness." And an aggregation of "fussinesses" becomes
fatiguing. One is betrayed into uncivilised longings for the workhouse,
or even the convict's cell, the simplicity of bare boards and tables!

But we must not use our dictum for aggressive purposes merely, faulty
as modern systems may be. In the distinction of the two sides of the
problem of furnishing--the room for the furniture, and the furniture for
the room--there is some historical significance. Under these titles
might be written respectively the first and last chapters in the history
of this art--its rise and its decadence.

Furniture in the embryonic state of chests, which held the possessions
of early times, and served, as they moved from place to place, for
tables, chairs, and wardrobes, may have been in existence while the
tents and sheds which accommodated them were of less value. But
furnishing began with settled architecture, when the room grew first
into importance, and overshadowed its contents. The art of the builder
had soared far beyond the ambitions of the furnisher.

Later, the two constituents of our art came to be produced
simultaneously, and under one impulse of design. The room, whether
church or hall, had now its specific furniture. In the former this was
adapted for ritual, in the latter for feasting; but in both the contents
formed in idea an integral part of the interior in which they stood. And
while these conditions endured, the art was in its palmy state.

Later, furniture came to be considered apart from its position. It grew
fanciful and fortuitous. The problem of fitting it to the room was no
problem at all while both sprang from a common conception: it became so
when its independent design, at first a foible of luxury, grew to be a
necessity of production. As long, however, as architecture remained
dominant, and painting and sculpture were its acknowledged vassals,
furniture retained its legitimate position and shared in their triumphs.
But when these the elder sisters shook off their allegiance, furniture
followed suit. It developed the self-assertion of which we have spoken,
and, in the belief that it could stand alone, divorced itself from that
support which was the final cause of its existence. There have been
doubtless many slackenings and tightenings of the chain which links the
arts of design together; but it is to be noted how with each slackening
furniture grew gorgeous and artificial, failed to sympathise with common
needs, and sank slowly but surely into feebleness and insipidity.

We had passed through some such cycle by the middle of this century.
With the dissolution of old ties the majority of the decorative arts had
perished. Painting remained to us, arrogating to herself the rôle which
hitherto the whole company had combined to make successful. In her
struggle to fill the giant's robe, she has run unresistingly in the ruts
of the age. She has crowded her portable canvases, side by side, into
exhibitions and galleries, and claimed the title of art for literary
rather than æsthetic suggestions. The minor coquetries of craftsmanship,
from which once was nourished the burly strength of art, have felt out
of place in such illustrious company. So we have the forced art of
public display, but it has ceased to be the habit in which our common
rooms and homely walls could be dressed.

The attendant symptom has been the loss from our houses of all that
architectural amalgam, which in former times blended the structure with
its contents, the screens and panellings, which, half room, half
furniture, cemented the one to the other. The eighteenth century carried
on the tradition to a great extent with plinth and dado, cornice and
encrusted ceiling; but by the middle of the nineteenth we had our
interiors handed over to us by the architect almost completely void of
architectural feature. We are asked to take as a substitute, what is
naïvely called "decoration," two coats of paint, and a veneer of
machine-printed wall-papers.

In this progress of obliteration an important factor has been the
increasing brevity of our tenures. Three or four times in twenty years
the outgoing tenant will make good his dilapidations, and the
house-agent will put the premises into tenantable repair--as these
things are settled for us by lawyers and surveyors. After a series of
such processes, what can remain of internal architecture? Can there be
left even a room worth furnishing, in the true sense of the term? The
first step to render it so must usually be the obliteration of as much
as possible of the maimed and distorted construction, which our
leasehold house offers.

What wonder, then, if furniture, beginning again to account herself an
art, should have transgressed her limits and invaded the room? Ceilings,
walls and floors, chimneypieces, grates, doors and windows, all nowadays
come into the hands of the artistic furnisher, and are at the mercy of
upholsterers and cabinetmakers to begin with, and of the
antiquity-collector to follow. Then we bring in our gardens, and finish
off our drawing-room as a mixture of a conservatory and a bric-à-brac

The fashion for archæological mimicry has been another pitfall. The
attempt to bring back art by complete reproductions of old-day
furnishings has been much the vogue abroad. The Parisians distinguish
many styles and affect to carry them out in every detail. The Americans
have copied Paris, and we have done a little ourselves. But the weak
element in all this is, that the occupier of these mediæval or classic
apartments remains still the nineteenth-century embodiment, which we
meet in railway carriage and omnibus. We cannot be cultured Epicureans
in a drawing-room of the Roman Empire, and by the opening of a door walk
as Flemish Burgomasters into our libraries. The heart of the age will
mould its productions irrespective of fashion or archæology, and such
miserable shams fail to reach it.

If we, who live in this century, can at all ourselves appraise the
position, its most essential characteristic in its bearing upon art has
been the commercial tendency. Thereby an indelible stamp is set upon our
furniture. The making of it under the supreme condition of profitable
sale has affected it in both its functions. On the side of utility our
furniture has been shaped to the uses of the million, not of the
individual. Hence its monotonously average character, its failure to
become part of ourselves, its lack of personal and local charm. How
should a "stock" article possess either?

But the blight has fallen more cruelly on that other function, which is
a necessity of human craftsmanship--the effort to express itself and
please the eye by the expression. Art being the monopoly of "painting,"
and having nothing to do with such vulgar matters as furniture,
commercialism has been able to advance a standard of beauty of its own,
with one canon, that of speedy profits. Furniture has become a mere ware
in the market of fashion. Bought to-day as the rage, it is discarded
to-morrow, and some new fancy purchased. The tradesman has a new margin
of profit, but the customer is just where he was. It may be granted that
a genuine necessity of sale is the stimulus to which all serious effort
in the arts must look for progress, and without which they would become
faddism and conceit. But it is a different thing altogether when this
passes from stimulus into motive--the exclusive motive of profit to the
producer. The worth of the article is impaired as much as the well-being
of the craftsman, and furniture is degraded to the position of a pawn in
the game of the sweater.

We must, I fear, be content at present to put up with exhibitions and
unarchitectural rooms. But while making the best of these conditions, we
need not acquiesce in them or maintain their permanence. At any rate we
may fight a good fight with commercialism. The evils of heartless and
unloving production, under the grind of an unnecessary greed, are patent
enough to lead us to reflect that we have after all in these matters a
choice. We need not spend our money on that which is not bread. We can
go for our furniture to the individual craftsman and not the commercial
firm. The penalty for so doing is no longer prohibitive.

In closing our remarks we cannot do better than repeat our initial
axiom--the art of furnishing lies with the room as much as with the
furniture. The old ways are still the only ways. When we care for art
sufficiently to summon her from her state prison-house of exhibitions
and galleries, to live again a free life among us in our homes, she will
appear as a controlling force, using not only painting and sculpture,
but all the decorative arts to shape room and furniture under one
purpose of design. Whether we shall then give her the time-honoured
title of architecture, or call her by another name, is of no moment.



The transient tenure that most of us have in our dwellings, and the
absorbing nature of the struggle that most of us have to make to win the
necessary provisions of life, prevent our encouraging the manufacture of
well-wrought furniture.

We mean to outgrow our houses--our lease expires after so many years and
then we shall want an entirely different class of furniture;
consequently we purchase articles that have only sufficient life in them
to last the brief period of our occupation, and are content to abide by
the want of appropriateness or beauty, in the clear intention of some
day surrounding ourselves with objects that shall be joys to us for the
remainder of our life. Another deterrent condition to making a serious
outlay in furniture is the instability of fashion: each decade sees a
new style, and the furniture that we have acquired in the exercise of
our experienced taste will in all probability be discarded by the
impetuous purism of the succeeding generation.

At present we are suffering from such a catholicity of taste as sees
good in everything, and has an indifferent and tepid appreciation of all
and sundry, especially if consecrated by age.

This is mainly a reaction against the austerity of those moralists who
preached the logic of construction, and who required outward proof of
the principles on which and by which each piece was designed.

Another cause prejudicial to the growth of modern furniture is the
canonisation of old.

That tables and chairs should have lasted one hundred years is indeed
proof that they were originally well made: that the conditions of the
moment of their make were better than they are now is possible, and such
aureole as is their due let us hasten to offer. But, to take advantage
of their survival and to increase their number by facsimile reproduction
is to paralyse all healthy growth of manufacture.

As an answer to the needs and habits of our ancestors of one hundred
years ago--both in construction and design--let them serve us as models
showing the attitude of mind in which we should meet the problems of our
day--and so far as the needs and habits of the present time are
unchanged, as models of form, not to be incorporated with our
vernacular, but which we should recognise as successful form, and
discover the plastic secrets of its shape.

With this possession we may borrow what forms we will--shapes of the Ind
and far Cathay--the whole wide world is open to us--of past imaginations
and of the dreams of our own.

But without this master-key the copying is slavish, and the bondage of
the task is both cruel and destructive.

Cruel, because mindless, work can be reproduced more rapidly than
thoughtful work can be invented, and the rate of production affects the
price of other articles of similar kind, so that the one dictates what
the other shall receive; and destructive, because it treats the
craftsman as a mere machine, whose only standard can be mechanical

Now, all furniture that has any permanent value has been designed and
wrought to meet the ends it had to serve, and the careful elaboration of
it gave its maker scope for his pleasure and occasion for his pride.

If a man really likes what he has got to do, he will make great shifts
to express and realise his pleasure; he will choose carefully his
materials, and either in playfulness of fancy, or in grave renunciation
of the garniture of his art, will put the stamp of his individuality on
his work.

An example of living art in modern furniture is a costermonger's barrow.
Affectionately put together, carved and painted, it expresses almost in
words the pride and taste of its owner.

As long as we are incapable of recognising and sympathising with the
delight of the workman in the realisation of his art, our admiration of
his work is a pretence, and our encouragement of it blind--and this
blindness makes us insensitive as to whether the delight is really there
or no; consequently our patronage will most often be disastrous rather
than helpful.

The value of furniture depends on the directness of its response to the
requirements that called it into being, and to the nature of the
conditions that evoked it.

To obtain good furniture we must contrive that the conditions of its
service are worthy conditions, and not merely the dictates of our fancy
or our sloth.

At the present moment modern furniture may be roughly divided into two
classes: furniture for service, and furniture for display. Most of us,
however, have to confine ourselves to the possession of serviceable
furniture only; and a more frank recognition of this limitation would
assist us greatly in our selection. If only we kept our real needs
steadily before us, how much more beauty we could import into our homes!

Owing to lack of observation, and of experienced canons of taste, our
fancies are caught by some chance object that pleases--one of that huge
collection of ephemeral articles which "have been created to supply a
want" that hitherto has never been felt--and as the cost of these
fictions is (by the nature of the case) so low as to be of no great
moment to us, the thing is purchased and helps henceforth to swell the
museum of incongruous accumulation that goes by the name of a "furnished

A fancy, so caught, is soon outworn, but the precept of economy forbids
the discharge of the superfluous purchase, and so it adds its unit to
the sum of daily labour spent on its preservation and its appearance.
This burden of unnecessary toil is the index of the needlessness and
cruelty with which we spend the labour of those whom need has put under
our service.

And the sum of money spent on these ill-considered acquisitions which
have gone to swell the general total of distress, an ever-widening ring
of bitter ripple, might, concentrated, have purchased some one thing,
both beautiful and useful, whose fashioning had been a pleasure to the
artificer, and whose presence was an increasing delight to the owner and
an added unit to this world's real wealth.

Such indiscriminate collection defeats its own aim. Compare the way
Giovanni Bellini fits up St. Jerome's study for him in the National
Gallery. There is no stint of money evidently; the Saint gets all that
he can properly want, and he gets over and above--the addition born of
his denial--the look of peace and calm in his room, that can so seldom
be found with us. Another reason why our rooms are so glaringly
over-furnished is, that many of us aim at a standard of profusion, in
forgetfulness of the circumstances which created that standard.
Families, whose descent has been historic, and whose home has been their
pride, accumulate, in the lapse of time, heirlooms of many
kinds--pictures, furniture, trinkets, etc.--and as these increase in
numbers, the rooms in which they are contained become filled and crowded
beyond what beauty or comfort permits, and such sacrifice is justly made
for the demands of filial pride.

This emotion is so conspicuously an honourable one that we are all
eager to possess and give scope to our own, and so long as the scope is
honest there is nothing more laudable.

But the temptation is to add to our uninherited display in this
particular by substitutes, and to surround ourselves with immemorable
articles, the justification of whose presence really should be that they
form part of the history of our lives in more important respects than
the mere occasions of their purchase.

It is this unreasoning ambition that leads to the rivalling of princely
houses by the acquisition of "family portraits purchased in Wardour
Street"--the rivalling of historic libraries by the purchase of
thousands of books to form our yesterday's libraries of undisturbed
volumes--the rivalling of memorable chairs and tables, by recently
bought articles of our own, crowded in imitation of our model with
innumerable trifles, to the infinite tax of our space, our patience, and
our purse.

Our want of care and restraint in the selection of our furniture affects
both its design and manufacture.

Constantly articles are bought for temporary use--we postponing the
responsibility of wise purchase until we have more time, or else we buy
what is not precisely what we want but which must do, since we cannot
wait to have the exact things made, and have not the time to search
elsewhere for them.

Furniture, in response to this demand, must be made either so striking
as to arrest the eye, or so variedly serviceable as to meet some
considerable proportion of the conflicting requirements made on it by
the chance intending purchaser, or else it must fall back on the
impregnable basis of antiquity and silence all argument with the canon
that what the late Mr. Chippendale did was bound to be "good taste."

"There should be a place for everything, and everything in its place."
Very true. But in the exercise of our orderliness we require the hearty
co-operation of the "place" itself. 'Tis a wonderful aid when the place
fits the object it is intended to contain.

Take the common male chest of drawers as a case in point. Its function
is to hold a man's shirts and his clothes, articles of a known and
constant size. Why are the drawers not made proportionate for their
duty? Why are they so few and so deep that when filled--as they needs
must be--they are uneasy to draw out, and to obtain the particular
article of which we are in quest, and which of course is at the bottom,
we must burrow into the heavy super-incumbent mass of clothes in our
search, and--that successful--spend a weary while in contriving to
repack the ill-disposed space. It can hardly be economy of labour and
material that dictates this, for--if so--why is the usual hanging
wardrobe made so preposterously too tall? Does the idiot maker suppose
that a woman's dress is hung all in one piece, body and skirt, from the
nape of the neck, to trail its extremest length?

The art of buying furniture, or having it made for us, is to be acquired
only by study and pains, and we must either pursue the necessary
education, or depute the furnishing of our rooms to competent hands: and
the responsibility does not end here, for there is the duty of
discovering who are competent, and this must be done indirectly since
direct inquiry only elicits the one criterion, omnipotent, omnipresent,
of cost.

The object to be gained in furnishing a room is to supply the just
requirements of the occupants, to accentuate or further the character of
the room, and to indicate the individual habits and tastes of the owner.

Each piece should be beautiful in itself, and, still more important,
should minister to and increase the beauty of the others. Collective
beauty is to be aimed at; not so much individual.

Proportion is another essential. Not that the proportions of furniture
should vary with the size of the rooms: the dimensions of chairs, height
of tables, sizes of doors, have long been all fixed and, having direct
reference to the human body, are immutable.

Substantially, the size of man's body is the same and has been the same
from the dawn of history until now, and will be the same whether in a
cottage parlour or the Albert Hall. But there is a proportion in the
relations of the spaces of a room to its furniture which must be
secured. If this is not done, no individual beauty of the objects in the
room will repair the lost harmony or be compensation for the picture
that might have been.

A museum of beautiful objects has its educational value, but no one
pretends that it claims to be more than a storehouse of beauty.

The painter who crowds his canvas with the innumerable spots of colour
that can be squeezed out of every tube of beautiful paint that the
colourman sells, is no nearer his goal than he who fills his rooms with
a heterogeneous miscellany of articles swept together from every clime
and of every age.



The sense of a consecutive tradition has so completely faded out of
English art that it has become difficult to realise the meaning of
tradition, or the possibility of its ever again reviving; and this state
of things is not improved by the fact that it is due to uncertainty of
purpose, and not to any burning fever of individualism. Tradition in art
is a matter of environment, of intellectual atmosphere. As the result of
many generations of work along one continuous line, there has
accumulated a certain amount of ability in design and manual dexterity,
certain ideas are in the air, certain ways of doing things come to be
recognised as the right ways. To all this endowment an artist born in
any of the living ages of art succeeded as a matter of course, and it is
the absence of this inherited knowledge that places the modern craftsman
under exceptional disabilities.

There is evidence to prove the existence in England of hereditary crafts
in which the son succeeded the father for generations, and to show that
the guilds were rather the guardians of high traditional skill than mere
trades unions; but there is surer proof of a common thread of tradition
in certain qualities all along the line, which gave to English work a
character peculiar to itself. Instances of genuine Gothic furniture are
rare; in England at any rate it was usually simple and solid, sufficient
to answer the needs of an age without any highly developed sense of the
luxuries of life. It is not till the Renaissance that much material can
be found for a history of English furniture. Much of the _motif_ of this
work came from Italy and the Netherlands; indeed cabinet work was
imported largely from the latter country. It was just here, however,
that tradition stepped in, and gave to our sixteenth and seventeenth
century furniture a distinctly national character. The delicate
mouldings, the skilful turnings, the quiet inlays of ebony, ivory,
cherry wood, and walnut, above all the breadth and sobriety of its
design, point to a tradition of craftsmanship strong enough to
assimilate all the ideas which it borrowed from other ages and other
countries. Contrast, for instance, a piece of Tottenham Court Road
marquetry with the mother-of-pearl and ebony inlay on an English
cabinet at South Kensington. So far as mere skill in cutting goes there
may be no great difference between the two, but the latter is charming,
and the former tedious in the last degree; and the reason is that in the
seventeenth century the craftsman loved his work, and was master of it.
He started with an idea in his head, and used his material with meaning,
and so his inlay is as fanciful as the seaweed, and yet entirely
subordinated to the harmony of the whole design. Perhaps some of the
best furniture work ever done in England was done between 1600 and 1660.
I refer, of course, to the good examples, to work which depended for its
effect on refined design and delicate detail, not to the bulbous legs
and coarse carving of ordinary Elizabethan, though even this had a
_naïveté_ and spontaneity entirely lacking in modern reproductions.

After the Restoration, signs of French influence appear in English
furniture, but the tradition of structural fitness and dignity of design
was preserved through the great architectural age of Wren and Gibbs, and
lasted till the latter half of the eighteenth century. If that century
was not particularly inspired, it at least understood consummate
workmanship. The average of technical skill in the handicrafts was far
in advance of the ordinary trade work of the present day. Some curious
evidences of the activity prevailing in what are called the minor arts
may be found in _The Laboratory and School of Arts_, a small octavo
volume published in 1738. The work of this period furnishes a standing
instance of the value of tradition. By the beginning of the eighteenth
century a school of carvers had grown up in England who could carve,
with absolute precision and without mechanical aids, all such ornament
as egg and tongue work, or the acanthus, and other conventional foliage
used for the decoration of the mouldings of doors, mantelpieces, and the
like. Grinling Gibbons is usually named as the founder of this school,
but Gibbons was himself trained by such men as Wren and Gibbs, and for
the source from which this work derives the real stamp of style one must
go back to the austere genius of Inigo Jones. The importance of the
architect, in influencing craftsmen in all such matters as this, cannot
be overrated. He has, or ought to have, sufficient knowledge of the
crafts to settle for the craftsman the all-important points of scale and
proportion to the rest of the design; and this is just one of those
points in which contemporary architecture, both as regards the education
of the architect and current practice, is exceedingly apt to fail. Sir
William Chambers and the brothers Adam were the last of the architects
before the cataclysm of the nineteenth century who made designs for
furniture with any degree of skill.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century occur the familiar names of
Chippendale, Heppelwhite, and Sheraton, and if these excellent
cabinetmakers did a tenth of the work with which the dealers credit
them, they must each have had the hundred hands of Gyas. The rosewood
furniture inlaid with arabesques in thin flat brass, and made by Gillow
at the end of the last century, is perhaps the last genuine effort in
English furniture, though the tradition of good work and simple design
died very hard in old-fashioned country places. The mischief began with
the ridiculous mediævalism of Horace Walpole, which substituted amateur
fancy for craftsmanship, and led in the following century to the
complete extinction of any tradition whatever. The heavy attempts at
furniture in the Greek style which accompanied the architecture of
Wilkins and Soane were as artificial as this literary Gothic, and the
two resulted in the chaos of art which found its expression in the great
Exhibition of 1851.

Three great qualities stamped the English tradition in furniture so long
as it was a living force--steadfastness of purpose, reserve in design,
and thorough workmanship. Take any good period of English furniture, and
one finds certain well-recognised types consistently adhered to
throughout the country. There is no difficulty in grasping their
general characteristics, whereas the very genius of classification could
furnish no clue to the labyrinth of nineteenth-century design. The men
of these earlier times made no laborious search for quaintness, no
disordered attempt to combine the peculiarities of a dozen different
ages. One general type was adhered to because it was the legacy of
generations, and there was no reason for departing from such an
excellent model. The designers and the workmen had only to perfect what
was already good; they made no experiments in ornament, but used it with
nice judgment, and full knowledge of its effect. The result was that,
instead of being forced and unreasonable, their work was thoroughly
happy; one cannot think of it as better done than it is.

The quality of reserve and sobriety is even more important. As compared
with the later developments of the Renaissance on the Continent,
English furniture was always distinguished by its simplicity and
self-restraint. Yet it is this very quality which is most conspicuously
absent from modern work. As a people we rather pride ourselves on the
resolute suppression of any florid display of feeling, but art in this
country is so completely divorced from everyday existence, that it never
seems to occur to an Englishman to import some of this fine insular
quality into his daily surroundings.

It has been reserved for this generation to part company with the
tradition of finished workmanship. Good work of course can be done, but
it is exceedingly difficult to find the workman, and the average is bad.
We have nothing to take the place of the admirable craftsmanship of the
last century, which included not only great manual skill, but also an
assured knowledge of the purpose of any given piece of furniture, of the
form best suited for it, and the exact strength of material necessary, a
knowledge which came of long familiarity with the difficulties of design
and execution, which never hesitated in its technique, which attained a
rightness of method so complete as to seem inevitable. Craftsmanship of
this order hardly exists nowadays. It is the result of tradition, of the
labour of many generations of cunning workmen.

Lastly, as the complement of these lapses on the part of the craftsman,
there has been a gradual decadence in the taste of the public. Science
and mechanical ingenuity have gone far to destroy the art of the
handicrafts. Art is a matter of the imagination, and of the skill of
one's hands--but the pace nowadays is too much for it. Certainly from
the sixteenth to the eighteenth century a well-educated English
gentleman had some knowledge of the arts, and especially of
architecture; the Earl of Burlington even designed important buildings,
though not with remarkable success; but at any rate educated people had
some insight into the arts, whether inherited or acquired. Nowadays good
education and breeding are no guarantee for anything of the sort, unless
it is some miscellaneous knowledge of pictures. Few people, outside the
artists, and not too many of them, give any serious attention to
architecture and sculpture, and consequently an art such as furniture,
which is based almost entirely upon these, is hardly recognised by the
public as an art at all. How much the artist and his public react upon
each other is shown by the plain fact that up to the last few years they
have steadily marched down hill together, and it is not very certain
that they have yet begun to turn the corner. That our English tradition
was once a living thing is shown by the beautiful furniture, purely
English in design and execution, still to be seen in great houses and
museums, but it is not likely that such a tradition will spring up again
till the artists try to make the unity of the arts a real thing, and the
craftsman grows callous to fashion and archæology, and the public
resolutely turns its back on what is tawdry and silly.



It requires a far search to gather up examples of furniture really
representative in this kind, and thus to gain a point of view for a
prospect into the more ideal where furniture no longer is bought to look
expensively useless in a boudoir, but serves everyday and commonplace
need, such as must always be the wont, where most men work, and exchange
in some sort life for life.

The best present-day example is the deal table in those last places to
be vulgarised, farm-house or cottage kitchen. But in the Middle Ages
things as simply made as a kitchen table, mere carpenters' framings,
were decorated to the utmost stretch of the imagination by means simple
and rude as their construction. Design, indeed, really fresh and
penetrating, co-exists it seems only with simplest conditions.

Simple, serviceable movables fall into few kinds: the box, cupboard, and
table, the stool, bench, and chair. The box was once the most frequent,
useful, and beautiful of all these; now it is never made as furniture.
Often it was seat, coffer, and table in one, with chequers inlaid on the
top for chess. There are a great number of chests in England as early as
the thirteenth century. One type of construction, perhaps the earliest,
is to clamp the wood-work together and beautifully decorate it by
branching scrolls of iron-work. Another kind was ornamented by a sort
of butter-print patterning, cut into the wood in ingenious fillings to
squares and circles, which you can imitate by drawing the intersecting
lines the compasses seem to make of their own will in a circle, and
cutting down each space to a shallow V. This simple carpenter's
decoration is especially identified with chests. The same kind of work
is still done in Iceland and Norway, the separate compartments often
brightly painted into a mosaic of colour; or patterns of simple
scroll-work are made out in incised line and space. In Italy this
charming art of incising was carried much farther in the _cassoni_, the
fronts of which, broad planks of cypress wood, are often romantic with
quite a tapestry of kings and ladies, beasts, birds, and foliage, cut in
outline with a knife and punched with dots, the cavities being filled
with a coloured mastic like sealing-wax. Panelling, rough inlaying in
the solid, carving and painting, and casing with repoussé or pierced
metal, or covering with leather incised into designs, and making out
patterns with nail-heads, were all methods of decoration used by the
maker of boxes: other examples, and those not the least stately, had no
other ornament than the purfling at the edges formed by ingeniously
elaborate dovetails fitting together like a puzzle and showing a pattern
like an inlay.

When people work naturally, it is as wearisome and unnecessary often to
repeat the same design as to continually paint the same picture. Design
comes by designing. On the one hand tradition carefully and continuously
shapes the object to fill its use, on the other spontaneous and eager
excursions are made into the limitless fields of beautiful device.
Where construction and form are thus the result of a long tradition
undisturbed by fashion, they are always absolutely right as to use and
distinctive as to beauty, the construction being not only visible, but
one with the decoration. Take a present-day survival, the large country
cart, the body shaped like the waist of a sailing ship, and every rail
and upright unalterably logical, and then decorated by quaint
chamferings, the facets of which are made out in brightest paint. Or
look at an old table, always with stretching rails at the bottom and
framed together with strong tenons and cross pins into turned posts, but
so thoughtfully done that every one is original and all beautiful.
Turning, a delightful old art, half for convenience, half for beauty,
itself comes down to us from long before the Conquest.

The great charm in furniture of the simplest structure may best be seen
in old illuminated manuscripts, where a chest, a bench, and against the
wall a cupboard, the top rising in steps where are set out tall "Venice
glasses," or a "garnish" of plate under a tester of some bright stuff,
make up a whole of fairy beauty in the frank simplicity of the forms and
the innocent gaiety of bright colour. Take the St. Jerome in his study
of Dürer or Bellini, and compare the dignity of serene and satisfying
order with the most beautifully furnished room you know: how vulgar our
_good taste_ appears and how foreign to the end of culture--Peace.

From records, and what remains to us, we know that the room, the
hangings, and the furniture were patterned all over with scattered
flowers and inscriptions--violets and the words "_bonne pensée_"; or
vases of lilies and "pax," angels and incense pots, ciphers and
initials, badges and devices, or whatever there be of suggestion and
mystery. The panelling and furniture were "green like a curtain," as the
old accounts have it; or vermilion and white, like some painted chairs
at Knole; or even decorated with paintings and gilt gesso patterns like
the Norfolk screens. Fancy a bed with the underside of the canopy having
an Annunciation or spreading trellis of roses, and the chamber carved
like one in thirteenth-century romance:--

    "N'a el monde beste n'oisel
    Qui n'i soit ovré à cisel."

If we would know how far we are from the soul of art, we have but to
remember that all this, the romance element in design, the joy in life,
nature, and colour, which in one past development we call Gothic, and
which is ever the well of beauty undefiled, is not now so much
impossible of attainment as entirely out of range with our spirit and
life, a felt anachronism and affectation.

All art is sentiment embodied in form. To find beauty we must consider
what really gives us pleasure--pleasure, not pride--and show our
unashamed delight in it; "and so, when we have leisure to be happy and
strength to be simple we shall find Art again"--the art of the workman.



Decorated or "sumptuous" furniture is not merely furniture that is
expensive to buy, but that which has been elaborated with much thought,
knowledge, and skill. Such furniture cannot be cheap, certainly, but the
real cost of it is sometimes borne by the artist who produces rather
than by the man who may happen to buy it. Furniture on which valuable
labour is bestowed may consist of--1. Large standing objects which,
though actually movable, are practically fixtures, such as cabinets,
presses, sideboards of various kinds; monumental objects. 2. Chairs,
tables of convenient shapes, stands for lights and other purposes,
coffers, caskets, mirror and picture frames. 3. Numberless small
convenient utensils. Here we can but notice class 1, the large standing
objects which most absorb the energies of artists of every degree and
order in their construction or decoration.

Cabinets seem to have been so named as being little
strongholds--"offices" of men of business for stowing papers and
documents in orderly receptacles. They are secured with the best locks
procurable. They often contain secret drawers and cavities, hidden from
all eyes but those of the owner. Nor are instances wanting of owners
leaving no information on these matters to their heirs, so that casual
buyers sometimes come in for a windfall, or such a catastrophe as befell
the owner of Richard the Third's bed.

It is not to be expected that elaborate systems of secret drawers and
hiding-places should be contrived in cabinets of our time. Money and
jewels are considered safer when deposited in banks. But, ingenuity of
construction in a complicated piece of furniture must certainly be
counted as one of its perfections. Sound and accurate joinery with
well-seasoned woods, properly understood as to shrinkage and as to the
relations between one kind of timber and another in these respects, is
no small merit.

Some old English cabinets are to be met with in the construction of
which wood only is used, the morticing admirable, the boards, used to
hold ends and divisions together from end to end, strained and secured
by wedges that turn on pivots, etc. Furniture of this kind can be taken
to pieces and set up, resuming proper rigidity _toties quoties_.

To look at the subject historically, it seems that the cabinet, dresser,
or sideboard is a chest set on legs, and that the "press," or cupboard
(closet, not proper _cup_-board), takes the place of the panelled recess
closed by doors, generally contrived, and sometimes ingeniously hidden,
in the construction of a panelled room. The front of the elevated chest
is hinged, and flaps down, while the lid is a fixture; the interior is
more complicated than that of the chest, as its subdivisions are more
conveniently reached.

Before leaving this part of the subject, it is worth notice that the
architectural, or rather architectonic, character seems to have deeply
impressed the makers of cabinets when the chest-type had gradually been
lost. Italian, German, English, and other cabinets are often found
representing a church front or a house front, with columns, doors,
sometimes ebony and ivory pavements, etc.

Next as to methods of decorating cabinets, etc. The kind which deserves
our first attention is that of sculpture. Here, undoubtedly, we must
look to the Italians as our masters, and to that admirable school of
wood-carving which maintained itself so long in Flanders, with an
Italian grace grafted on the ingenuity, vigour, and playfulness of a
northern race. Our English carvers, admirable craftsmen during the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, seem to have been closely allied with
the contemporary Flemings. Fronts of cabinets, dressers, chimneypieces,
etc., were imported from Belgium and were made up by English joiners
with panelling, supplemented with carving where required, for our great
houses. But the best Italian carving remains on chests and chest fronts
which were made in great numbers in the sixteenth century.

Some of these chests are toilet chests; some have formed wall-seats,
laid along the sides of halls and galleries to hold hangings, etc., when
the house was empty, and have served as seats or as "monumental" pieces
when company was received.

As the chest grew into the cabinet, or bureau, or dresser, great
attention was paid to the supports. It need hardly be pointed out that,
for the support of seats, tables, etc., animals, typical of strength or
other qualities--the lion or the sphinx, the horse, sometimes the
slave--have been employed by long traditional usage. And carvers of wood
have not failed to give full attention to the use and decoration of
conventional supports to the furniture now under discussion. They are
made to unite the central mass to a shallow base, leaving the remaining
space open.

Next to sculptured decoration comes incrusted. The most costly kinds of
material, precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, agate, rare marbles,
etc., have been employed on furniture surfaces. But such work is rather
that of the lapidary than of the cabinetmaker. It is very costly, and
seems to have been confined, in fact, to the factories kept up in Italy,
Russia, and other states, at government expense. We do not produce them
in this country; and the number of such objects is probably limited
wherever we look for them.

Incrustation of precious woods is a more natural system of
wood-decoration. Veneered wood, which is laid on a roughened surface
with thin glue at immense pressure, if well made, is very long-lived.
The woods used give a coloured surface, and are polished so as to bring
the colour fully out, _and_ to protect the material from damp. In fine
examples the veneers form little pictures, or patterns, either by the
arrangement of the grain of the pieces used, so as to make pictorial
lines by means of the grain itself, or by using woods of various

A very fine surface decoration was invented, or carried to perfection,
by André Charles Boule, for Louis XIV. It is a veneer of tortoise-shell
and brass, with occasional white metal. An important element in Boule
decoration is noticeable in the chiselled angle mounts, lines of
moulding, claws, feet, etc., all of which are imposed, though they have
the general character of metal angle supports. In fact, the
tortoise-shell is held by glue, and the metal by fine nails of the same
material, the heads of which are filed down. Incrustation, or
_marquetry_, of this kind is costly, and most of it is due to the
labours of artists and craftsmen employed by the kings of France at the
expense of the Government. A considerable quantity of it is still made
in that country.

Now as to the way in which sculptors, or incrusters, should dispose of
their decoration, and the fidelity to nature which is to be expected of
them, whether in sculpture or wood mosaic, _i.e._ wood painting. First,
we may suppose they will concentrate their more important details in
recognisable divisions of their pieces, or in such ways that a
proportion and rhythm shall be expressed by their dispositions of masses
and fine details; placing their figures in central panels, on angles, or
on dividing members; leaving some plain surface to set off their
decorative detail; and taking care that the contours of running
mouldings shall not be lost sight of by the carver. But how far is
absolute natural truth, even absolute obedience to the laws of his art
in every particular of his details, to be expected from the artist? We
cannot doubt that such absolute obedience is sometimes departed from
intentionally and with success. All Greek sculpture is not always
absolutely true to nature nor as beautiful as the sculptor, if free,
could have made it. Statues are conventionalised, decorative scrolls
exaggerated, figures turned into columns for good reasons, and in the
result successfully. In furniture, as in architecture, carved work or
incrustation is not _free_, but is in _service_; and compromises with
verisimilitude to nature, even violence, may sometimes be required on
details in the interests of the entire structure.

Next let a word or two be reserved for Painted Furniture. Painting has
been employed on furniture of all kinds at many periods. The ancients
made theirs of bronze, or of ivory, carved or inlaid. In the Middle Ages
wood-carving and many kinds of furniture were painted. The coronation
chair at Westminster was so decorated. The chest fronts of Delli and
other painters are often pictures of great intrinsic merit, and very
generally these family chest fronts are valuable records of costumes and
fashions of their day. In this country the practice of painting
pianoforte cases, chair-backs, table-tops, panels of all sorts, has been
much resorted to. Distinguished painters, Angelica Kauffmann and her
contemporaries, and a whole race of coach-painters have left monuments
of their skill in this line. It must suffice here to recall certain
modern examples, _e.g._ a small dresser, now in the national
collections, with doors painted by Mr. Poynter, with spirited figures
representing the _Beers_ and the _Wines_; the fine piano case painted by
Mr. Burne-Jones; another by Mr. Alma Tadema; lastly, a tall clock-case
by Mr. Stanhope, which, as well as other promising examples, have been
exhibited by the Arts and Crafts Society.



It is not uncommon to see an elaborate piece of furniture, in decorating
which it is evident that the carver has had opportunity for the exercise
of all his skill, and which, indeed, bears evidence of the most skilful
woodcutting on almost every square inch of its surface, from the
contemplation of which neither an artist nor an educated craftsman can
derive any pleasure or satisfaction. This would seem to point to the
designer of the ornament as the cause of failure, and the writer of this
believes that in such cases it will generally be found that the
designer, though he may know everything that he ought to know about the
production of designs which shall look well on paper or on a flat
surface, has had no experience, by actually working at the material, of
its difficulties, special capabilities, or limitations.

If at the same time he has had but a limited experience of the
difference in treatment necessary for carving which is to be seen at
various altitudes, his failure may be taken as sufficiently accounted

An idea now prevalent that it is not advisable to make models for
wood-carving is not by any means borne out by the experience of the
writer of this paper.

Models are certainly not necessary for ordinary work, such as mouldings,
or even for work in panels when the surfaces are intended to be almost
wholly on one plane, but the carved decoration of a panel, which
pretends to be in any degree a work of art, often depends for its effect
quite as much on the masterly treatment of surface planes, and the
relative projection from the surface of the more prominent parts, as
upon the outline. Now, there are many men who, though able to carve wood
exquisitely, have never given themselves the trouble, or perhaps have
scarcely had the opportunity, to learn how to read an ordinary drawing.
The practice obtains in many carving shops for one or two leading men to
rough out (_viz._ shape out roughly) all the work so far as that is
practicable, and the others take it up after them and finish it. The
followers are not necessarily less skilful carvers or cutters than the
leaders, but have, presumably, less knowledge of form. If, then, one
wishes to avail oneself of the skill of these men for carrying out
really important work, it is much the simpler way to make a model
(however rough) which shall accurately express everything one wishes to
see in the finished work; and, assuming the designer to be fairly
dexterous in the use of clay or other plastic material, a sketch model
will not occupy any more of his time than a drawing would.

To put it plainly, no designer can ever know what he ought to expect
from a worker in any material if he has not worked in that material
himself. If he has carved marble, for instance, he knows the extreme
care required in under-cutting the projecting parts of the design, and
the cost entailed by the processes necessary to be employed for that
purpose. He therefore so arranges the various parts of his design that
wherever it is possible these projecting portions shall be supported by
other forms, so avoiding the labour and cost of relieving (or
under-cutting) them; and if he be skilful his skill will appear in the
fact that his motive in this will be apparent only to experts, while to
others the whole will appear to grow naturally out of the design.
Moreover, he knows that he must depend for the success of this thing on
an effect of breadth and dignity. He is not afraid of a somewhat
elaborate surface treatment, being aware that nearly any variety of
surface which he can readily produce in clay may be rendered in marble
with a reasonable amount of trouble.

In designing for the wood-carver he is on altogether different ground.
He may safely lay aside some portion of his late dignity, and depend
almost entirely on vigour of line; the ease with which under-cutting is
done in this material enabling him to obtain contrast by the use of
delicately relieved forms. Here, however, he must not allow the effect
in his model to depend in any degree on surface treatment. Care in that
respect will prevent disappointment in the finished work.

The most noticeable feature in modern carved surface decoration is the
almost universal tendency to overcrowding. It appears seldom to have
occurred to the craftsman or designer that decorating a panel, for
instance, is not at all the same thing as covering it with decoration.
Still less does he seem to have felt that occasionally some portions of
the ground are much more valuable in the design than anything which he
can put on them. Indeed, the thoughtful designer who understands its use
and appreciates its value, frequently has more trouble with his ground
than with anything else in the panel. Also, if he have the true
decorative spirit, his mind is constantly on the general scheme
surrounding his work, and he is always ready to subordinate himself and
his work in order that it may enhance and not disturb this general

We will suppose, for example, that he has to decorate a column with
raised ornament. He feels at once that the outlines of that column are
of infinitely more importance than anything which he can put on it,
however ingenious or beautiful his design may be. He therefore keeps his
necessary projecting parts as small and low as possible, leaving as much
of the column as he can showing between the lines of his pattern. By
this means the idea of strength and support is not interfered with, and
the _tout ensemble_ is not destroyed.

This may seem somewhat elementary to many who will read it. My excuse
must be that one sees many columns in which every vestige of the outline
is so covered by the carving which has been built round them, that the
idea of their supporting anything other than their ornament appears

There has been no opportunity to do more than glance at such a subject
as this in a space so limited; but the purposes of this paper will have
been served if it has supplied a useful hint to any craftsman, or if by
its means any designer shall have been induced to make a more thorough
study of the materials within his reach.



Although decoration by inlaying woods of different colours must
naturally have suggested itself in very early times, as soon indeed as
there were workmen of skill sufficient for it, the history of this
branch of art practically begins in the fifteenth century. It is
eminently an Italian art, which according to Vasari had its origin in
the days of Brunelleschi and Paolo Uccello; and it had its birth in a
land which has a greater variety of mild close-grained woods with a
greater variety of colour than Northern Europe. By the Italians it was
regarded as a lower form of painting. Like all mosaic, of which art it
is properly a branch, it has its limitations; and it is only so long as
it confines itself to these that it is a legitimate form of decoration.
Tarsia is at the best one of the minor decorative arts, but when well
employed it is one that gives an immense deal of pleasure, and one to
which it cannot be denied that the buildings of Italy owe much of their
splendour. Their polished and inlaid furniture harmonises with the rare
delicacy of their marble and mosaic, and goes far towards producing that
air of rich refinement and elaborate culture which is to the severer
styles and simpler materials of the North what the velvet-robed Senator
of St. Mark was to the mail-clad feudal chief from beyond the Alps. As
to its durability, the experience of four centuries since Vasari's time
has proved that with ordinary care, or perhaps with nothing worse than
mere neglect, Intarsia will last as long as painting. Its only real
enemy is damp, as will be readily understood from the nature of the
materials and the mode of putting them together. For though in a few
instances, when the art was in its infancy, the inlaid pattern may have
been cut of a substantial thickness and sunk into a solid ground
ploughed out to receive it, this method was obviously very laborious,
and admitted only of very simple design, for it is very difficult in
this way to keep the lines of the drawing accurately. The recognised way
of making Intarsia was, and is, to form both pattern and ground in thin
veneers about 1/16 of an inch thick, which are glued down upon a solid
panel. At first sight this method may appear too slight and
unsubstantial for work intended to last for centuries, but it has, in
fact, stood the test of time extremely well, when the work has been kept
in the dry even temperature of churches and great houses, where there is
neither damp to melt the glue and swell the veneer, nor excessive heat
to make the wood shrink and start asunder. When these conditions were
not observed, of course the work was soon ruined, and Vasari tells an
amusing story of the humiliation which befell Benedetto da Majano, who
began his career as an _Intarsiatore_, in the matter of two splendid
chests which he had made for Matthias Corvinus, from which the veneers,
loosened by the damp of a sea voyage, fell off in the royal presence.

The veneers being so thin, it is of course easy to cut through several
layers of them at once, and this suggested, or at all events lent itself
admirably to the design of the earlier examples, which are generally
arabesques symmetrically disposed right and left of a central line. If
two dark and two light veneers are put together, the whole of one panel,
both ground and pattern, can be cut at one operation with a thin fret
saw; the ornamental pattern drops into the space cut out of the ground,
which it, of course, fits exactly except for the thickness of the
saw-cut, and the two half-patterns thus filled in are "handed" right and
left, and so complete the symmetrical design. The line given by the
thickness of the saw is then filled in with glue and black colour so as
to define the outline, and additional saw-cuts are made or lines are
engraved, and in either case filled in with the same stopping, wherever
additional lines are wanted for the design. It only remains to glue the
whole down to a solid panel, and to polish and varnish the surface, and
it is then ready to be framed into its place as the back of a church
stall, or the lining of a courtly hall, library, or cabinet.

It was thus that the simpler Italian Intarsia was done, such as that in
the dado surrounding Perugino's Sala del Cambio in his native city,
where the design consists of light arabesques in box or some similar
wood on a walnut ground, defined by black lines just as I have

But like all true artists the Intarsiatore did not stand still. Having
successfully accomplished simple outline and accurate drawing, he was
dissatisfied until he could carry his art farther by introducing the
refinement of shading. This was done at different times and by different
artists in a variety of ways; either by inlaying the shadow in different
kinds of woods, by scorching it with fire, or by staining it with
chemical solutions. In the book desks of the choir at the Certosa or
Charterhouse of Pavia, the effect of shading is got in a direct but
somewhat imperfect way by laying strips of different coloured woods side
by side. Each flower or leaf was probably built up of tolerably thick
pieces of wood glued together in position, so that they could be sliced
off in veneers and yield several flowers or leaves from the same block,
much in the way of Tunbridge Wells ware, though the Italian specimens
are, I believe, always cut _with_ the grain and not across it. The
designs thus produced are very effective at a short distance, but the
method is, of course, suitable only to bold and simple conventional

The panels of the high screen or back to the stalls at the same church
afford an instance of a more elaborate method. These splendid panels,
which go all round the choir, contain each a three-quarter-length figure
of a saint. Lanzi deservedly praises them as the largest and most
perfect figures of _tarsia_ which he had seen. They date from 1486, and
were executed by an Istrian artist, Bartolommeo da Pola, perhaps from
the designs of Borgognone. The method by which their highly pictorial
effect is produced is a mixed one, the shading being partly inlaid with
woods of different colours, and partly obtained by scorching the wood
with fire or hot sand in the manner generally in use for marqueterie at
the present day. The inexhaustible patience as well as the fertility of
resource displayed by Messer Bartolommeo is astonishing. Where the
saw-cut did not give him a strong enough line he has inlaid a firm line
of black wood, the high lights of the draperies are inlaid in white,
the folds shaded by burning, and the flowing lines of the curling hair
are all inlaid, each several tress being shaded by three narrow strips
of gradated colour following the curved lines of the lock to which they
belong. When it is remembered that there are some forty or more of these
panels, each differing from the rest, the splendour as well as the
laborious nature of the decoration of this unrivalled choir will be
better understood.

Of all the examples of pictorial Intarsia the most elaborate are perhaps
those in the choir stalls of Sta. Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. They are
attributed to Gianfrancesco Capo di Ferro, who worked from the designs
of Lotto, and was either a rival or pupil of Fra Damiano di Bergamo, a
famous master of the art. They consist of figure subjects and
landscapes on a small scale, shaded with all the delicacy and roundness
attainable in a tinted drawing, and certainly show how near Intarsia can
approach to painting. Their drawing is excellent and their execution
marvellous; but at the same time one feels that, however one may admire
them as a _tour de force_, the limitations of good sense and proper use
of the material have been reached and overstepped. When the delicacy of
the work is so great that it requires to be covered up or kept under
glass, it obviously quits the province of decorative art; furniture is
meant to be used, and when it is too precious to be usable on account of
the over-delicate ornament bestowed upon it, it must be admitted that
the ornament is out of place, and, therefore, bad art.

The later Italian Intarsia was betrayed into extravagance by the
dexterity of the craftsman. The temptation before which he fell was
that of rivalling the painter, and as he advanced in facility of
technique, and found wider resources at his command, he threw aside not
only those restraints which necessity had hitherto imposed, but also
those which good taste and judgment still called him to obey. In the
plain unshaded arabesques of the Sala del Cambio, and even in the figure
panels of the Certosa, the treatment is purely decorative; the idea of a
plane surface is rightly observed, and there is no attempt to represent
distance or to produce illusory effects of relief. Above all, the work
is solid and simple enough to bear handling; the stalls may be sat in,
the desks may be used for books, the doors may be opened and shut,
without fear of injury to their decoration. Working within these limits,
the art was safe; but they came in time to be disregarded, and in this,
as in other branches of art, the style was ruined by the over-ingenuity
of the artists. Conscious of their own dexterity, they attempted things
never done before, with means quite unsuited to the purpose, and with
the sole result that they did imperfectly and laboriously with their
wooden veneers, their glue-pot, and their chemicals, what the painter
did with crayon and brush perfectly and easily. Their greatest triumphs
after they began to run riot in this way, however interesting as
miracles of dexterity, have no value as works of art in the eyes of
those who know the true principles of decorative design; while nothing
can be much duller than the elaborate playfulness of the Intarsiatore
who loved to cover his panelling with sham book-cases, birds in cages,
guitars, and military instruments in elaborate perspective.

It would take too long to say much about the art in its application to
furniture, such as tables, chairs, cabinets, and other movables, which
are decorated with inlay that generally goes by the French name of
marqueterie. Marqueterie and Intarsia are the same thing, though from
habit the French title is generally used when speaking of work on a
smaller scale. And as the methods and materials are the same, whether
used on a grand or a small scale, so the same rules and restraints apply
to both classes of design, and can no more be infringed with impunity on
the door of a tall clock-case than on the doors of a palatial hall of
audience. Nothing can be a prettier or more practical and durable mode
of decorating furniture than marqueterie in simple brown, black, yellow,
and white; and when used with judgment there is nothing to forbid the
employment of dyed woods; while the smallness of the scale puts at our
disposal ivory, mother-of-pearl, and tortoise-shell, materials which in
larger works are naturally out of the question. Nothing, on the other
hand, is more offensive to good taste than some of the overdone
marqueterie of the French school of the last century, with its picture
panels, and naturalesque figures, flowers, and foliage, straggling all
over the surface, as if the article of furniture were merely a vehicle
for the cleverness of the marqueterie cutter. Still worse is the modern
work of the kind, whether English or foreign, of which so much that is
hopelessly pretentious and vulgar is turned out nowadays, in which the
aim of the designer seems to have been to cover the surface as thickly
as he could with flowers and festoons of all conceivable colours,
without any regard for the form of the thing he was decorating, the
nature of the material he was using, or the graceful disposition and
economy of the ornament he was contriving.



The woods in ordinary use by cabinetmakers may be divided broadly into
two classes, viz. those which by their strength, toughness, and other
qualities are suitable for construction, and those which by reason of
the beauty of their texture or grain, their rarity, or their costliness,
have come to be used chiefly for decorative purposes--veneering or
inlaying. There are certainly several woods which combine the qualities
necessary for either purpose, as will be noticed later on. At present
the above classification is sufficiently accurate for the purposes of
this paper. The woods chiefly used in the construction of cabinet work
and furniture are oak, walnut, mahogany, rosewood, satin-wood, cedar,
plane, sycamore.

The oak has been made the standard by which to measure all other woods
for the qualities of strength, toughness, and durability. There are said
to be nearly fifty species of oak known, but the common English oak
possesses these qualities in a far greater degree than any other wood.
It is, however, very cross-grained and difficult to manage where
delicate details are required, and its qualities recommend it to the
carpenter rather than to the furniture-maker, who prefers the softer and
straight-grained oak from Turkey or wainscot from Holland, which, in
addition to being more easily worked and taking a higher finish, is not
so liable to warp or split.

There is also a species called white oak, which is imported into this
country from America, and is largely used for interior fittings and
cabinet-making. It is not equal to the British oak in strength or
durability, and it is inferior to the wainscot in the beauty of its
markings. The better the quality of this oak, the more it shrinks in

Walnut is a favourite wood with the furniture-maker, as well as the
carver, on account of its even texture and straight grain. The English
variety is of a light grayish-brown colour, which colour improves much
by age under polish. That from Italy has more gray in it, and though it
looks extremely well when carved is less liked by carvers on account of
its brittleness. It is but little liable to the attacks of worms. In the
English kind, the older (and therefore, generally speaking, the better)
wood may be recognised by its darker colour.

Of mahogany there are two kinds, viz. those which are grown in the
islands of Cuba and Jamaica, and in Honduras. The Cuba or Spanish
mahogany is much the harder and more durable, and is, in the opinion of
the writer, the very best wood for all the purposes of the cabinet or
furniture maker known to us. It is beautifully figured, takes a fine
polish, is not difficult to work, when its extreme hardness is taken
into account, and is less subject to twisting and warping than any other
kind of wood. It has become so costly of late years, however, that it is
mostly cut into veneers, and used for the decoration of furniture

Honduras mahogany, or, as cabinetmakers call it, "Bay Wood," is that
which is now in most frequent demand for the construction of the best
kinds of furniture and cabinet work. It is fairly strong (though it
cannot compare in that respect with Cuba or rosewood), works easily,
does not shrink, resists changes of temperature without alteration, and
holds glue well, all of which qualities specially recommend it for the
purposes of construction where veneers are to be used. Many
cabinetmakers prefer to use this wood for drawers, even in an oak job.

Rosewood is one of those woods used indifferently for construction or
for the decoration of other woods. Though beautiful specimens of grain
and figure are often seen, its colour does not compare with good
specimens of Cuba veneer. Its purple tone (whatever stains are used) is
not so agreeable as the rich, deep, mellow browns of the mahogany; nor
does it harmonise so readily with its surroundings in an ordinary room.
It has great strength and durability, and is not difficult to work.
Probably the best way to use it constructively is in the making of small
cabinets, chairs, etc.--that is, if one wishes for an appearance of
lightness with real strength. The writer does not here offer any opinion
as to whether a piece of furniture, or indeed anything else, should or
should not look strong when it really is so.

Satin-wood, most of which comes from the West India islands, is well
known for its fine lustre and grain, as also for its warm colour, which
is usually deepened by yellow stain. It is much used for painted
furniture, and the plain variety is liked by the carver.

Cedar is too well known to need any description here. It is commonly
believed that no worm will touch it, and it is therefore greatly in
demand for the interior fitting of cabinets, drawers, etc. It is a
straight-grained wood and fairly easy to work, though liable to split.
It is impossible in a short paper like the present to do more than
glance at a few of the numerous other woods in common use. Ebony has
always been greatly liked for small or elaborate caskets or cabinets,
its extreme closeness of grain and hardness enabling the carver to bring
up the smallest details with all the sharpness of metal work.

Sycamore, beech, and holly are frequently stained to imitate walnut,
rosewood, or other materials; of these the first two are used
constructively, but the latter, which takes the stain best, is nearly
all cut into veneer, and, in addition to its use for covering large
surfaces, forms an important element in the modern marquetry

Bass wood, on account of its softness and the facility with which it can
be stained to any requisite shade, is extensively used to imitate other
woods in modern furniture of the cheaper sort. It should, however, never
be used for furniture at all, as it has (as a cabinetmaker would say) no
"nature" in it, and in the result there is no wear in it.

Other woods, coming under the second category, as amboyna, coromandel,
snake-wood, orange-wood, thuyer, are all woods of a beautiful figure,
which may be varied indefinitely by cutting the veneers at different
angles to the grain of the wood, and the tone may also be varied by the
introduction of colour into the polish which is used on them. Coromandel
wood is one of the most beautiful of these, but it is not so available
as it would otherwise be on account of its resistance to glue.
Orange-wood, when not stained, is very wasteful in use, as the natural
colour is confined to the heart of the tree.

Silver, white metal, brass, etc., are cut into a veneer of
tortoise-shell or mother-of-pearl, producing a decorative effect which,
in the opinion of the writer, is more accurately described as "gorgeous"
than "beautiful."

There are many processes and materials used to alter or modify the
colour of woods and to "convert" one wood into another. Oak is made dark
by being subjected to the fumes of liquid ammonia, which penetrate it to
almost any depth. Ordinary oak is made into brown oak by being treated
with a solution of chromate of potash (which is also used to convert
various light woods into mahogany, etc.). Pearlash is used for the same
purpose, though not commonly. For converting pear-tree, sycamore, etc.,
into ebony, two or more applications of logwood chips, with an after
application of vinegar and steel filings, are used.

A good deal of bedroom and other furniture is enamelled, and here the
ground is prepared with size and whiting, and this is worked over with
flake white, transparent polish, and bismuth. But by far the most
beautiful surface treatment in this kind are the lacquers, composed of
spirit and various gums, or of shellac and spirit into which colour is



If we wish to arrive at a true estimate of the value of modern
embroidery, we must examine the work being sold in the fancy-work shops,
illustrated in ladies' newspapers or embroidered in the drawing-rooms of
to-day, and consider in what respect it differs from the old work such
as that exhibited in the South Kensington Museum.

The old embroidery and the modern differ widely--in design, in colour,
and in material; nor would any one deny that a very large proportion of
modern work is greatly inferior to that of past times.

What, then, are the special characteristics of the design of the present

Modern design is frequently very naturalistic, and seems rather to seek
after a life-like rendering of the object to be embroidered than the
decoration of the material to be ornamented.

Then again it may be noted that modern designs are often ill adapted to
the requirements of embroidery. This is probably because many of the
people who design for embroidery do not understand it. Very often a
design that has been made for this purpose would have been better suited
to a wall paper, a panel of tiles, or a woven pattern. The designer
should either be also an embroiderer or have studied the subject so
thoroughly as to be able to direct the worker, for the design should be
drawn in relation to the colours and stitches in which it is to be
carried out.

The more, indeed, people will study the fine designs of the past, and
compare with them the designs of the art-needlework of the present, the
more they will realise that, where the former is rich, dignified, and
restrained, obedient to law in every curve and line, the latter is
florid, careless, weak, and ignores law. And how finished that old
embroidery was, and how full! No grudging of the time or the labour
spent either on design or needlework; no scamping; no mere outlining.
Border within border we often see, and all the space within covered up
to the edges and into the corners. Contrast with this very much of our
modern work. Let us take as an example one piece that was on view this
summer at a well-known place in London where embroidery is sold. It is
merely a type of many others in many other places. This was a threefold
screen made of dark red-brown velveteen. All over it ran diagonal
crossing lines coarsely worked in light silk, to imitate a wire trellis,
with occasional upright supports worked in brown wool, imitating knotty
sticks. Up one side of this trellis climbed a scrambling mass of white
clematis; one spray wandering along the top fell a little way down the
other side. Thus a good part of the screen was bare of embroidery,
except for the trellis. Naturalism could not go much farther, design is
almost absent, and the result is feeble and devoid of beauty.

If we turn now to material, we shall find that embroidery, like some
other arts, depends much for its excellence on the minor crafts which
provide it with material; and these crafts supplied it with better
material in former times than they do now. A stuff to be used as a
ground for embroidery should have endless capacities for wear. This was
a quality eminently possessed by hand-spun and hand-woven linen, which,
with its rounded and separate thread, and the creamy tint of its partial
bleaching, made an ideal ground for embroidery. Or if silk were
preferred, the silks of past centuries were at once thick, firm, soft
and pure, quite free from the dress or artificial thickening, by whose
aid a silk nowadays tries to look rich when it is not. The oatmeal
cloth, diagonal cloth, cotton-backed satin, velveteen and plush, so much
used now, are very inferior materials as grounds for needlework to the
hand-loom linens and silks on which so large a part of the old
embroidery remaining to us was worked. And so very much of the beauty of
the embroidery depends on the appropriateness of the material.[1] Cloth,
serge, and plush are not appropriate; embroidery never looks half so
well on them as on silk and linen.

It is equally important that the thread, whether of silk, wool, flax, or
metal, should be pure and as well made as it can be, and, if dyed, dyed
with colours that will stand light and washing. Most of the silk, wool,
and flax thread sold for embroidery is not as good as it should be. The
filoselles and crewels very soon get worn away from the surface of the
material they are worked on. The crewels are made of too soft a wool,
and are not twisted tight enough, and the filoselles, not being made of
pure silk, should never be used at all, pretty and soft though their
effect undoubtedly is while fresh. Though every imaginable shade of
colour can be produced by modern dyers, the craft seems to have been
better understood by the dyers of times not very long past, who, though
they may not have been able to produce so many shades, could dye colours
which would wash and did not quickly fade, or when they faded merely
lost some colour, instead of changing colour, as so many modern dyes do.
The old embroidery is worked with purer and fewer colours; now all kinds
of dull intermediate tints are used of gold, brown, olive, and the like,
which generally fade rapidly and will not wash. Many people, admiring
old embroidery and desiring to make their new work look like it at least
in colour, will use tints as faint and delicate as the faded old
colours, forgetting that in a few years their work will be almost
colourless. It is wiser to use strong good colours, for a little fading
does not spoil but really improves them.

So we see that many things combine to render embroidery as fine as that
of the past difficult of production, and there is nothing more against
it than machinery, which floods the market with its cheap imitations, so
that an embroidered dress is no longer the choice and rare production it
once was; the machine-made imitation is so common and so cheap that a
refined taste, sick of the vulgarity of the imitation, cares little even
for the reality, and seeks refuge in an unornamented plainness. The
hand-worked embroidery glorified and gave value to the material it was
worked on. The machine-work cannot lift it above the commonplace. When
will people understand that the more ornament is slow and difficult of
production, the more we appreciate it when we have got it; that it is
because we know that the thought of a human brain and the skill of a
human hand went into every stroke of a chisel, every touch of a brush,
or every stitch placed by the needle, that we admire, enjoy, and wonder
at the statue, the picture, or the needlework that is the result of that
patience and that skill; and that we do not care about the ornament at
all, and that it becomes lifeless always, and often vulgar, when it has
been made at little or no cost by a machine which is ready at any moment
to produce any quantity more of the same thing? All ornament and pattern
was once produced by hand only, therefore it was always rare and costly
and was valued accordingly. Fashions did not change quickly. It was
worth while to embroider a garment beautifully, for it would be worn for
years, for a lifetime perhaps; and the elaborately worked counterpane
would cover the bed in the guest-chamber for more than one generation.

These remarks must be understood to apply to the ordinary fancy-work
and so-called "art-needlework" of the present day. Twenty years ago
there would have been no ray of light in the depths to which the art of
embroidery had fallen. Now for some years steady and successful efforts
have been made by a few people to produce once more works worthy of the
past glories of the art. They have proved to us that designers can
design and that women can execute fine embroidery, but their productions
are but as a drop in the ocean of inferior and valueless work.



[1] But cf. "Of Materials," p. 365.


Almost every fabric that is good of its kind is suitable for a ground
for needlework, and any thread of silk, linen, cotton, or wool, is
suitable for laying on a web, with the purpose of decorating it. Yet
these materials should not be wedded indiscriminately, every surface
requiring its peculiar treatment; a loose woollen fabric, for example,
being best covered with wool-work rather than with silk. Not that it is
necessary to work in linen thread on linen ground, in silk on silk
ground, and so forth; silk upon linen, silk on canvas, wool on linen,
are legitimate, because suitable combinations; it being scarcely
necessary to note that linen or wool threads should not be used on silk
surface, as to place the poorer on the richer material would be an error
in taste. Gold thread and precious stones will of course be reserved for
the richer grounds, and the more elaborate kinds of work.

A plain or a figured (damask) silk can be employed as a ground for
needlework, the broken surface of a good damask sometimes enriching and
helping out the design. If work is to be laid directly on silk ground,
it should be rather open and light in character; if closer stitches are
wanted, the principal forms are usually done on a canvas or linen
backing, which is then cut out and "applied" to the final silk ground,
the design being carried on and completed by lighter work of lines and
curves, and by the enrichment of gold thread, and sometimes even
precious stones. These two methods are a serious and dignified form of
embroidery, and were often used by the great mediæval embroiderers on a
rich figured or damask silk, and sometimes on plain silk, and sometimes
on a silky velvet. It is not easy to procure absolutely pure "undressed"
silk now, and pliable silk velvet of a suitable nature is still more
difficult to obtain. Satin is, to my thinking, almost too shiny a
surface for a ground, but it may, occasionally, be useful for small
work. A sort of imitation called "Roman satin" is sometimes employed on
account of its cheapness and effectiveness, I suppose, as it cannot be
for its beauty; the texture, when much handled, being woolly and
unpleasant. No one taking trouble to procure choice materials will think
of making use of it.

Floss silk lends itself particularly to the kind of needlework we are
speaking of; there is no twist on it, the silk is pure and untouched, if
properly dyed has a soft gloss, and a yielding surface that renders it
quite the foremost of embroidery silks, though its delicate texture
requires skilful handling. But avoid silks that profess to be floss with
the difficulty in handling removed. If the old workers could use a pure
untwisted floss, surely we can take the trouble to conquer this
difficulty and do the same. Twisted silk, if used on a silk ground,
should, I think, be rather fine; if thick and much twisted, it stands
out in relief against the ground and gives a hard and ropy appearance. I
am, in fact, assuming that work on so costly a material as pure thick
silk is to be rather fine than coarse. Gold and silver thread is much
used with silk, but it is almost impossible to keep the silver from
tarnishing. Ordinary "gold passing," which consists of a gilt silver
thread wound round silk, is also apt to tarnish, and should always be
lacquered before using--a rather troublesome process to do at home, as
the gold has to be unwound and brushed over with the lacquer, and should
be dried in a warm room free from damp, or on a hot sunny day. Japanese
paper-gold is useful, for the reason that it does not tarnish, though in
some ways it is more troublesome to manage than the gold that can be
threaded in a needle and passed through the material. It consists, like
much of the ancient gold thread, of a gilded strip of paper wound round
silk, the old gold being gilded vellum, when not the flat gold beaten
out thin (as, by the bye, in many of the Eastern towels made to-day
where the flat tinsel is very cleverly used).

For needlework for more ordinary uses, linen is by far the most pleasing
and enduring web. Unlike silk on the one side, and wool on the other, it
has scarcely any limitations in treatment, or in material suitable to be
used on it. For hangings it can be chosen of a loose large texture, and
covered with bold work executed in silk, linen thread, or wool, or it
can be chosen of the finest thread, and covered with minute delicate
stitches; it can be worked equally well in the hand, or in a frame, and
usually the more it is handled the better it looks. A thick twisted silk
is excellent for big and coarse work on linen, the stitches used being
on the same scale, big and bold, and finer silk used sparingly if
needed. White linen thread is often the material employed for linen
altar cloths, coverlets, etc., and some extremely choice examples of
such work are to be seen in our museums, some worked roughly with a
large linen thread and big stitches, some with patient minuteness. It is
hardly necessary to say how important the design of such work is.

Different qualities of this material will be suggested to the
embroideress by her needs; but, before passing to other things, I should
not omit mention of the charming linen woven at Langdale. For some
purposes it is very useful, as good linen for embroidering on is not
easy to obtain. We have, however, yet to find a web which will resemble
the rougher and coarser linens used for old embroideries, rather loosely
woven, with a thick glossy thread, and of a heavy yet yielding
substance, quite unlike the hard paper-like surfaces of machine-made
linens. The Langdale linen is, of course, hand-spun and hand-made, and
the flat silky thread gives a very pleasant surface; but, owing to its
price and fine texture, it is not always suitable for the purposes of
large hangings. Many fine examples of Persian work, such as quilts and
so forth, are executed on a white cotton ground, neither very fine nor
very coarse, entirely in floss silk, a variety of stitches being used,
and the brightest possible colours chosen. The cool silky surface of
linen, however, commends itself more to us than cotton, each country
rightly choosing the materials nearest to hand, in this as in other
decorative arts. Both linen and cotton are good grounds for wool-work,
of which the most satisfactory kind is that done on a large scale, with
a variety of close and curious stitches within bold curves and outlines.

Canvas and net are open textures of linen or cotton, and can be used
either as a ground-work covered entirely with some stitch like the
old-fashioned cross-stitch or tent-stitch, or some kindred mechanical
stitch, or it can stand as the ground, to be decorated with bright
silks. The texture of canvas being coarse, the design for it should be
chosen on a large scale, and thick silk used; floss preferably as the
glossiest, but a thick twisted silk is almost equally effective, and
rather easier to handle. This canvas is used frequently in
seventeenth-century Italian room-hangings, either in the natural
brownish colour, or dyed blue or green, the dye on it giving a dusky
neutral colour which well shows up the richness of the silk.

Of woollen materials, cloth is the king; though as a ground for
needle-decoration it has its limitations. It forms a good basis for
appliqué, the groups of ornament being worked separately, and laid on
the cloth with threads and cords of silk, gold, or wool, according to
the treatment decided on. Rough serge gives a good surface for large
open wool-work. Such work is quickly done, and could be made a very
pleasing decoration for walls. See the delightful inventories of the
worldly goods of Sir John Fastolf in the notes to the Paston Letters,
where the description of green and blue worsted hangings, and "bankers"
worked over with roses and boughs, and hunting scenes, make one long to
emulate the rich fancies of forgotten arts, and try to plan out similar
work, much of which was quite unambitious and simple, both in design and
execution. "Slack," a slightly twisted wool, worsted and crewel are
usually the forms of work used; of these slack wool is the pleasantest
for large work, worsted being too harsh; crewel is very fine and much
twisted,[1] often met with in old work of a fine kind. The advantage of
wool over silk in cost is obvious, and renders it suitable for the
commoner uses of life, where lavishness would be out of place.



[1] Crewel, crull, curly:--

    "His locks were crull as they were laid in press,"

says Chaucer of the Squire in _The Canterbury Tales_.


It is not unusual to hear said of textiles and embroideries, "I like
soft quiet colouring; such and such is too bright." This assertion is
both right and wrong; it shows an instinctive pleasure in harmony
combined with ignorance of technique. To begin with, colour cannot be
too bright in itself; if it appears so, it is the skill of the craftsman
that is at fault. It will be noted in a fine piece of work that far from
blazing with colour in a way to disturb the eye, its general effect is
that of a subdued glow; and yet, on considering the different shades of
the colours used, they are found to be in themselves of the brightest
the dyer can produce. Thus I have seen in an old Persian rug light and
dark blue flowers and orange leaves outlined with turquoise blue on a
strong red ground, a combination that sounds daring, and yet nothing
could be more peaceful in tone than the beautiful and complicated groups
of colours here displayed. Harmony, then, produces this repose, which is
demanded instinctively, purity and crispness being further obtained by
the quality of the colours used.

Thus in blues, use the shades that are only obtained satisfactorily by
indigo dye, with such modifications as slightly "greening" with yellow
when a green-blue is wanted, and so forth. The pure blue of indigo,[1]
neither slaty nor too hot and red on the one hand, nor tending to a
coarse "peacock" green-blue on the other, is perfect in all its tones,
and of all colours the safest to use in masses. Its modifications to
purple on one side and green-blue on the other are also useful, though
to be employed with moderation. There are endless varieties of useful
reds, from pink, salmon, orange, and scarlet, to blood-red and deep
purple-red, obtained by different dyes and by different processes of
dyeing. Kermes, an insect dye, gives a very beautiful and permanent
colour, rather scarlet. Cochineal, also an insect dye, gives a red,
rather inferior, but useful for mixed shades, and much used on silk, of
which madder and kermes are apt to destroy the gloss, the former a good
deal, the latter slightly. Madder, a vegetable dye, "yields on wool a
deep-toned blood-red, somewhat bricky and tending to scarlet. On cotton
and linen all imaginable shades of red, according to the process."[2] Of
the shades into which red enters, avoid over-abundant use of warm orange
or scarlet, which are the more valuable (especially the latter) the more
sparingly used; there is a dusky orange and a faint clear bricky
scarlet, sometimes met with in old work, that do not need this
reservation, being quiet colours of impure yet beautiful tone. Clear,
full yellow, fine in itself, also loses its value if too plentifully
used, or lacking due relief by other colours. The pure colour is neither
reddish and hot in tone, nor greenish and sickly. It is very abundant,
for example, in Persian silk embroidery, also in Chinese, and again in
Spanish and Italian work of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The
best and most permanent yellow dye, especially valuable on silk, is
weld or "wild mignonette."

Next to blue, green seems the most natural colour to live with, and the
most restful to the eye and brain; yet it is curious to those not
familiar with the ins and outs of dyeing that it should be so difficult
to obtain through ordinary commercial channels a full, rich, permanent
green, neither muddy yellow nor coarse bluish. A dyer who employed
old-fashioned dye-stuffs and methods would, however, tell us that the
greens of commerce are obtained by _messes_, and not by dyes, the only
method for obtaining good shades being that of dyeing a blue of the
depth required in the indigo-vat, and afterwards "greening" it with
yellow, with whatever modifications are needed. Three sets of greens
will be found useful for needlework, full yellow-greens of two or three
shades, grayish-greens, and blue-greens. Of these, the shades tending to
grayish-green are the most manageable in large masses. There is also an
olive-green that is good, if not too dark and brown, when it becomes a
nondescript, and as such to be condemned.

Walnut (the roots or the husks or the nut) and catechu (the juice of a
plant) are the most reliable brown dye-stuffs, giving good rich colour.
The best black, by the bye, formerly used, consisted of the darkest
indigo shade the material would take, dipped afterwards in the walnut
root dye.

This hasty enumeration of dye-stuffs gives an idea of those principally
used until this century, but now very rarely, since the reign of
Aniline. Yet they give the only really pure and permanent colours known,
not losing their value by artificial light, and very little and
gradually fading through centuries of exposure to sunlight. It would be
pleasant if in purchasing silk or cloth one had not to pause and
consider "will it fade?" meaning not "will it fade in a hundred, or ten,
or three years?" but "will it fade and be an unsightly rag this time
next month?" I cannot see that Aniline has done more for us than this.

Colour can be treated in several different ways: by distinctly light
shades, whether few or many, on a dark ground, which treatment lends
itself to great variety and effect; or by dark on a light ground, not so
rich or satisfying in effect; or again, by colour placed on colour of
equal tone, as it were a mosaic or piecing together of colours united,
or "jointed," by outlining round the various members of the design.
Black on white, or white on white, a mere drawing of a design on the
material, scarcely comes under the head of Colour, though, as aforesaid,
some very beautiful work has been done in this way.

As regards method of colouring, it is not very possible to give much
indication of what to use and what to avoid, it being greatly a matter
of practice, and somewhat of instinct, how to unite colour into
beautiful and complex groups. A few hints for and against certain
combinations may perhaps be given: for instance, avoid placing a blue
immediately against a green of nearly the same tone; an outline of a
different colour disposes of this difficulty, but even so, blue and
green for equally leading colours should be avoided. Again, red and
yellow, if both of a vivid tone, will need a softening outline; also, I
think, red and green if at all strong; avoid cold green in contact with
misty blue-green, which in itself is rather a pretty colour: the warning
seems futile, but I have seen these colours used persistently together,
and do not like the resulting undecided gray tone. A cold strong green
renders service sometimes, notably for placing against a clear brilliant
yellow, which is apt to deaden certain softer greens. Brown, when used,
should be chosen carefully, warm in tint, but not _hot_; avoid the
mixture of brown and yellow, often seen in "Art Depôts," but not in
nature, an unfortunate groping after the picturesque, as brown wants
cooling down, and to marry it to a flaming yellow is not the way to do
it. Black should be used very sparingly indeed, though by no means
banished from the palette. Blue and pink, blue and red, with a little
tender green for relief, are perfectly safe combinations for the
leading colours in a piece of work; again, yellow and green, or yellow,
pink, and green, make a delightfully fresh and joyous show. There is a
large coverlet to be seen at the South Kensington Museum (in the Persian
gallery) which is worked in these colours, all very much the same bright
tone, the centre being green and yellow and pink, and the several
borders the same, with the order and proportion altered to make a
variety. In recalling bright colouring like this, one is reminded of
Chaucer and his unfailing delight in gay colours, which he constantly
brings before us in describing garden, woodland, or beflowered gown.

    "Everich tree well from his fellow grewe
    With branches broad laden with leaves newe
    That sprongen out against the sonne sheene
    Some golden red and some a glad bright grene."

Or, again, the Squire's dress in the Prologue to _The Canterbury

    "Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
    Alle ful of freshe floures, white and rede."



[1] For notes on the dyer's art and the nature of dye stuffs, see
William Morris's essay on "Dyeing as an Art," p. 196.

[2] William Morris, "Dyeing as an Art."


As a guiding classification of methods of embroidery considered from the
technical point of view, I have set down the following heads:--

    (a) Embroidery of materials in frames.

    (b) Embroidery of materials held in the hand.

    (c) Positions of the needle in making stitches.

    (d) Varieties of stitches.

    (e) Effects of stitches in relation to materials into which they
    are worked.

    (f) Methods of stitching different materials together.

    (g) Embroidery in relief.

    (h) Embroidery on open grounds like net, etc.

    (i) Drawn thread work; needlepoint lace.

    (j) Embroidery allied to tapestry weaving.

In the first place, I define embroidery as the ornamental enrichment by
needlework of a given material. Such material is usually a closely-woven
stuff; but skins of animals, leather, etc., also serve as foundations
for embroidery, and so do nets.

(a) Materials to be embroidered may be either stretched out in a
frame, or held loosely (b) in the hand. Experience decides when either
way is the better. For embroidery upon nets, frames are indispensable.
The use of frames is also necessary when a particular aim of the
embroiderer is to secure an even tension of stitch throughout his work.
There are various frames, some large and standing on trestles; in these
many feet of material can be stretched out. Then there are small handy
frames in which a square foot or two of material is stretched; and again
there are smaller frames, usually circular, in which a few inches of
materials of delicate texture, like muslin and cambric, may be

Oriental embroiderers, like those of China, Japan, Persia, and India,
are great users of frames for their work.

(c) Stitches having peculiar or individual characteristics are
comparatively few. Almost all are in use for plain needlework. It is
through the employment of them to render or express ornament or pattern
that they become embroidery stitches. Some embroiderers and some
schools of embroidery contend that the number of embroidery stitches is
almost infinite. This, however, is probably one of the myths of the
craft. To begin with, there are barely more than two different positions
in which the needle is held for making a stitch--one when the needle is
passed more or less horizontally through the material, the other when
the needle is worked more or less vertically. In respect of the
first-named way, the point of the needle enters the material usually in
two places, and one pull takes the embroidery thread into the material
more or less horizontally, or along or behind its surface (Fig. 1). In
the second, the needle is passed upwards from beneath the material,
pulled right through it, and then returned downwards, so that there are
two pulls instead of one to complete a single stitch.

[Illustration: Fig. 1.--Stem Stitch--a peculiar use of short stitches.]

A hooked or crochet needle with a handle is held more or less vertically
for working a chain stitch upon the surface of a material stretched in a
frame, but this is a method of embroidery involving the use of an
implement distinct from that done with the ordinary and freely-plied
needle. Still, including this last-named method, which comes into the
class of embroidery done with the needle in a more or less vertical
position, we do not get more than two distinctive positions for holding
the embroidery needle.

[Illustration: Fig. 2.--Chain Stitch.]

(d) Varieties of stitches may be classified under two sections: one of
stitches in which the thread is looped, as in chain stitch, knotted
stitches, and button-hole stitch; the other of stitches in which the
thread is not looped, but lies flatly, as in short and long
stitches--crewel or feather stitches as they are sometimes
called,--darning stitches, tent and cross stitches, and satin stitch.

[Illustration: Fig. 3.--Satin Stitch.]

Almost all of these stitches produce different sorts of surface or
texture in the embroidery done with them. Chain stitches, for instance,
give a broken or granular-looking surface (Fig. 2). This effect in
surface is more strongly marked when knotted stitches are used. Satin
stitches give a flat surface (Fig. 3), and are generally used for
embroidery or details which are to be of an even tint of colour. Crewel
or long and short stitches combined (Fig. 4) give a slightly less even
texture than satin stitches. Crewel stitch is specially adapted to the
rendering of coloured surfaces of work in which different tints are to
modulate into one another.

[Illustration: Fig. 4.--Feather or Crewel Stitch--a mixture of long and
short stitches.]

(e) The effects of stitches in relation to the materials into which
they are worked can be considered under two broadly-marked divisions.
The one is in regard to embroidery which is to produce an effect on one
side only of a material; the other to embroidery which shall produce
similar effects equally on both the back and front of the material. A
darning and a satin stitch may be worked so that the embroidery has
almost the same effect on both sides of the material. Chain stitch and
crewel stitch can only be used with regard to effect on one side of a

(f) But these suggestions for a simple classification of embroidery do
not by any means apply to many methods of so-called embroidery, the
effects of which depend upon something more than stitches. In these
other methods cutting materials into shapes, stitching materials
together, or on to one another, and drawing certain threads out of a
woven material and then working over the undrawn threads, are involved.
Applied or appliqué work is generally used in connection with ornament
of bold forms. The larger and principal forms are cut out of one
material and then stitched down to another--the junctures of the edges
of the cut-out forms being usually concealed and the shapes of the forms
emphasised by cord stitched along them. Patchwork depends for successful
effect upon skill in cutting out the several pieces which are to be
stitched together. Patchwork is a sort of mosaic work in textile
materials; and, far beyond the homely patchwork quilt of country
cottages, patchwork lends itself to the production of ingenious
counterchanges of form and colour in complex patterns. These methods of
appliqué and patchwork are peculiarly adapted to ornamental needlework
which is to lie, or hang, stretched out flatly, and are not suited
therefore to work in which is involved a calculated beauty of effect
from folds.

(g) There are two or three classes of embroidery in relief which are
not well adapted to embroideries on lissome materials in which folds are
to be considered. Quilting is one of these classes. It may be
artistically employed for rendering low-relief ornament, by means of a
stout cord or padding placed between two bits of stuff, which are then
ornamentally stitched together so that the cord or padding may fill out
and give slight relief to the ornamental portions defined by and
enclosed between the lines of stitching. There is also padded
embroidery or work consisting of a number of details separately wrought
in relief over padding of hanks of thread, wadding, and such like.
Effects of high relief are obtainable by this method. Another class, but
of lower relief embroidery, is couching (Fig. 5), in which cords and
gimps are laid side by side, in groups, upon the face of a material,
and then stitched down to it. Various effects can be obtained in this
method. The colour of the thread used to stitch the cords or gimp down
may be different from that of the cords or gimp, and the stitches may of
course be so taken as to produce small powdered or diaper patterns over
the face of the groups of cords or gimp. Gold cords are often used in
this class of work, which is peculiarly identified with ecclesiastical
embroideries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as also with
Japanese work of later date.

[Illustration: Fig. 5.--A form of Embroidery in relief, called

(h) The embroidery and work hitherto alluded to has been such as
requires a foundation of a closely woven nature, like linen, cloth,
silk, and velvet. But there are varieties of embroidery done upon netted
or meshed grounds. And on to these open grounds, embroidery in darning
and chain stitches can be wrought. For the most part the embroideries
upon open or meshed grounds have a lace-like appearance. In lace, the
contrast between close work and open, or partially open, spaces about it
plays an important part. The methods of making lace by the needle, or by
bobbins on a cushion, are totally distinct from the methods of making
lace-like embroideries upon net.

(i) Akin to lace and embroideries upon net is embroidery in which much
of its special effect is obtained by the withdrawal of threads from the
material, and then either whipping or overcasting in button-hole
stitches the undrawn threads. The Persians and embroiderers in the
Grecian Archipelago have excelled in such work, producing wondrously
delicate textile grills of ingenious geometric patterns. In this drawn
thread work, as it is called, we often meet with the employment of
button-hole stitching, which is an important stitch in making
needlepoint lace (Fig. 6).

[Illustration: Fig. 6.--Button-hole Stitching, as used in needlepoint

(j) We also meet with the use of a weaving stitch resembling in
effect, on a small scale, willow weaving for hurdles. This weaving
stitch, and the method of compacting together the threads made with it,
are closely allied to that special method of weaving known as tapestry
weaving. Some of the earliest specimens of tapestry weaving consist of
ornamental borders, bands, and panels, which were inwoven into tunics
and cloaks worn by Greeks and Romans from the fourth century before
Christ, up to the eighth or ninth after Christ. The scale of the work in
these is so small, as compared with that of large tapestry wall-hangings
of the fifteenth century, that the method may be regarded as being
related more to drawn thread embroidery than to weaving into an
extensive field of warp threads.

A sketch of the different employments of the foregoing methods of
embroidery is not to be included in this paper. The universality of
embroidery from the earliest of historic times is attested by evidences
of its practice amongst primitive tribes throughout the world. Fragments
of stitched materials or undoubted indications of them have been found
in the remains of early American Indians, and in the cave dwellings of
men who lived thousands of years before the period of historic
Egyptians and Assyrians. Of Greek short and long stitch, and chain
stitch and appliqué embroidery, there are specimens of the third or
fourth century B.C. preserved in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were skilful in the use of
tapestry weaving stitches. Dainty embroidery, with delicate silken
threads, was practised by the Chinese long before similar work was done
in the countries west of Persia, or in countries which came within the
Byzantine Empire. In the early days of that Empire, the Emperor
Theodosius I. framed rules respecting the importation of silk, and made
regulations for the labour employed in the _gynæcea_, the public weaving
and embroidering rooms of that period, the development and organisation
of which are traceable to the apartments allotted in private houses to
the sempstresses and embroideresses who formed part of the well-to-do
households of early classic times.



    "_Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of
    thine own well._"--SOLOMON.

    "_Produce; produce; be it but the infinitesimallest product,

For the last sixty years, ever since the Gothic Revival set in, we have
done our best to resuscitate the art of embroidery. First the Church and
then the world took up the task, and much admirable work has been done
by the "Schools," the shops, and at home. And yet the verdict still must
be "the old is better."

Considering all things, this lack of absolute success is perplexing and
needs to be explained. For we have realised our ideals. Never was a
time when the art and science of needlework were so thoroughly
understood as in England at the present moment. Our designers can design
in any style. Every old method is at our fingers' ends. Every ingenious
stitch of old humanity has been mastered, and a descriptive name given
to it of our own devising. Every traditional pattern--wave, lotus,
daisy, convolvulus, honeysuckle, "Sacred Horn" or tree of life; every
animal form, or bird, fish or reptile, has been traced to its source,
and its symbolism laid bare. Every phase of the world's primal schools
of design--Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian, Chinese, Greek, Byzantine,
European--has been illustrated and made easy of imitation. We are
archæologists: we are critics: we are artists. We are lovers of old
work: we are learned in historical and æsthetic questions, in technical
rules and principles of design. We are colourists, and can play with
colour as musicians play with notes. What is more, we are in terrible
earnestness about the whole business. The honour of the British nation,
the credit of Royalty, are, in a manner, staked upon the success of our
"Schools of Needlework." And yet, in spite of all these favouring
circumstances, we get no nearer to the old work that first mocked us to
emulation in regard to power of initiative and human interest.

Truth and gallantry prompt me to add, it is not in stitchery but in
design that we lag behind the old. Fair English hands can copy every
trick of ancient artistry: finger-skill was never defter, will was never
more ardent to do fine things, than now. Yet our work hangs fire. It
fails in design. Why?

Now, Emerson has well said that all the arts have their origin in some
enthusiasm. Mark this, however: that whereas the design of old
needlework is based upon enthusiasm for birds, flowers, and animal
life,[1] the design of modern needlework has its origin in enthusiasm
for antique art. Nature is, of course, the groundwork of all art, even
of ours; but it is not to Nature at first-hand that we go. The flowers
we embroider were not plucked from field and garden, but from the
camphor-scented preserves at Kensington. Our needlework conveys no
pretty message of

    "The life that breathes, the life that lives,"

it savours only of the now stiff and stark device of dead hands. Our art
holds no mirror up to Nature as we see her, it only reflects the
reflection of dead periods. Nay, not content with merely rifling the
_motifs_ of moth-fretted rags, we must needs turn for novelty to an old
Persian tile which, well magnified, makes a capital design for a quilt
that one might perchance sleep under in spite of what is outside! Or we
are not ashamed to ask our best embroideresses to copy the barbaric
wriggles and childlike crudities of a seventh-century "Book of Kells," a
task which cramps her style and robs Celtic art of all its wonder.

We have, I said, realised our ideals. We can do splendidly what we set
ourselves to do--namely, to mimic old masterpieces. The question is,
What next? Shall we continue to hunt old trails, and die, not leaving
the world richer than we found it? Or shall we for art and honour's sake
boldly adventure something--drop this wearisome translation of old
styles and translate Nature instead?

Think of the gain to the "Schools," and to the designers themselves, if
we elect to take another starting-point! No more museum-inspired work!
No more scruples about styles! No more dry-as-dust stock patterns! No
more loathly Persian-tile quilts! No more awful "Zoomorphic"
table-cloths! No more cast-iron-looking altar cloths, or Syon Cope
angels, or stumpy Norfolk-screen saints! No more Tudor roses and
pumped-out Christian imagery suggesting that Christianity is dead and
buried! But, instead, we shall have design _by_ living men _for_ living
men--something that expresses fresh realisations of sacred facts,
personal broodings, skill, joy in Nature--in grace of form and gladness
of colour; design that shall recall Shakespeare's maid who

          "... with her neeld composes
    Nature's own shape, of bud, bird, branch, or berry,
      That even Art sisters the natural roses."

For, after all, modern design should be as the old--living thought,
artfully expressed: fancy that has taken fair shapes. And needlework is
still a pictorial art that requires a real artist to direct the design,
a real artist to ply the needle. Given these, and our needlework can be
as full of story as the Bayeux tapestry, as full of imagery as the Syon
Cope, and better drawn. The charm of old embroidery lies in this, that
it clothes current thought in current shapes. It meant something to the
workers, and to the man in the street for whom it was done. And for our
work to gain the same sensibility, the same range of appeal, the same
human interest, we must employ the same means. We must clothe modern
ideas in modern dress; adorn our design with living fancy, and rise to
the height of our knowledge and capacities.

Doubtless there is danger to the untrained designer in direct resort to
Nature. For the tendency in his or her case is to copy outright, to give
us pure crude fact and not to _design_ at all. Still there is hope in
honest error: none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist. For the
unskilled designer there is no training like drawing from an old herbal;
for in all old drawing of Nature there is a large element of design.
Besides which, the very limitations of the materials used in realising a
design in needlework, be it ever so naturally coloured, hinders a too
definite presentation of the real.

For the professional stylist, the confirmed conventionalist, an hour in
his garden, a stroll in the embroidered meadows, a dip into an old
herbal, a few carefully-drawn cribs from Curtis's _Botanical Magazine_,
or even--for lack of something better--Sutton's last Illustrated
Catalogue, is wholesome exercise, and will do more to revive the
original instincts of a true designer than a month of sixpenny days at a
stuffy museum. The old masters are dead, but "the flowers," as Victor
Hugo says, "the flowers last always."



[1] A strip of sixteenth-century needlework in my possession (6 ft. by 2
ft. 6 in.) figures thirty different specimens of plants, six animals,
and four birds, besides ornamental sprays of foliage.


In every form of art the thing which is of primary importance is the
question of Design.

By Design I understand the inventive arrangement of lines and masses,
for their own sake, in such a relation to one another, that they form a
fine, harmonious whole: a whole, that is, towards which each part
contributes, and is in such a combination with every other part that the
result is a unity of effect, so completely satisfying us that we have no
sense of demanding in it more or less.

After this statement and definition let me proceed to touch briefly upon
four points in relation to the matter, as it concerns itself with the
art of Embroidery; and the first of these four points shall be this.
Before you commence your design, consider carefully the conditions under
which the finished work is to be seen. There is a tendency in embroidery
to be too uniformly delicate and minute. To be too delicate, or even
minute, in something which is always to be seen close under one's eyes
is, it may be, impossible; but in an altar-cloth, a banner, a
wall-hanging, this delicacy and minuteness are not merely thrown away,
but they tend to make the thing ineffective. For such objects as these I
have mentioned, the main lines and masses of the design should, it would
seem in the nature of the case, be well emphasised; if they are well
emphasised, and of course fine in their character and arrangement, there
is produced a sense of largeness and dignity which is of the highest
value, and for the absence of which no amount of curious workmanship
will atone. In making your design, let these main lines and masses be
the first things you attend to, and secure. Stand away at a distance,
and see if they tell out satisfactorily, before you go on to put in a
single touch of detail.

For the second point: remember that embroidery deals with its objects as
if they were all on the same plane. It has been sometimes described as
the art of painting with the needle; but it necessarily and essentially
differs from the art of painting in this, that it, properly, represents
all things as being equally near to you, as laid out before you on the
same plane. It would seem, therefore, to be a sound rule to fill the
spaces, left for you by the arrangement of your main lines and masses,
with such forms as shall occupy these spaces, one by one, completely;
with such patterns, I mean, as shall appear to have their natural and
full development within the limits of each space: avoid the appearance
of one thing being behind the other, with portions of it cut off and
obscured by what comes in front of it. But in this, as in so much else,
an immense deal must be left to the instinct of the artist.

Thirdly: aim at simplicity in the elements or motives of your design; do
not crowd it with a score of different elements, which produce a sense
of confusion and irritation, and, in reality, prove only a poverty of
invention. A real richness of invention, as well as a richness of
effect, lies in using one or two, perhaps at most three, elements, with
variety in the treatment of them. Make yourself thoroughly master of the
essential points, in whatever elements you choose as the basis of your
design, before you set pencil to paper; and you will find in almost any
natural form you fix upon more than enough to give you all the variety
and richness you require, if you have sufficient natural fancy to play
with it.

Lastly: return again and again, and for evermore, to Nature. The value
of studying specimens of old embroidery is immense; it makes you
familiar with the principles and methods, which experience has found to
be true and useful; it puts you into possession of the traditions of the
art. He that has no reverence for the traditions of his art seals his
own doom; he that is careless about them, or treats them with
superciliousness, or will not give the time and pains necessary to
understand them, but thinks to start off afresh along clean new lines of
his own, stamps himself as an upstart--makes himself perhaps, if he is
clever, a nine days' curiosity--but loses himself, by and by, in
extravagances, and brings no fruit to perfection. The study of old work,
then, is of the highest importance, is essential; the patient and humble
study of it. But for what end? To learn principles and methods, to
secure a sound foundation for oneself; not to slavishly imitate results,
and live on bound hand and foot in the swaddling clothes of precedent.
Learn your business in the schools, but go out to Nature for your
inspirations. See Nature through your own eyes, and be a persistent and
curious observer of her infinite wonders. Yet to see Nature in herself
is not everything, it is but half the matter; the other half is to know
how to use her for the purposes of fine art, to know how to translate
her into the language of art. And this knowledge we acquire by a sound
acquaintance with the essential conditions of whatever art we practise,
a frank acceptance of these conditions, and a reverential appreciation
of the teaching and examples of past workmen. Timidity and impudence are
both alike fatal to an artist: timidity, which makes it impossible for
him to see with his own eyes, and find his own methods; and impudence,
which makes him imagine that his own eyes, and his own methods, are the
best that ever were.


       *       *       *       *       *

_Printed by R. & R. CLARK, Edinburgh_

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