Art Magazines: The Art of Wallpaper – Morris & Co | James Hugonin | David McClure

Some of William Morris’ well-known designs at The Art of Wallpaper – Morris & Co. exhibition at Dovecot Studios. PIC: Rob MacDougall

The Art of Wallpaper – Morris & Co, Dovecot, Edinburgh *****

James Hugonin, Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh ****

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David McClure: A Sicilian Story, Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh ****

Detail of a drawing by Willam Morris in The Art of Wallpaper at Dovecot Studios

Wallpaper! So many bland wallcoverings, not worthy of our attention? The art of wallpaper – Morris & Co, the new exhibition from Dovecot, aims to make us think a little differently and that this is a serious area of ​​design, really an art form in fact. It also explores William Morris’s involvement in wallpaper design to make beautiful decor available at low cost to fairly modest homes. It was a gospel mission. Morris followed Ruskin in championing the intimate relationship between art, design, manufacturing and quality of life.

The exhibition is based on the unique archives of Sanderson and Co. Involved in wallpaper since 1860, the company has recently become the heir to the wallpaper catalog of Morris & Co, the company that William Morris himself created in 1875 and which continued to market, though not just in wallpaper, until 1940. The Sanderson Archive holds a remarkable record not only of Morris’s own designs, but also of the wider revolution in design and wallpaper production which was led by the Arts and Crafts movement from the 1860s. Leaders were Morris himself and other key figures in wider design history such as Augustus Welby Pugin, Owen Jones , Christopher Dresser, Walter Crane and CF Voysey. Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament published in 1856, for example, was a key document in the history of design. He argued that good design should not imitate nature, but abstract from the patterns it displays. His book is also primarily visual, illustrating examples from all the major design traditions, including so-called primitive South Sea art, all printed in brilliant color using the new chromo-lithographic process.

But a certain Harold Potter also played a key role in all of this. He may not have been a wizard like his namesake, but the machine he patented in 1839 looked quite magical. It was a four-color roll-to-roll printer. Using new oil-based inks, he could produce 400 rolls of wallpaper per day. A tax on wallpaper had recently been removed, so the conditions were ripe for dramatic expansion. French wallpapers, block-printed in highly ornamental and naturalistic styles, were in fashion. There are striking examples here both of these French journals and of homemade journals in the same style. Sanderson himself began by importing these French designs, but in 1879 he established his own factory. Apparently these brightly colored wallpapers were not a suitable background for aristocratic family portraits. We needed something more understated. This was quite a different motivation for a style change from that professed by William Morris, but it was all part of the mix and new, flatter, more formal designs were first launched by Pugin and Owen Jones. In the 1840s, Pugin’s medieval-influenced designs for the new Houses of Parliament were the first examples. (They also caused a huge row 150 years later, when in 1998 the Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine, restoring Pugin’s decor, installed them at great expense in his official quarters – the more that changes.)

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co was established in 1861. It was the first company set up by Morris and his friends and he started producing wallpaper designs in 1864. His first was Trellis. A design of a heather rose trellis with birds and butterflies, it took 12 blocks to print. However, he also produced Daisy the same year. Based on the floral decoration of illuminated manuscripts, it is much simpler and has become one of his most imitated designs. He also started producing more global designs like the leaves, for example, which only took two blocks and were therefore much cheaper. Morris may have wanted to reach a wide audience, but he also decorated Balmoral, designing a paper with the royal monogram and a thistle. Morris’ designs were printed by the firm of Jeffrey and Co. who also employed a variety of other leading designers and there are some beautiful designs designed by them on display.

Detail of a Morris & Co design in The Art of Wallpaper at Dovecot Studios

A set of the massive blocks for Morris’ Chrysanthemum design is displayed here. They are very impressive objects and give an idea of ​​the manual skill that went into it all. As he does in Chrysanthemum, Morris generally sticks to two main layers and a background, which together combine to create broad rhythms in a field of satisfying visual complexity. The willow, its slender willow leaves and curving branches still popular today, is another wonderful example. His inspiration came to him while walking among the willows by the Thames with his daughter May. May herself also contributed models and one of the most impressive things about the whole company is the high standard of design that the Morris team managed to maintain even after her death. It was his pupil, John Henry Dearle, for example, later artistic director of the company, who designed some of the most popular designs among the “Morris” such as Golden Lily or Bird and Pomegranate.

The rationale for this exhibit at Dovecot, a tapestry workshop, is that tapestry historically covered walls and thus played the same role as wallpaper. It was certainly in a different price range although there is at least one wallpaper here which, with its converted price, would cost several hundred pounds a roll today. In the 17th century there was a fashion for embossed leather wall covering. Like tapestry, it was warmer than bare stone or plaster. The Japanese adopted this fashion and, for lack of leather, copied it on paper. These papers were then re-exported to the West, creating a vogue for thick relief wallpapers. Morris himself made designs in this mode, printed in Japan and also sold there. But here they are in a way a diversion from the main design story that is so well told: the evolution of the absolutely classic wallpaper designs of the firm Morris. Never out of fashion, some of them seem to have been in constant production for a century and a half.

You could be wrong Jacques Hugoninpaintings from the Ingleby Gallery for the wallpaper. They are flat and neatly composed of a regular grid of tiny colored rectangles. The rectangles are aligned vertically and each has a distinct color. At first they seem static, but the effect of this constant color changing pattern is actually dynamic. Other larger patterns appear as if we were looking at moving clouds or falling water. The effect is captivating and the six large images, all in the same format, look grand and solemn.

If James Hugonin’s execution is so tight you can almost hear the tension creak, David McClureThe painting celebrates freedom and the pleasure of things. A small exhibition at the Scottish Gallery is devoted to photos from or inspired by Sicily where he sent for six months in 1956-7. A group of cityscapes and poetic landscapes were painted here and there, but he also later returned to inspiration from Sicily to paint darker, more iconic images of church interiors and rituals with also hints at mafia violence.

Detail of Fluctuations in Elliptical Form (I), 2016-17 by James Hugonin

The Art of Wallpaper – Morris & Co until June 11; James Hugonin until March 26; David McClure until February 26

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Boat and Buildings 1956 by David McClure at the Scottish Gallery

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