Along with the Arts and Crafts movement came the ideals of socialism of which Ruskin and Morris also wrote extensively. These two were strongly against any use of machinery in the production of crafted household items however not everyone involved in the movement felt this way. They simply sought to restore the workers dignity and work satisfaction15. It was mostly a middleclass revolution and was predominantly British but the Americans copied the style and made it their own.
In Ireland the movement was popular from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. Stylistically it is closely associated with the revived use of Celtic ornament but it also encompassed art nouveau, the legacy of the Pre-Raphaelites and some aspects of modernism16. Evidence of the movement can be seen in needlework, woodcarving, enamelling, jewellery and stained glass. The most obvious part of the Irish movement was the use of early Christian styles with ornamental detail, which became known as the Celtic Style.
Part of the feeling for a need for reform in Britain had been to find a national style. This was due to the culmination of several styles into one piece of architecture. Within Britain they saw gothic as the style, which represented their nationalism. John Ruskin saw gothic as expressive of the craftsman’s freedom, which could restore social harmony17. However we see that by the 1880’s the popularity of gothic as a national style had dissolved but the idea behind it was left behind.
The style left gothic motifs behind and adapted the architectural principles of furniture construction championed by Pugin18. Pugin was an architect and writer who also influenced the revival to a degree. What was needed was a return to basic ancient techniques to get to the basis of the craft and strip away anything that had been added over centuries. If we go back to Ireland, Dr. William Sullivan, President of Queen’s College, Cork, stated in1883 that ‘in the middle ages and the renaissance period the artist and workman were generally united’19.
He therefore felt that the designers of the industrial period were too far removed from the workman and they had little or no knowledge of materials or processes. This would mean that each would have to have some degree of experience within the other field in order for the work to reach it’s greatest. With the development of the movement its members became frustrated by the definition of art in terms of the fine arts of painting and sculpture only. We must remember that the movement was concerned with crafts and had little or no painters or sculptors in it.
These specialities were part of other movements occurring at the time. This left the applied and decorative arts with very low status and seemingly little importance. This lead to the term Arts and Crafts movement being applied in 1888 at a meeting in London of a group of young members of the Royal Academy20. The works of the movement were honest, sturdy and eccentric21. A. H Muckmurdo described his aim as being to make ‘beautiful things for the homes of simple and gentle folk’.
He didn’t want to make art for the elite but goods affordable by all. The style shows enormous evidence of a love of colour and bold effects. These three elements combined saw a style that went for simplicity and an honesty of construction22. We can also see evidence of richness in the use of colour and precious materials such as silver, enamel, mother of pearl and glass. An important development occurred during this movement and that was the rise of another movement called the aesthetic movement.
The two feed off each other. The aesthetic however benefited the arts and crafts by bringing to it a much lighter touch. It also combined Japanese styles with that of the architecture of Queen Anne, which prevented the arts and crafts movement from becoming absorbed in medieval nostalgia23. The movement allowed British artists to discover the ancient techniques of Japanese art. The Queen Anne style is represented by redbrick houses and white woodwork with tall irregular windows leaded or enhanced with white glazing bars24.
Perfection was very important to this style however it did manage to stay light, pretty and elegant. The Japanese influence meant that the design contained simplification of line and colour. This movement embodied the gothic revival, the arts and crafts ideal and Japanese design. Japanese design later greatly influenced Art Nouveau in France. By 1900 the Japanese art had been absorbed and translated. It was revolutionary in its use of flat perspectives, the lack of detail and the asymmetrical arrangements25.