Studio: international art — 13.1898

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The Lay Figure

" What are you studying ? " said the
Journalist—" the latest Continental and
sincerely flattering paraphrase of The Studio ? "

" No ! " the Lay Figure replied, " but its prede-
cessor fifty years ago, a most worthy ancestor—The
Journal of Design from 1849 to !—which ran
from 1849 to 1852, that in lieu of chromo-litho-
graphic supplements or half-tone blocks gave a few
woodcuts, and any amount of samples of actual
wall-papers and woven fabrics, mounted and called
1 coloured plates.' It is the veritable pioneer of our
movement. A pre- ' Great Exhibition ' journal,
with the idea now dominant, then newly born, of
' the moral influence of ornamental art,' with, it must
be added, frequent references to its commercial
value. Its first anecdote strikes home. ' That mag-
nolia has been worth ^80 to me,' said a designer,
' and not long ago it was the current talk in the
mercers' shops that Cobdens of Manchester had
made more than ,£10,000 profit by a certain
printed pattern.' .... 'The ornamental bread-
platter suggested by Bell, the sculptor, has posi-
tively originated a trade in that article, not only
in Sheffield, but all over the country." This and
much more we find on its first page. Later on
we read, ' Even now, if any one proposed to teach
ornamental drawing in a national school, he would
probably be laughed at'; and it goes on to add,
' Recently there were not six working jewellers in
London who could put their own work correctly
into outline drawing.'"

"That certainly makes one feel that the fifty
years since have not been wholly wasted," said the
Man with a Clay Pipe. " But what of the designs ?
let us see them." And as he turned over the pages
he muttered, "Good ! a bit academic, but really
when they did not try to be naturalistic their repeat
patterns were by no means bad ! Their chief fault
seems to have been in table-ware and other domes-
tic objects, especially in modelling plants in high
relief on jugs and pots, of shapes not well planned
both in wood and metal, as, for instance, a candle-
stick with one flower erect to take the candle and
another pendant to serve as extinguisher. Here is
a decanter modelled like a huge fuchsia-blossom,
with glasses to match, and which the editor says ' are
rather like the general form.' But I see he slanged
sometimes, and was quite severe on an ornate fender
with a lover and his lass at one end, and a grape
vine the same size, on the other."

" I think," said the Lay Figure, " that the fabrics

are wonderfully good : this ' balsarne' with a white
device on salmon-coloured ground might be a
Japanese design, while another by the Shires Print-
ing Company would still find favour at Liberty's."

" I find one notable difference," the Man with a
Clay Pipe remarked. " Not a single design is
accredited to its artist, unless he happened to be
a man of note in other fields."

" I have just read one of the articles," said the
Journalist; "it is entitled 'High Art and Orna-
mental Art,' in which I find ' The intimate unit-
ing of high art and ornament, or what might be
called in these days of new verbal coinage the
" Cellinesque," with the purer feeling in it is, we
believe, a mine little worked of late, although such
a mine has its precedent in the best ages of Greek
art, and has always been recognised by those who
have thought most and best on such subjects.'
That sentence seems to sum up the fallacy of the
fifties. They did not set out to equal the old
mechanic, but tried each to be a new Cellini.
Hence, no doubt, their pitiful mixture of foliage {i.e.,
Ornament) with figure (i.e., High Art). It seems
to me that here is the secret of their failure."

"Yes," the Lay Figure said, "I think by be-
ginning as craftsmen only anxious to turn out
honest work, and being concerned more with pro-
portion, good surface, and good colour—whatever
the work be—we are beginning at the right end.
The mood of Cellini is not the mood for daily life.
Personally I would sooner have many a simple bit
of wrought metal by some unknown mechanic than
no few of his masterpieces. One does not want a
statue on a saltcellar; it may suit a royal banquet,
but goes badly in a modest dining-room. We are
finding out the beauty in the absence of ornament.
It is a good sign that where they used the word
'ornamental' we use 'decoration,'and the sooner
we use ' fit' instead of either the better. A thing
that is fit for its purpose is the thing to aim at."

" You may laugh at the frolics of 1851," said the
Man with a Clay Pipe, " but I doubt if some of
your sconces in ' beaten brass and tinkling symbols
will command more respect in 1951. Hear this
extract from Carlyle, as eulogy on a hideous candle-
stick : ' The fine arts, once divorcing themselves
from truth, are quite certain to fall mad if they do
not die and get flown away with by the devil, which
latter is only the second worse result for us.' The
fine arts are not sent to pipe and dance, but to
speak and work. That was the creed of 1851, and
the candlestick its practice. Let us hope our creed
is less obviously discordant."

The Lav Figure,
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