Thursday, 21 July 2011

Walter Crane & the Fifteen - Arts and Crafts movement

After having done some reading on the Arts and Crafts movement I have realized that there are some details and interconnections that I have previously overlooked due to my amateur understanding of this area!  So I would like to set them straight.  Firstly with Walter Crane.
Walter Crane, by G. F. Watts, 1891
National Portrait Gallery
I had thought of Crane as principally an artist with an interest in the Arts and Crafts movement, but it seems that this is not correct.  Walter Crane was one of The Fifteen, a group at the forefront of the creation of the Arts and Crafts movement.  Then in 1887, Crane was elected Chairman of a new organization, The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, and wrote a letter of appeal asking for guarantors to fund the first Arts and Crafts Exhibition in 1888, signing himself as President of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.  He therefore had a very active part in the Arts and Crafts movement, including shaping it's very beginning.  I am surprised that Walter Crane's pivotal role in the Arts and Crafts movement does not really feature in his Wikipedia entry!

Detail of cover of Arts and Crafts Essays, 
by Members of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society
(Preface by William Morris), Rivington, Percival & Co.,
London, 1893

There are many parallels between Crane and the Peasant Arts movement that I have explored previously:
  • Crane was a Vice President of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union when Godfrey and Ethel Blount were on the Committee.  See previous post
  • Crane admired peasant clothing and travelled Europe admiring examples of it.  See previous post
  • Crane had links to the local area through his publisher Edmund Evans in Witley, his artist friend G.F. Watts in nearby Compton and George Bernard Shaw, from this connection he painted the Fox and Pelican public house sign in Grayshott.  See previous post
  • Crane was a member of the Institute of Painters in Watercolour during the time Henry G. Hine was also a member and then Vice President

Arts and Craft Society private view invitation 1903,
designed by Walter Crane,
Victoria and Albert Museum
Around 1886 discontent with the attitude of the Royal Academy put the wheels in motion for the creation of the Arts and Crafts movement.  The two key areas of public discontent were:

  • the lack of democracy at the Royal Academy - "journalists and correspondents alike believed that a fairer election of members would be gained by offering all exhibitors equal suffrage and that elected membership of the Council and the Hanging and Selection Committees should be for a fixed term only" (Parry, Linda, Textiles of the Arts & Crafts Movement, Thames & Hudson, 2005)
  • the favouring of painters to the exclusion of other artists - this was highlighted by the omission of a Professor of Architecture, whilst at the same time architects were widening their scope into all-round designers.  In 1886 over 80% of Academicians were painters.

As part of the opposition to the Royal Academy, a group of general designers established 'The Fifteen'.  Crane states in his memoirs that "Personally, I may say, I had little interest in the reform of the Royal Academy, and less belief in its possibility.  Threatened men live long, and threatened institutions still longer".  Walter Crane relays the beginning of this group:
Detail of the symbol of the Fifteen
by Walter Crane, Lewis F. Day is shown riding a chariot,
Walter Crane is riding a crane;
from Parry, Linda, Textiles of the Arts & Crafts Movement, Thames & Hudson, 2005

"It was during the winter of 1881 that a group of designers and decorative artists formed themselves into a little Society to discuss subjects of common interest to themselves and bearing upon various branches of design.  The idea was initiated by Mr. Lewis F. Day, whom I had not seen since the old days of “The Quibblers,” and it was pleasant to renew my friendship with him when he invited me to join this Society.  The other original members where Mr. Henry Holiday, Mr. Hugh Stannus…We used to meet at each other’s houses or studios about once a month from October to May, the host of the evening being responsible for the refreshment of both the outer and the inner man, and he had to provide a paper or open a discussion on some subject or question of decorative art.

The name “The Fifteen” was adopted from a popular puzzle with which people were wont to exasperate their spare moments about this time – some trick with fifteen numbers and one blank in a square box.  We never, however, really numbered fifteen.  Some joined and some left …”The Fifteen” was really born in a snowstorm. The first meeting was at Mr. Lewis Day’s house in Mecklenburgh Square, on a certain Tuesday in January, I think – known as “Hurricane Tuesday.”  In fact, Beaumont Lodge was almost buried in the drifts of snow, and the blizzard was so severe that I did not turn out.  However, there were a dauntless few who made a quorum and started the Society, which was the means of bringing forth many interesting papers and pleasant fireside discussions.”
Mecklenburgh Square, venue for the first meeting of the Fifteen;
Snow in Mecklenburgh Square, Enslin Hercules de Plessis

…we kept our meeting up for two or three years, and should, no doubt, have existed longer, but for the ultimate but natural absorption of our members into a larger Society, which was formed in 1884, with similar objects to ours, namely, “The Art Workers’ Guild,” but which was able more effectively to raise the banner of Decorative Design and Handicraft and to gather under it a larger and wider representative group of artists.”  (Crane, Walter, An Artist’s Reminiscences, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1907)

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