Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Walter Crane and the birth of the Arts & Crafts movement

Completing my foray into the not very well-documented birth of the Arts and Crafts movement, it is interesting to note that Walter Crane recalls “the title “The Combined Arts” headed our first circular, and it was not until later that our title “Arts and Crafts” was adopted, I think on the suggestion of Mr. T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, who acted as Hon. Secretary.” (An Artist’s Reminscences, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1907)
Arts and Crafts Society header by Walter Crane

The circular written by Walter Crane as chair of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society requesting guarantors to hold the first exhibition is reproduced by Crane in his memoirs:

“Something very like a revival of the arts and handicrafts has been taking place amongst us of late years; but while the awakening of interest is undeniable and widespread, there has hitherto been no means – except such chance opportunities as have been from time to time afforded by various trade exhibitions – of enabling those concerned with the more purely artistic side of the applied arts, or crafts of design, to gauge our general progress.  It has not been possible for a craftsman to test his work by the side of others, or, by a careful selection of examples, to prove that there are artists in other ways than oil or water colour, and other art than that enclosed in gilt frames or supported on pedestals.  In short, there is no existing exhibition of art which gives an opportunity to the designer and the craftsman as such to show their work under their own names, and give them at least a chance of the attention and applause which is now generally monopolised by the pictorial artist.
detail of The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society ticket, 1890
designed by Walter Crane

"It is believed that such opportunities of public recognition and distinction would supply a stimulus not hitherto felt by workers in the handicrafts, and would tend to draw artistic invention and skill again to the arts in their endless forms of application to daily life and its associations and surroundings, to the charm of which their beauty may contribute so much, and so, perhaps, we should go far to nourish the tree at the roots instead of, as now, too often attempting to grow it downwards.

"Art exhibitions have hitherto tended to foster the prevalent notion that the term ‘Art’, is limited to the more expensive kinds of portable picture-painting, unmindful of the truth that the test of the condition of the arts in any age must be sought in the state of the crafts of design…
New Gallery, Central Hall,from New Gallery Catalogue No. 1, Summer 1888

"The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society has been formed with these convictions, and with the aim (1) of taking measures for organising an exhibition of the decorative arts, which shall show (2) as far as possible the inventive and executive powers of the designers and makers of the various works that may be exhibited, such as textiles, tapestry, and needle-work, carvings, metal-work, including goldsmith’s work, bookbinding, painted glass, painted furniture, etc. etc. to illustrate the relation of the arts in application to different materials and uses, without, however, excluding paintings or sculptures less directly of a decorative kind when space is available for showing them in proper relations.  (3) It is not proposed to undertake the sale  of works, but to refer intending purchasers directly to the exhibitors. (4) All work will be exhibited under the name of the designer and responsible executant…
New Gallery, Regent Street interior, 1888
site of the first, and subsequent, Arts and Crafts Society Exhibitions

“The Society have the refusal of the New Gallery in Regent Street for their exhibition in the ensuing autumn, and a sum of £260 has been already guaranteed by the members, but while there is reasonable prospect of the exhibition being self-supporting, since it is not desirable to conclude final arrangements until the whole of the estimated costs are at command further guarantees are invited to make up a further sum of £500.  The profits of the exhibition, after exonerating the guarantors, would be devoted to future exhibitions of the Society.

“As one interested in the welfare of the arts, we venture to put our objects before you, and invite you to become a guarantor.

“In order to make the necessary arrangements, we should be obliged  if you would kindly favour us with your reply by the 26th of March.
                                                                        Walter Crane, President
Harry Bates                                                      William De Morgan
W. A. S. Benson                                              William Morris
(Hon. Sec. and Treasurer)                                J. Hungerford Pollen
Somers Clarke                                                  G. T. Robinson
Lewis F. Day                                                    T. J. Cobden-Sanderson
Onslow Ford                                                     J. D. Sedding
F. Gerrard                                                         Heywood Sumner
C. Guiliano                                                       Emery Walker
Thomas Godfrey                                              Thomas Wardle
W. R. Lethaby                                                  Metford Warner
Henry Longden                                                Stephen Webb
W. H. Lonsdale                                                N. H. J. Westlake
Mervyn McCartney”

The first exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society was held in October 1888, and the ensuing rise of the movement is well-documented elsewhere.


  1. Two very interesting posts. Thank you.

    Interesting, also, to see that Heywood Sumner was a signatory. He was a contemporary of Godfrey Blount and did some similar work with plastering and embroidery/ tapestry ( images can be found via a Google search). He lived in the New Forest at South Gorley. I wonder if they knew each other?

  2. Thanks. I will have to investigate Heywood Sumner further.

    Looking into the beginning of the Arts and Crafts movement has shed light onto numerous peasant connections!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...