Sunday, 27 February 2011

Weaving in Walter Crane’s loose ends: friends or acquaintances?



So far I have found some mutual interests between the Peasant Arts movement and Walter Crane that I highlighted in previous posts: that Walter Crane was a Vice President of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union when Godfrey and Ethel Blount were on the Committee, and that Walter Crane admired peasant clothing and travelled Europe admiring examples of it.  I have found some more connections, but before I go into them let us consider whether Walter Crane and the Blounts were actually friends or just acquaintances?
from The Baby's Own Aesop, 1887 taken from Crane, WalterTriplets, 
George Routledge & Sons, London, 1899.
Printed by Edmund Evans of Witley

Crane and Godfrey Blount were both artists, with a fascination for peasant clothing and they both sat on the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union committee between 1904-1906 and maybe longer.   In addition, Crane had links to the local area: his printer friend Edmund Evans lived in nearby Witley (as did Joseph and Maude Egerton King from 1894) and Crane was a socialist, friends with George Bernard Shaw (who gave a speech at Joseph’s King house in 1930, and in 1898 gave a lecture to the Microscope Society on Kings Road on ‘Why I am a Socialist’), G.F. Watts in nearby Compton and painted the sign for The Fox and Pelican pub in nearby Grayshott.  Another connection is that Crane was a member of the Institute of Painters in Watercolour from 1882-1886, Henry George Hine (Ethel Blount and Maude Egerton King’s father) was a member of the Institute from 1863 and became Vice President on the Institute in 1887. 
George Bernard Shaw c.1900 from Winter and Collyer, Around Haslemere 
and Hindhead in Old Photographs, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1991

It is doubtless therefore that Walter Crane was acquainted with the Peasant Arts movement, it would be easy to assume that due to so many shared interests, Crane was friends with Godfrey Blount and others.  Having thought this through though, I have concluded that this is incorrect.  Walter Crane, the prolific producer of commercial art and friend of William Morris held different beliefs from the Peasant ‘artists’. 
Was Godfrey Blount the black sheep of the arts & crafts movement?!
From Baby's Opera, taken from Crane, Walter, Triplets, 
George Routledge & Sons, London, 1899.
Printed by Edmund Evans of Witley

Blount’s “assertion that the amateur is the only artist and merchant” was at odds with Crane’s more traditional pursuit of publication.  Greville MacDonald nicely sums up this difference between Godfrey Blount and other artists at the time "That artist (Godfrey Blount) had revealed his genius for design in a truly noble book Arbor Vitae, which will yet be accepted as the one inspiring manual on the subject.  If he, in addition to his intense faith in handicraft, and his unremitting industry in securing its practical recognition, had envinced some personal ambition - of which no man I ever knew had less - his work and influence would be this time have stood alongside of William Morris's - and perhaps of a surer stability because dissociated from political illusions." (MacDonald, 1932, Reminiscences of a Specialist, London, George Allen and Unwin).

Crane did work on tapestry, but this was on William Morris’ first figure piece tapestry, which used Crane’s “Goose-girl” design (Crane says in his An Artist’s Reminiscences that this is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I cannot find it).

from Crane, Walter, The Song of Sixpence,
John Lane,  London 1909.
Printed by Edmund Evans of Witley
Crane had visited the local Haslemere area. His friend the printer Edmund Evans, who collaborated with Crane on various publications, such as The Baby’s Opera lived in nearby Witley.  Next door lived Myles Birket Foster, the famous artist.  And down the road at Sandhills lived Helen Allingham, another artist.

In 1876 Crane recalls visiting Edmund Evans “ I remember my wife and I went to stay at Mr. Evan’s charming house at Witley, in Surrey and it was there that the general idea and the size and bulk of the book (The Baby’s Opera) were settled upon, Mr. Evan’s experience as a printer being most valuable in the pracrical details of cost and make up…Mr. Evan’s house was pleasantly situated on the brow of a hill commanding a view of Blackdown and the sunny Weald, associated with the home of Tennyson.” (Crane, Walter, An Artist's Reminscences, Macmillan Company, 1907).  Crane met Birket Foster on that occasion.  The Baby’s Opera had published over 40,000 copies by the time Crane wrote An Artist’s Reminiscences.



The Fox and Pelican pub sign by Walter Crane



Walter Crane’s involvement in the Grayshott and District Refreshment House Association with George Bernard Shaw is interesting.  According to Trotter (The Hilltop Writers, The Book Guild, 1996) this was formed “in 1898 when a local brewer threatened to install a conventional public house at Grayshott…at that time there was a good deal of alarm at the spread of drunkenness among the working class, and temperance societies were active.  
  




'The Hazels' on Kings Road c. 1910:
this was a private temperance hotel, restaurant and confectioners
from Winter and Collyer, Around Haslemere and Hindhead in Old Photographs,
Alan Sutton Publishing, 1991

The Association sought to steer a path between excessive drinking and total abstinence.  They managed to pre-empt the brewer’s action by building The Fox and Pelican, a refreshment house…the only source of alcohol provided was ‘a little three-handled beer engine, hidden modestly away behind a curtain’.    The original inn sign was painted by Walter Crane, ostensibly because of his friendship with George Bernard Shaw, one of the drivers behind establishing The Fox and Pelican.  The sign shows a pelican sheltering it’s young under it’s wings from a fox.  The sign was missing for a long time, but happily it was tracked down by the Grayshott Archive last year (2010), and bought at auction for £3,500.
The Fox and Pelican pub c. 1899 with the writing side of the Crane sign facing
from Winter and Collyer, Around Haslemere and Hindhead in Old Photographs,
Alan Sutton Publishing, 1991



Monday, 21 February 2011

Joseph King & the Dolmetsches – some musical revelations


I have been perturbed by Trotter’s remark about Joseph King in his book The Hilltop Writers (Trotter, The Book Guild, 2003),  as reported in a previous post (Biographies - Joseph King), that King's "greatest contribution may well have been his influence in persuading Arnold Dolmetsch to settle in the Grayswood Road in 1917, and introduce the community to the delights of early music".  Perhaps the quotation is out of context, but this seems a damning verdict of King’s achievements as a MP and a founder of the Peasant Arts movement.   Looking further, it would appear that this opinion is a generalization, and is not wholly accurate.
Mabel Dolmetsch from Dolmetsch Online

Reading Dolmetsch’s wife’s Personal Recollections of Arnold Dolmetsch (Rowledge and Kogan Paul Limited, 1957) adds more substance to the relationship between Joseph King and Arnold Dolmetsch.  In 1917 Mabel Dolmetsch writes: “Feeling strongly drawn to the neighbouring town of Haslemere (from renting in nearby Thursley), we made this place the prime focus of our search (for a permanent house).  Not only has Arnold, some twelve years previously, visited George Bernard Shaw in Hindhead, and been struck by the beauty of its surroundings, but also, more recently, while still living at Tanza Road, Hampstead, we had given a concert in central London for the Peasant Arts Society whose headquarters were situated in Haslemere.  Our chairman on that occasion was Mr. Joseph King, M.P. who made an appreciative and amusing speech at the close of the performance.”  Therefore to understand why the Dolmetsches came to this part of the country, one would need to understand why they were living in Thursley, it was not Joseph King who drew them to Surrey initially.  This is not something I have looked into.

Downhill from Jesses: The Wheatsheaf, Grayswood, 1909 from The Francis Frith archive
The Dolmetsch’s found the house ‘Jesses’ which Mabel describes as “the perfect house…in this auspicious house, Arnold, prophetic as usual, announced that he would live out the remainder of his earthly life.”  She describes the origin of the unusual house name “it stood on the territory which had once formed part of a large farm where, in the Middle Ages, they reared hawks (the word ‘jess’ signifying a leather strap fastened to the legs of the hawk and affixed to its perch, or to the hand of its owner).”  This also explains the name of one of the last houses in Grayswood village, before Jesses, which has the evocative name ‘Hawks Stoop’.

Mabel goes on to explain that they planned to move into the house in the New Year of 1918, but due to the owners of the house they were renting in Thursley, wanting to return early due to the air raids in London, they were forced to move in around Christmas time 1917. 
The Mount, 1928 from The Francis Frith archive: The Grayswood  Road to Haslemere

Given the steep slope on the Grayswood Road, which became a car park during the last snowfall in 2010, it is no mean feat that in snow and ice, after the farmer who was supposed to move the Dolmetsch’s refused “as he dared not risk his horses in such a venture”, that the Dolmetsch’s friend Major Coulder and helpers from the French-Canadian troops “managed their floundering horses” to Jesses without mishap.
The Dolmetsch family in costume, from Dolmetsch Online

Dolmetsch goes on to relate that “We lost no time in establishing contact with Mr. and Mrs. Joseph King, the Godfrey Blounts and other members of their confraternity.  These artists, at the beginning of the New Year (1918), organized some strikingly beautiful Nativity tableaux.  A charming touch was added (at their request) when, at one point, Nathalie and Rudolph (Dolmetsch), robed in white and gold, seated themselves at the edge of the stage in the centre of the picture, like two little angels; and played in duo, on tenor viol and recorder, the music of the fourteenth-century carol ‘Qui creavit Coelum’.  There were, of course, no stands or music-books to mar the illusion.” 

Unfortunately we have no record of this picture.  It has been reported elsewhere that the nativity tableaux in the Country Church (run by Godfrey Blount) was considered impressive.

Margaret Campbell (Dolmetsch: the man and his work, Hamish Hamilton Limited, 1975) writes about the first Dolmetsch Early Music Festival in 1925: “Although Dolmetsch welcomed controversy, he was shrewd enough to know that a festival would attract more attention if he could persuade a celebrity to open the proceedings with a few friendly words.  It was to (George Bernard) Shaw, who had helped him so much in the past, that he wrote, but the request was rejected with characteristic wit and good advice.”  Shaw argued that a speech would distract from the music, and attract those who would not attend “for the love of music” but “’idiots’ who come to gape and never return.” 

Cover from Dolmetsch, Mabel, Personal Recollections of Arnold Dolmetsch, 1957
Nonetheless Dolmetsch insisted that a speaker was needed, Campbell reports that “at the first concert (25 August 1925) Joseph King, a business, and ex-MP with a love for music, made the introductory speech…The Daily Telegraph critic originally intended to cover the first two concerts but was so captivated that he persuaded his editor to allow him to stay for the entire two weeks, sending daily reports – something unheard of in 1925.”
All Saints Church, Grayswood, 1902 from The Francis Frith archive

Mabel Dolmetsch recounts that “another prominent member of the board of governors of the Dolmetsch Foundation was Mr. Joseph King who proved himself throughout a whole-hearted and generous supporter.  He was joined herein, in 1931, by his second wife Helena King.”  Whilst in my previous post, I had assumed that Helena was the music lover, it would appear that it was her husband who first had an interest in the Dolmetsch works.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Godfrey Blount's vision in 1898

I have found an article that nicely sums up Godfrey Blount's vision for the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement (I have, no doubt somewhat later than most people, just discovered that old newspapers back to 1800 can be browsed by your local library website!).
from Blount, Godfrey, Arbor Vitae, Fifield, 1899


The Standard wrote an article 'Reviving Village Industries' in 11th October 1898 that commented "the movement has already gone farther than many who have not watched it had any reason to suppose.  North, south and west remunerative work is being found for villagers in or near their homes, and the welfare of these little communities is thereby being greatly enhanced....In many instances, the village products have a character of their own, whether of design or material, and here factory competition is not feared.  As an example, we may mention the weaving industry at Haslemere, where Mr Godfrey Blount, the artist, with the co-operation of his artistic wife, designs the patterns, and these are woven into linens of all shades of colour by the village girls, who display much pride and pleasure in the results."


In response, Blount wrote a letter to The Standard which was published on 14th October, 1898, it was published with the title 'Rural Industries':


"To the Editor of the Standard

Sir
I have just read an Article in The Standard of Tuesday on the revival of village industries, in which my name occurs somewhat prominently.  Will you allow my modesty an opportunity of disclaiming any prominence in the practical conduct of this movement, and let me further add that the success it has achieved is entirely due to the disinterested energy of those “very well-meaning but inexperienced amateurs” who, all over the country, have felt inspired by the very uprofessional motive of sympathy with their poorer brethren, to try and make their lives happier?  We who recognise that this movement has more in it than the manufacture of knick-knacks, or the relief of temporary agricultural depression, believe that the altruistic spontaneity which dares to cope with economic problems has probably, in the long run, a better chance of solving them than the scientifically commercial business man would have.
from Blount, Godfrey, Arbor Vitae, Fifield, 1899

Indeed, the heart of the movement means in a great degree a revolution against professionalism in Art and in business, an assertion that the amateur is the only artist and the only merchant.  Its gospel is probably a strange one to these statistic-ridden days, though familiar enough in places and times when people who made things cared first to make them well.  It believes that commercial success is undesirable if it does not bring happiness with it, and that happiness does not depend so much on wages, as on the enthusiasm we should all have for our work.  That enthusiasm can only be permanently regained by employing a man’s imagination as well as his hands – in other words, by the substitution of hand crafts for steam crafts.

The subject is, of course, one that is capable of infinite discussion.  We do not pretend to prove our case to the satisfaction of the statistical economist because it is somewhat difficult to collect statistics about such an incalculable factor as happiness.  We do not pretend to have found a remedy for all the diseases of the Nineteenth Century, but we are certain that our motives are stronger than statistics, and our vision deeper, and we are content to leave the test of them to time.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

Godfrey Blount
Haslemere, October 12 "

Saturday, 19 February 2011

More Peasant Clothing

As a final post on peasant clothing, I intend to 'mop up' the various odd bits of dress information I have picked up along the way.  

Not wearing a corset! Maude Egerton King,
reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum
Just to recap, the Peasant Arts literature on dress is sparse, and therefore I have approximated the beliefs of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, where Godfrey and Ethel Blount were committee members, with the beliefs of the Peasant Arts movement.  The only paper published on the subject by the Peasant Arts movement itself is 'To Dress Well - An Apology for the Dress-making Branch of the Peasant Arts Society', which is very similar to other Healthy and Artistic Dress Union literature, and was quoted in my previous post The Corset.

Jaeger advert from The Dress Review, July 1904.
Captioned with: "We are very glad to be able to
give an illustration of The Jaeger Bust Girdle
for those who need some support.  It is perfectly hygienic
and comfortable, and may be seen
at any of the Jaeger Depots.  Price about half-a-guinea."

Corselet Skirt illustration from
The Dress Review, April 1906



The Healthy and Artistic Dress Union had confederating with numerous similar movements across Europe.  In September 1903 The Dress Review reported that it had links with the Free Federation for the Improvement of Women’s Clothing, in common with the Dutch and German Dress Societies.

The Dress Review in January 1905 was selling patterns for a djibbeh, two Forma gowns, a simple blouse and a Forma cape.  


New Place, Haslemere designed by C.F.A. Voysey
The Hall at New Place designed by C.F.A. Voysey, from Studio
                         International,
vol 21
Norney Grange, near Shackleford, Surrey designed by C. F.A. Voysey from English Heritage

In the same year, amongst the new members of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, are Mrs Voysey of the The Orchard, Chorley Wood, Hertfordshire; the wife of Charles Voysey, the Arts and Crafts architect and designer.  Voysey is linked to Haslemere in numerous ways: he designed the house New Place, Farnham Lane, Haslemere in 1897, and Norney Grange in nearby Shackleford, in the same year.


from The Dress Review, July 1905


'Frock smocked at the waist' from
The Dress Review, July 1905




In July 1905 The Dress Review published pictures of “a frock smocked at the waist to the shape of the wearer’s belt, which is the style at present.  Suitable for a girl with a ‘slight frame’ it must be made in light material such as silk or crepe de chine.”
Peasant dress from The Dress Review, July 1906

In July 1906 The Dress Review reported on their May Annual Meeting, presided over by Mrs Walter Crane, where they had an exhibition, the highlight being a peasant’s dress lent by Mrs Rantaniemi of Finland (who had started up a Finnish branch of the Union).  The Dress Review commented on this dress that "it is remarkable that the shape of the dress coincides almost exactly with one of the most approved patterns of dress worn by members of the Union."

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Walter Crane's Peasant Blouse


Another connection between the Peasant Arts movement and Walter Crane, is Crane's interest in peasant clothing and embroidery.  Crane travelled Europe admiring peasant embroidery.  Peasant Arts members also travelled Europe gaining inspiration from peasant art, the most significant traveller being the Rev. Gerald Davies who amassed the objects that were donated as the Peasant Arts Museum.
Russian Peasant Embroidery illustration by Walter Crane from Crane, Walter, William Morris to Whistler G. Bell and Sons Limited, London, 1911) 



In his book William Morris to Whistler (Crane, G. Bell and Sons Limited, London, 1911) Crane writes “embroidery as an art of design may be considered from many different points of view – but none of these are more important than those of colour and its treatment.  It is indeed to colour that decorative needlework owes its chief charm, and in no direction is the influence of controlling taste more essential, and in its absence the most elaborate workmanship and technical accomplishment are apt to be wasted…


The Russian peasants have a form of frock or long blouse worn by young girls, which affords an instance of effective use of frank and bright colour upon a white ground.  The garment itself is of homespun linen.  It has a square opening for the neck, and is put on over the head, like a smock frock.  The sleeves are quite simple, full on the upper arm and narrowing to a band on the wrist.  The skirt, which falls straight from the shoulders, is decorated with a series of horizontal bands of pattern worked in cross-stitch, the principal colours being red and green, colours which always tell well upon white.  The square-cut opening at the neck and the cuffs are emphasized by embroidered pattern of similar kind but on a smaller scale.  The garment is ingeniously adapted to the growth of its wearer by adding extra rings of pattern to the skirt, and by enlarging a square piece let in at the arm-pits.”
From Crane, Walter, An Artist’s Reminscences, Macmillan Company, 1907

Upon discussing the use of colour in embroidery, he states “as a general principle, especially where many colours are employed, we are more likely to secure harmony if we choose reds, for instance, inclining to orange, blues inclining to green, yellows inclining to green or brown, blacks of a greenish or olive tone.  Perfectly frank and pure colours, however, may be harmonized, especially with the use of gold, though they are more difficult to deal with – unless one can command the natural, primitive instinct of the Hungarian, the Greek, or the Persian peasant.”
Embroidery detail of 1620s linen jacket, formerly of the Isham Collection at the V&A Museum

In Establishing Dress History (Taylor, Lou, Manchester University Press, 2004), it is described that “In 1900, Walter Crane much admired the quality of craft work in this collection (the Isham collection from Lamport Hall, Northamption, of twenty-seven rare examples of seventeenth-century dress and embroideries.  This included entire men’s suits of the 1675-1700 period and remains one of the great treasures of the Victoria and Albert Museum) and believed, all too optimistically as it turned out, that it ‘would make possible an instructive exhibition of costumes in the Museum’”.
Illustration by Walter Crane from Mrs Molesworth, The Tapestry Room: a Child's Romance,
MacMillan and Co., 1879

Describing a visit to Bohemia in 1890 (Crane, Walter, An Artist’s Reminscences, Macmillan Company, 1907), Crane writes “we made the acquaintance at Prague of M. Borowsky, the curator the Rudolphinum Museum…The most interesting things, however, to us were Bohemian peasant costumes, of which there was a fine collection.  Many of the peasant women’s head-dresses were wonderful, embroidered with gold and silver, and the dresses also embroidered.  The peasant women still embroider their own dresses and the national costume is kept up, and the peasants come out in their bravery, though it is true one heard that they did not like being stared at by the townsfolk.  They certainly seemed to belong to another race, and mad a striking contrast in the streets to the ordinary citizens in the unromantic garb of modern business and town life.   

Walter Crane by G.F. Watts, 1891
National Portrait Gallery
(G.F. Watts lived in Compton, a few miles from Haslemere)

Through the kindness of M. Borowsky, who induced a group of country folks in their costume to submit to the process, I was enabled to get a sketch of typical group who happened to be wandering through the Museum.  The lady was remarkable for her daring arrangement of colour.  A red kerchief, curiously folded, covered her head, showing a long plait of hair, to which was attached a big bow of pink ribbon edged with lace.  Her jacket was bright purple, elaborately embroidered and braided, and her skirt was a vivid print, in vertical stripes of red and yellow, bearing floral patterns.  Striped stockings (red and white) and (alas!) modern kid boots completed the costume.  She held a little rosary in her hands as she stood for me.”

In Carrara, Tuscany, on the same journey, Crane describes how he painted a model who was a fine “fine-looking peasant woman”, he explained that “the effect of the warm hite robe and deep-toned flesh against the blue in the full Italian sunlight was very striking and beautiful, and I made a study at the same time, which I afterwards exhibited at the R.W.S under the title of “Madonna of the Vineyards”.  I cannot trace this painting.

Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

In 1900 Walter Crane took his touring exhibition to the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest.  Crane recalls a speech that M. Radiscics, the Director of the Museum of Applied Arts, gave in his honour around 1900 “We must learn how the Hungarian peasant cloaks, flower-decorated trunks, dishes, cups, must be transformed into ornaments fit to embellish drawing-rooms, palaces, altars; we must learn how to transform into a creating power the aesthetical sense and artistic inclination of our people.  Should one man not be able to execute the task Walter Crane has finished alone, then the task must be shared among ten, among a hundred – and their activity will be blessed.”

Embroidery from Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest: "Dísz nyeregtakaró, részlet, 1600 körül"

 Crane writes that “I was able to get some sketches of the peasants in their costumes here, and very brilliant in colour they were.  They were quite willing to stand for one, too…An old woman was sitting at the small window busy at work on an elaborate piece of embroidery, which would take about six months to finish, she said.  These peasant embroideries were now being collected extensively by the rich people in the towns, and fine old pieces were becoming rate.  

Newer embroidery from Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest:
 "Vörösruhás nő, Rippl-Rónai kárpit, 1898"
Schools of embroidery were being established in the towns to teach the work which the peasantry had taught themselves, and of course, at every remove, the patterns became tamer.  It does not seem possible to transform unconscious spontaneous art into learned art, any more than it is possible for wild flowers to flourish in a formal garden.”  This places Crane potentially at odds with Godfrey Blount's prescribed works for the Peasant Arts movement.


Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Peasant Blouse


I was just reading in the newspaper that the peasant blouse is back in fashion, and this made me think of the Peasant Arts movement’s peasant blouses c.1900. 

from a Peasant Arts Society catalogue c.1900

A Peasant Arts catalogue shows the offerings for peasant wear available from the Peasant Arts Society shops in Haslemere and London.  These tunics and frocks started at 10/6d, which using the retail price index, would be about £42.10 in today’s money. 


Inside the Peasant Arts Society 'Country Shop', Haslemere c.1908;
reproduced courtesy of the Haslemere Educational Museum
It is not clear how popular these items were, although the ultimate failure of the Peasant Arts movement suggests that they were not very popular.  A picture of the Peasant Arts Society shop in Haslemere, has peasant blouses on display on the left hand side.


Saturday, 12 February 2011

Walter Crane and the Peasants

I have found a number of different links between the artist and illustrator Walter Crane and members of the Peasant Arts movement.  Following on from the recent posts, let us start with the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union connection. 

Walter Crane, self portrait, 1885, The Whitworth Art Gallery

Godfrey and Ethel Blount were on the General Committee of the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union from 1904 until at least the end of 1906.  At the same time, Walter Crane was a Vice President of the Union, one of ten Vice Presidents in position at any one time!  The Dress Review cover and promotional leaflets (see my earlier post The Corset) were designed by Crane.  Mrs G.F. Watts, wife of the painter and sculptor, from Compton, a few miles away from Haslemere, was another Vice President.   Mrs Walter Crane was also involved in the Union.


According to the Victoria & Albert Museum, Crane designed some gowns for ‘aesthetic dress’ in Aglaia the journal of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union, preceding The Dress Review.  However the only writing I have come across that demonstrates what the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union meant to Walter Crane, is the reproduction of his letter in The Dress Review in October 1905.  Unable to attend a Union committee meeting at the studio of Mr Frank S. Ogilvie, the painter, who was on the Executive Committee of the Union, Crane sent a letter saying:

Wychombe Studios, London, where painter Frank S. Ogilvie had a studio in 1905,
site of the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union meeting
“As I am not able to attend the gathering of the members of the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union at your studio and I am invited to write a line on the objects of the society, may I say that of course I sympathise with the movement towards a better ideal of beauty and health in costume.  At the same time the subject is full of difficulties.  I feel that dress is, as it always has been, the result of slow evolution, and is dependent upon the form and system of society under which it takes shape.  There is a great variety in modern dress, and the tendency seems to be to specialize it more and more in adapting garments to every kind of employment and sport.  Now I think that such specialised costumes must always have a certain character of their own, though they may be by no means always beautiful.  Convenience and utility seem to be the principal objects with their makers and wearer…while we have many convenient costumes carefully adapted to various pursuits, both for men and women, they are shorn of romance and, though not altogether without their picturesque aspects, they are prosaic, as a rule.

detail from the cover of The Dress Review, 1904, illustration by Walter Crane

The present mode in ladies’ dress often attains great elegance, and there are abundant beautiful materials, charming in colour and texture, to be had, needing only taste to utilize them with delightful effect.  Whether it is part of the great modern movement for freedom on the part of women that they should have now so much more liberty in the matter of dress than men, I won’t ventute to say, but  certainly a lady of taste  seems to have far more range in the matter of costume, choice of material, change and variety than a man at the present day, and men seem much more slaves to convention—at least in formal and commercial life.
Summer by Walter Crane 1895

In underclothing a great pitch of excellence has been undoubtedly reached and much science and invention devoted to its manufacture, but few, I fear, would venture to follow the suggestion of Du Maurier, who once in Punch represented an evening party attired in these beautifully fitting garments, chiefly, if I remember rightly, as a substitute for the modern evening dress of gentlemen.

Climate comes in as an important factor in deciding a form of dress, and social habits and custom also.

Tea gown made by Liberty's c. 1894, similar to
Walter Crane's designs,
at The Victoria and Albert Museum 
Conscious efforts towards beauty are not always successful, and any sudden reversion to past types is apt to have a theatrical suggestion about it, so that, in the main, dress reformers have a rather narrow field to move in, and it becomes a question often of simplification, or small changes, or grafts upon existing types rather than any frank departure on new lines.  Until great social and economic changes take place in the constitution of society, therefore, I do not think we can expect any very general adoption of new types of dress except special adaptations to practical purposes of new inventions, such as the motor, which has brought in quite a distinct type of costume, both for men and women, not without a certain weird picturesqueness sometimes (the linen coats of the chauffeurs are quite a good feature).

When again in a community of workers, people are proud of their employments, and consider it an honourable distinction to wear the distinctive dress appropriate to their work, we might again have great variety and beauty, bringing character and colour into common life.

Yours very truly
                      Walter Crane"


Mrs Walter Crane (Mary Frances), c.1886 wearing a high waisted, uncorseted dress from The Victoria & Albert Museum

In July 1906 The Dress Review has a quite amusing recount of a Healthy and Artistic Dress Union meeting, “presided over by Mistress Walter Crane, who wore a charming costume of olive-brown velvet…A few highly appreciated words were spoken by Mistress Crane, who emphatically condemned tight-lacing, though she admitted she now liked a little support herself.”

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Less Hat, More (H)Air

Another theme in the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union's journal, The Dress Review, around the time that the Blounts were on the General Committee (1903 onwards) is hats.
Walking Dress designed by Frau Emy Friling, from The Studio, Vol.28, 1903 and reproduced in The Dress Review, September 1903


In April 1903, The Dress Review reported “we hail with joy the new Hatless League, started by the Manchester Physical Health Culture Society, “Less Hat, more (H)Air,” ….for adornment what can be prettier than a wreath of leaves or flowers?  For warmth what is more effectual than a hood?  We must not pass the subject of hats without reference to articles on “the Cemetery Hat,” “Murderous Millinery,” and others.  The number of hats smothered with dead birds seen lately has made some of us shudder and wonder if it can be so long before the prophecy of a “birdless world” will be realized…..the sonnet by Canon Rawnlsey on “My Feathered Lady,” from Aglaia No.1 …

“But now wher’ere my lady goes,
No human heart can rest,
The very stones beneath her feet
Cry Murder!  Murder! down the street,”

Dress designed by Frau Emy Friling, from The Studio, Vol.28, 1903 and reproduced in The Dress Review, September 1903

In October 1905 The Dress Review reported that “As a matter of hygiene, as well as in the interests of real beauty, I should unreservedly condemn the bonnet.  It represents no principle of use, being perched on precisely the part of the head where pressure is injurious (viz., the crown), and completely avoiding and leaving exposed the very parts where protection from the cold is most needed.  In place thereof I would advocate a return to the old fashioned hood for winter out-door wear.  A simple capuchon shape, such as is now commonly worn by ladies over evening dress, recommends itself naturally; and it is difficult to see why that which is considered suitable in the evening should not also be good in the day time”

G.K.Chesterton

In the same issue there is an extract from the Daily News ‘What kind of Hat?’, by G.K. Chesterton.   In the 1925 9th Annual Report of the Peasant Arts Guild, G.K. Chesterton is listed as a patron.  In the extract printed in the 1905 journal Chesterton goes through the history of the hat, “The dandies and tailors of the Regency had a sort of inspired genius for ugliness, an aggressive ugliness, a creative ugliness, and ugliness defiant and almost divine.  You can see it in the Pavilion at Brighton. ….Every sane human being would naturally have a hat that gets smaller towards the top, they gave us, therefore a hat that gets larges towards the top.  This top-heavy and incredible structure they did actually erect upon their heads.  But now can anyone give me the explanation of a great mystery?  This huge and heavy cylinder of a hat was a fobbery: it was high in a fashion; it might always be called a joke.  In its natural right to have lasted about a month.  Why has it lasted a hundred years?”
from The Dress Review, January 1905: "designed by Forma of Bond Street".  This is electric blue liberty serge with a vest of liberty silk in a lighter shade

In April 1906 The Dress Review comments that “talk of cruelty of wearing dead birds and osprey feathers in millinery (we had hoped that this disgusting fashion had died out, but there seems to be a fresh revival just now)”
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