B. J. Talbert and the Arts & Crafts Movement

Posted on | March 5, 2012 | 2 Comments

Since the awakening of the “Victorian” revival in the 1960′s and the subsequent interest in the Arts & Crafts movement that has followed in its wake, much has been written and “rediscovered” about the influential work of the great British design reformers.  Retrospectives of the period can often give a new enthusiast of these revivals the impression that William Morris was somehow the singular source of it all.  Now while the “improved” results of late 19th century design reformation certainly owe a great debt to Morris and his imprint, there were many of his contemporaries that were stirring the pot of design reform with equal vigor and affecting popular taste both at home and abroad as well.  One of these was the Scottish born Bruce James Talbert (1838-1881).

Talbert’s training began early on as a woodcarver, but he later transitioned over to architecture. He worked in several different offices in Glasgow, and won some public acclaim there as a designer. In 1862 Talbert moved to Manchester and began designing furniture for Doveston Bird & Hull, and later at Art Manufactures in Coventry where he worked up drawings for George Gilbert Scott’s High Victorian Albert Memorial. He soon made the move to fashionable London, where he began to build his reputation as a furniture designer and decorator.  He won a silver medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1867, and fueled by his growing success he published his Gothic Forms Applied to Furniture, Metal Work, and Decoration for Domestic Purposes that same year.  The eventual popularity of Talbert’s work internationally is evidenced by this Boston reprint of Gothic Forms from 1873…

Illustrated among the 3o original plates in Gothic Forms was this exhibition cabinet shown in Paris, demonstrating Talbert’s principles of “solid, honest construction” (in this case, of native English oak with shallow inlays).  As is the case with many of his furniture designs, his appreciation for his earlier craft as a woodcarver can often be seen.

Talbert was becoming one of the “earliest professional furniture designers to become known internationally” (The Oxford Companion to the Decorative Arts).  Even before he opened his London studio he became a much sought after industrial designer and was producing an imaginative variety of designs for furniture, textiles, metalwork, stained glass, and wallpaper for some of Britain’s finest manufacturers.

His second book, Examples of Ancient & Modern Furniture, Metal Work, Tapestries, Etc. published in 1876, again became a tastemaker’s guide and would again be reprinted in the States, (this version again by James Osgood in Boston).

In Examples Talbert displays more of his virtuosity in designing for the domestic interior, incorporating Tudor, Jacobean, Georgian as well as the Japanese influence so popular during the Aesthetic Movement (thanks in part to Talbert himself).

The above “Detail for Wall Papering with Frieze and Dado” was a tripartite set of patterns “designed for Messrs, Jeffrey & Warner”.  His wallpaper colorings, (like the constructional polychromy of his furniture), were wonderfully harmonious, sophisticated and could “melt” seamlessly into a room’s color scheme without demanding center stage.  An example of his color harmony can be seen in this particular suite of Talbert’s wallpapers, (newly reproduced by Bradbury & Bradbury), which is now being featured as part of the current Cult of Beauty exhibit at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Its undulating vines and boughs combine in soft sage greens, russet and sprinklings of metallic gold throughout for a natural and delicate balance.

The colors are said to have been taken by Talbert from Japanese block prints, that were so much the rage in London at the time, and offered some of the subtle tertiary hues the tasteful Aesthetics (like Talbert) recommended for wall colors.  His colorings and patterns for wallpaper were so popular that Talbert “knock offs” filled the books of wallpaper manufacturers through the 1870s and 80s.

Sadly Bruce Talbert’s prolific output may have ultimately contributed to his undoing.  Overwork and the constant demands of manufacture apparently lead to the alcoholism that claimed him at the height of his career in 1881, at only 43 years of age.

Although a Victorian with his early design roots nurtured in the soil of Gothicism, Talbert was considered by those who have studied his work to be one of the real progenitors of the Arts & Crafts movement.  His guiding principles of simplicity, honesty of workmanship and design, his palette inspired by the natural world, along with a pursuit of timeless beauty were all being championed by designers and architects 30 years after his death and have found a renewed interest today by those being initiated into the Arts & Crafts revival.

Help save an Oakland treasure!

Posted on | February 10, 2012 | No Comments

Our fellow Artistic License Guild member, Jane Powell, has been fighting cancer for several years and is now in a battle to save her historic Oakland Arts & Crafts home.  Please read more about the fund raiser, (being held, by the way, at her historic and spectacular Sunset House) at the Artistic License Blog.  Spread the word!


Morris textile conservation

Posted on | January 24, 2012 | No Comments

I found this article pretty amazing!  In preparation for The Cult of Beauty Exhibit, soon to open at the San Francisco Legion of Honor (February 18 – June 17, 2012) this article outlines the conservation and cleaning process involved with the William Morris Bird wall hanging.

Bird wall hanging, 1878

What a transformation!  Can’t wait to see it firsthand at the Exhibit!

Creating an Art Deco interior

Posted on | September 2, 2011 | 10 Comments

When you’re thinking about decorating in the Art Deco style, the best thing I can recommend is to look at the best of the original ideas that ultimately inspired the many “knock off” ideas you will see when doing an internet search on the subject.  I am illustrating some beautiful original (albeit idealized) interiors to study, all of them French and photographed at the pivotal 1925 Paris exposition. In these you will see so many of the details that inspired much of the architecture, interior and furniture design that we have come to recognize decades later as being “Art Deco”.  Hopefully these photographs will help you to find some of the key ingredients you can use to “spin off” of in creating your fantasy Jazz Age interior.

Clean lines, reflective surfaces, and some bold design elements like the rug here are often found in these original Art Deco-styled settings.  Sconce lighting, wall mirrors and elegant sculptural figures are also frequent elements.

Again, these rooms were meant to inspire and to present the latest ideas when it came to Modern interior design, so don’t feel bad if you don’t have a grand entry way like this one… But there is some good inspiration here.  The mirrored wall, the console table against it, and that coved and “stepped” ceiling might all be incorporated in an Art Deco room design.  Note Edgar Brandt’s iron masterpiece L’Oasis folding screen there on the right… so why not incorporate an ornamental folding screen in your room also?

You almost expect Claudette Colbert to walk into this room at any moment.  Light and graceful furniture, rich wall treatments and lots of filtered light in this room.  Maybe you’re noticing too that not all Art Deco rooms were devoid of pattern or ornament. That is where designers in the Art Deco style in many applications parted company with some of those in the Modern movement who believed that “Ornament is crime”, (it’s not, by the way).

Oh, and speaking of ornament,

Bam! How about this grand “stair hall” designed by Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann.  Fluted walls, delicate iron railings and a playing of dark and light contrasts, (even on the piano keys).  And that amazing ceiling treatment!  Here’s a detail of the wall treatment hard to see in that last photo:

This wall treatment incidentally was the inspiration for our “Cyclos” wallpaper.  Notice too the sandblasted pattern above the window(?)

So there are just a few sources for Art Deco inspiration.  I will be posting more, along with some contemporary takes on the style, so please stay tuned.

If you have any great Art Deco rooms you’ve seen please send a snap of them along to info@bradbury.com and we’ll share them.

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