At the Art Institute – Christopher Dresser

Grotesque Vase

Grotesque Vase

Christopher Dresser (1834 – 1904) was a renowned industrial designer and botanist. Today, I’m more concerned with his work as a designer. Be aware though that his study of nature greatly influenced his creations. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Dresser moved around quite a bit with his family, until at age 13, he was accepted into the Government School of Design, now known as the Royal College of Art. This is where he received training in design and plants. He lectured and wrote 3 successful books on botany, but really began to design in 1860.

Dresser designed wallpaper, ceramics, textiles, stained glass, and metal-ware, mostly with the intention of providing the common people with alluring well crafted products. He is said to be one of the first industrial designers and was a strong supporter of machine manufacturing. Understanding the benefit of standardizing parts, he reduced the production costs for his manufacturers.  Dresser designed everything that you would need for your kitchen table and then some.

Also, influenced by other countries,  Dresser had an immense appreciation for Japanese culture. In fact, he was the first European designer to be commissioned to visit Japan after they reopened their borders in 1854.

Dresser died in Mulhouse, France in 1904. In his lifetime, he submitted designs to over 50 different firms.

It’s ironic that I was drawn to the more ornate piece in the collection, Grotesque Vase. Personally, I tend to lean towards the modern (simple clean lines with minimal decoration). Amazingly, a number of Dresser’s pieces could be considered “contemporary” and can hold their own against current designers. What’s more, some of his pieces are still being manufactured. Alessi, a design company, makes his oil and vinegar set, toast rack, and round tray. Below are more of his work at the Art Institute in Chicago.

Claret Jug

Claret Jug

Clutha Vase

Clutha Vase

Vase or Jug

Vase or Jug

Read and see more about Christopher Dresser from the British Design Museum.

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