A botanist, cabinet maker, designer and writer, Christopher Dresser was a pioneer in the world of Arts and Crafts furniture. Born in Glasgow, in 1834 (the same year as William Morris), he is widely acknowledged as the first independent British industrial designer, a true innovator whose furniture and objets d’art were a total antipode to the mass-produced factory ware of the era. His sleek, minimalist Victorian antique dining chairs, for example, were years ahead of their time.
At the unusually young age of 13, Dresser won a scholarship to London’s Government School of Design. Initially, however, his interest was in botany. Having gained a doctorate at the University of Jena, he lectured in botany at the Department of Science and Art in South Kensington. At this time he became influenced by the rules of design in Owen Jones’ book, “Grammar of Ornament”; its propositions became a guiding factor throughout Dresser’s career. His own work, “The Art of Decorative Design” was published in 1862.
Dresser wrote and lectured extensively on both botany and design, but in 1860 he decided to concentrate on the latter and established a studio at home. His work at this time was highly influenced by botanical design, applying the ethos of a function for everything, coupled with beauty and simplicity of form. Later, he became influenced by Japanese and Asian design, with simple, geometric lines and economic use of materials. Working with a range of media, including wood, iron, japanned metal, ceramics, electroplate and clouded glass, his aim was to produce everything needed to furnish the modern home.
By 1871 Dresser was a designer for a large number of manufacturers, producing textile, metalwork, glass, ceramic and wallpaper designs for manufacturers like Minton, Wedgewood, Coalbrookdale and Couper Glass, who often used the Dresser name as a marketing tool. At his zenith, Dresser employed over 20 assistants, some of whom went on to become important Arts and Crafts furniture designers in their own right.
Totally functional, radically different and years ahead of their time, Dresser’s antique dining chairs, toast racks, teapots, glassware and antique tables are eminently collectable.
Examples of Christopher Dresser Designs