13 - 17 October 2021
A rejection of the recent past. The unembarrassed embrace of progress. The Arts and Crafts, Secession and Aesthetic movements, de Stijl, arts nouveau and deco. In places all over Europe, under different labels, a new spirit emerged in the last years of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. Designers and makers coolly, ardently sought the elimination of heaviness and fuss, of criminal over-ornament that caked industrially produced home furnishings and clogged people’s lives. In Britain, William Morris argued for a return to the pre-industrial, to simpler, better, fairer ‘Medieval’ times, and invented a language of plants and flowers that expressed this vision. Others looked to Asian art for ways to stylise nature. Above all, designers noticed the essence, the geometries of Nature herself. Clean, clear, modern lines evoke the bare branches of a tree, the silhouette of a leaf, a hill’s contours. They found a flow in their works but simultaneously established an imperturbable order, with rhythms and repetitions like a musical beat. These works were intended to be timeless – revealing the spiritual core of reality, unsusceptible to passing fashion. They may often have worked within complete interiors, but the design philosophies that underlie them create possibilities today for the creation of new gardens of lucidity, morality and passion.
Luke Syson, Director and Marlay Curator,
The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge, UK - September 2021