Owen Jones and Decoration
Thank you for this rich and wonderful paper – I have included the Grammar of Ornament and the early history of the V&A in my teaching for years, and your important research adds so much to the extant literature – thanks so much for sharing it.
My question relates to the relationship between Jones’ extraordinary ideas and the physical space of the Court. I was especially interested to hear about the ways in which Jones’ adapted the central propositions of his Grammar to the architectural demands and museum-related requirements of the space (like trying to keep the walls plain to avoid distraction from the displayed objects, but allowing the ceiling decoration to run riot!). Could you reflect a little more on how the impact of working architecturally (rather than writing and illustrating a book) impacted on Jones’ ideas? Do you think that this project changed his understanding of ornament and the design of the countries concerned at all? With thanks, Claire Wintle
Thank you for your interest!
It is a great question, indeed! Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any writings of Jones on the Oriental Courts, and the media coverage seems to have only praised him with almost no serious analyses. Overall the Oriental Courts just seem to be a minor commission for Jones at this point of his career (though he took the time to create large scale drawings). He does change his ideas about CHinese art in the years following this work. But I'm not sure if we could frame that as the impact of his design on his theories, rather, perhaps, the impact of a closer engagement with the museum's Chinese collection on his evaluation of Chinese art.
If we compare the Oriental Courts to his earlier interior works, at one level we could say all of them more or less strictly follow the propositions. Especially, the patterns, "conventionalized" forms, and colors already existed in many of his designs. But if we differentiate between the universal propositions and the historical styles in the Grammar, his earlier exhibition designs for the Crystal Palace seem to follow one or the other: the original Crystal Palace, adhering to the universal principles, and the Fine Art Courts at Sydenham copying from existing buildings. At the Oriental Courts, we have a middle ground or mixture of the two ends, perhaps closer to the Grammar without its division.
I was also hoping to find more on the impact of the final product of the courts on design discourse (and I need yet to finish the archival work), but it does not appear to have been very significant. In a way it was what everyone expected form Jones: beautiful + Oriental. From another point of view, in the mid-1860s, "Oriental" art seems to have lost its initial place at the Souh Kensington museum and educational system. For instance, someone like Christopher Dresser still promotes many of Jones' ideas but makes far fewer references to "Oriental art"
Thanks again for the question!
Thank you for your answer Solmaz – that’s so interesting, and of course, not surprising that the archive doesn’t give us all the answers. I really appreciate your paper, and that of Yannick, because researching such an early part of the histories of museums is especially difficult. I was surprised by the focus on the twentieth and twenty-first century in so many of the proposals we received, but it is understandable (and also very enjoyable!) Really looking forward to hearing more about your research as it develops. Claire