Principles of Design in Glass (continued) by Christopher Dresser

Saturday, 7 December 2002 10:23 PM GMT

Contributed by: Jerry Green

Principles of Design. - XXV.By Christopher Dresser, PH.D., F.L.S., ETC. - Glass - from Cassell's Technical Educator. There is one thing pertaining to table-glass that we do not now sufficiently consider, which is its capacity for colour. Our one idea in the formation of glass vessels is the imitation of crystal, unless we happen to produce a vessel of the strongest tint. With the exception of hock glasses, which are generally either ruby colour, dark green or intense yellow-green, we rarely employ tinted glass on our tables.

These three colours, which we usually employ in hock-glasses, are all too strong in tint for ordinary purposes, and they are coarse and vulgar. It is curious that we should confine ourselves to these colours when glass is capable of assuming the most delicate of shades, of appearing as a soft, subtle, golden hue, of the most beautiful light tertiary greens, lilacs, and blues, and greens, lilacs, and blues, and, indeed of almost any coplour. Why, then, should we employ only two or three colours, and those of the most crude character?

If the Roman and Greek glass of the British Museum be inspected, it will be seen that the Romans employed various soft and delicate tints, and why we should not do so likewise I cannot see. For many reasons the colours of our hock-glasses are highly objectionable, but especially for two. First, as already stated, the colour is so strong that they appear as mere dark spots on the cloth, and altogether fail in imparting to the table a pleasant colour effect; and, secondly, they utterly destroy the beauty of appearance which the wine would otherwise present.

No glass which is to contain a liquid of pleasant colour should be so strong in tint as to mar the beauty of the contained liqued, and especially is this true when the colour of the glass is of an opposite character to that of the liquid: thus a red liquid placed in a strongly coloured green glass becomes highly offensive in appearance, and yet we often see claret served in green hock-glasses. A dinner-table requires colour. Let the cloth be pale-buff, or cream colour, instead of white; and the glass water-vessels of very pale, but refined and various tints; and the salt-cellars, if of glass, also coloured, and a most harmonious effect could be produced. The flowers with which the table is adorned would then harmonise with the other things, and much beauty might be produced.

Respecting the ornamentation of glass, two modes of treatment are resorted to, which are "cutting" and "engraving." Both modes of treatment deal with glass as a hard, crystal-like substance; and consist in grinding the surface, and either leaving it "dead" or repolishing it. In the case of "cutting," a considerable proportion of the glass is generally removed, and the surface is repolished; but in the case of "engraving" little more than the surface is generally acted upon, and the engraved portion remains dead.

Cutting may be employed in bringing about ornamental effects in glass, but it is rarely to be commended when so lavishly used as to be the chief means of giving form to the vessel; indeed, cutting should be sparingly and judiciously used. A vessel formed of glass should never be wholly shaped by cutting, as though it were a work of stone. If the neck of a decanter can be made more convenient by being slightly cut - if it can be so treated that it can be held more securely - then let it be cut; but in all cases avoid falling into the error of too much cutting, which causes the work to appear laboured, for any work which presents the appearance of having been the result of much labour is as unpleasant to look upon as that work is pleasing which results from the exercise of momentary skill. There is a great art-principle manifested in the expression "Let there be light, and there was light."

Engraving is also laborious, and while it is capable of yielding most delicate and beautiful effects, it should yet be somewhat sparingly used, for extravagance in labour is never desirable, and there is such a thing as extravagance in beauty.

However delicate ornament may be, and however well composed, yet if it covers the whole of the walls of an apartment and of the objects which it contains, it fails to please. There must be the contrast of plain surfaces with ornamental - plain for the eye to rest upon, ornament for the eye to enjoy. In the enrichment of glass these remarks fully apply. Let there be plain surfaces as well as ornamented parts, and the effect will be more satisfying than if all be covered with ornament.

All that I said respecting the decoration of damask table-linen will apply equally to glass, considering only the different way in which the effect is produced (see Vol. II., page 312). Thus we have ornament produced only by a variation of surface. Such simple means of producing an art-effect are capable of rendering in a satisfactory manner simple treatments only, but simple patterns are capable of yielding the highest pleasure, and such patterns can be almost perfectly rendered by engraving, as shown in Figs. 114 (represents a decanter made for the Prince of Wales, and is in good taste.), 115, 116, 117, 118.

Somewhat elaborate effects can be rendered in glass by very laborious engraving, whereby different depths of cutting are attained, but such work is the result of great labour, and rarely produces an effect proportionate to the toil expended upon it; and if a bottle so engraved is filled with a coloured wine, the entire beauty of its engraving is destroyed. Fig. 115 is a drawing of a most elaborately engraved bottle which was shown in the exhibition of 1862. It represents, to a great extent, wasted labour.

It must be borne in mind that any ornament placed on a decanter, wine-glass, or tumbler, is to be seen almost wholly in perspective; and the remarks made respecting the effects of folded or waved surfaces on ornament (Vol. II., page 327), and those made in reference to the application of ornament to earthen vases (Vol. II., page 375), apply equally here.

It is not my province to enter into the various methods of manipulating glass, nor into all the classes of art-effect which glass is capable of yielding: I can only call attention to general principles, and leave the art-student to think for himself what should be the treatment of any particular object. There is a sort of crackle glass which has come into use during the last few years, and is an imitation of old Venetian work; this is in some respects pleasant in appearance, but it is somewhat uncomfortable to handle, and is difficult to keep clean; its use must therefore be limited.

In another chapter I shall have a few remarks to make upon stained glass; but as our present considerations pertain to hollow vessels chiefly, and as general principles regulate the formation of all such, whether they are formed of eathenware, glass, or metal, I think it better to pass to the consideration of silversmiths' ware, and thus continue a notice of hollow vessels, than pass to the consideration of glass windows, although they are formed of the material now under review. What we are specially considering at present is vessels of capacity, or hollow wares.

In the frontispiece of the first volume the publishers of THE TECHNICAL EDUCATOR have enabled me to place before the readers of my papers on the "Principles of Design" a few studies in original ornament.

Ornament of some kind is applied to almost every article thatwe see around us. The papers on our walls, the carpets on our floors, the hangings at our windows, the plate from which we eat, are all covered by patterns of some kind; yet it is rare, even now when ornamentation has become general, to find anything original in ornament; and if we do meet with something new in kind it is often feeble or timid-looking, if it does not altogether fail in impressing us with the idea that the producer was a man on knowledge. Let the reader be assured that if the designer is a man of knowledge, his ornamental compositions will never fail to reveal his learning; that if he is a man of power, his works will reveal his strength of character; if he is a man of refined feelings, that his designs will manifest his tenderness of perception. In like manner, if a man is ignorant he cannot withhold from his patterns the manifestation of his ignorance. Did not the Egyptians express their power of character in their ornaments? did not the Greeks manifest their refinement in the forms which they drew? do we not even find an expression of religious feeling strongly, yea impressively, set forth by some art-works, as by the illuminated manuscripts of the early Middle Ages? and do we not every day see the impress of the ignorant upon certain wall-papers, carpets, and other things? It is a fact, and it is necessary that we fully acknowledge it, that the knowledge of the producer is manifested by his works; and that the ignorance of the ignorant is also manifest in his works.

If ornament is produced having new characters, it is often feeble, and is generally without grace; while power is the expression of manliness, and grace of refinement. Without claiming to have made a successful effort, I put forth, in the frontispiece already mentioned, four of my studies in original ornament, all of which are more or less satisfactory as studies in composition. I have endeavoured to secure in each an amount of energy, vigour, or the power of life, yet at the same time to avoid coarseness, or any glaring want of refinement. I have sought to combine right lines, which are expressive of power, with such curved shapes as shall, with them, produce a pleasing contrast of form, and express a certain amount of grace. In the light ornament on the citrine ground (that at the lower left-hand corner of the plate) I have endeavoured especially to secure an expression of grace in combination with that amount of energy which avoids any expression of feebleness.

In the border ornament I have introduced the arch form, as it hints at structural "setting out" which is pleasant; and I have endeavoured to cause the composition to appear as though it rested on the lower dotted band, as this gives a feeling of security. I do not say that it is necessary that this be so: all I assert is that in some cases it gives a sense of satisfaction.

So far as I know, the colouring is also original. The colours employed are chiefly of a tertiary character, but small masses of primary or secondary colours are employed in order to impart "life" to the composition.

I do not set these studies before my readers with the idea of showing them what original ornament should be: I only set them forth as examples of new compositions, and must leave each to clothe his own thoughts with a befitting expression of his individual original ideas.

History and News