Collection

Wedding teapot

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Metal

Date: Unknown

Designer: Anonymous, after Christopher Dresser

Nationality of Designer: Unknown

Manufacturer: Anonymous copy

Manufacturers Location: Unknown

Material: Silver plate

Dimensions: Height 16.5cm, diameter 32cm (incl. handle), depth 16.5cm

Purchase Price: £275

Abstract:

A silver plate teapot

Provenance:

Purchased by Grizedale Arts director Adam Sutherland on eBay.

Personal history/nominator:

This teapot was used during a Coniston Water Festival fundraising dinner at the Bluebird Café in Coniston (Cumbria, UK) where it sat seamlessly amongst its descendants - the ubiquitous stainless steel hotel teapot. No one noticed its strange lines and modernist trajectory.

In 2007 the villagers of Toge in rural Japan visited Lawson Park and identified the teapot as a wedding Sake kettle, its strange handle explained through its functional use: Each person at a wedding has to receive three small pours, and the teapot’s centre of balance and the long handle make this action easy. However the Dresser version is considered to be a modernist icon and consequently sells for vast sums, whereas the Japanese version is valued as a traditional object and of considerably lower value.

Adaptions/renovations:

Good condition – unpolished

Why it's in the Collection:

Dr Christopher Dresser was commissioned by the Victoria & Albert Museum to undertake a collecting trip to Japan in 1876, shortly after the country had ‘opened up’ to the West in the Meji period. Dresser brought elements of Japanese aesthetics back to the UK, creating a Japanese town in Muswell Hill, London for the sale of his Japanese wares. These comprised a mixture of his own versions and the ‘real thing’.

The teapot in the Lawson Park Collection is in fact an anonymous copy of the Dresser design. The original Dresser teapot is a copy of a traditional Japanese kettle, therefore also qualifying for a place in the Fake collection on both counts.

There are many Dresser objects in the Lawson Park Collection. In Dresser’s oeuvre there is both the birth and death of modernism. His designs were extraordinarily varied, the most influential appearing to be 50 years ahead of their time. At the same time he also made highly conventional decorative work as well as innovatively referencing other cultures (though the East seemed to be his principle source). He is not only the father of modernism but also the father of the ugly mug and the 1970’s flamboyant style. A Christopher Dresser work must surely deserve a place in the higher end of the top ten ugliest designs ever (others in this elite could be Memphis, Bernard Rooke, Edmund Elton, Geoffrey Baxter).

About the Designer/Maker:

Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), is considered to be the first product designer, his innovations were multiple. Dresser branded his work with a facsimile signature to ‘add value’. This innovative marketing idea has in todays market worked extremely well with ‘signed’ pieces worth about 10 times more than unsigned versions. Dresser pioneered mass production, exoticism, multi-cultural influences, the budget or 'diffusion' line, and retro styling as well as, most famously, Modernism. He worked for numerous manufacturers in many media, both two and three dimensional.

He was periodically highly successful during his lifetime and was broadly considered to be part of the Aesthetic Movement (his mentor and inspiration being Owen Jones) Dresser’s approach was significantly different from the Arts and Crafts movement, although he was clearly influenced by Morris, his own motto being ‘Truth, Beauty, Power’ rather than that of the Arts & Crafts’s ‘Hand, Eye, Heart’. The mass-produced nature of his work set him apart and his low cost products ("the painted tin designs for Perry and Co are my favourite" Adam Sutherland) further allayed him with the modernist ideals. However being the far-ranging eclectic he was, he also produced some very high cost luxury ware for Minton and has recently been 'discovered' to have produced many Batik designs for the African market (work that one in if you will, Yinka Shonibare).

‘Ornamentation is not only fine art, but that it is high art. . . even a higher art than that practiced by the pictorial artist, as it is wholly of mental origin’

This Dresser quote suggests that he may also like to claim to be a father of Conceptualism.

About the Manufacturer:

Unknown manufacturer.

Bibliography & Further information

Coniston Water Festival

Dresser and the Victoria & Albert Museum

Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Collective

Yinka Shonibare