Collection

Fire Dogs

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Metal

Date: Circa 1870

Designer: Christopher Dresser

Nationality of Designer: British

Manufacturer: Benham and Froud

Manufacturers Location: London (U.K)

Material: Brass

Dimensions: Height 9 cm x Width 8 cm

Purchase Price: £23.50

Abstract:

Fire side Support Tools

Provenance:

Unmarked, part of a fire side set including fire guard and tools. Purchased from a charity shop by Adam Sutherland.

Personal history/nominator:

I bought one of these weird things when I was a student, I had no idea what it was for or from what period, just assumed it had a 'special purpose'. I lost it somewhere in the course of my life (I also had the fireguard which I picked up because it had similar detail to the dog)

Adam Sutherland

Adaptions/renovations:

None- good condition

Why it's in the Collection:

The sputnik like quality of this piece suggests a 1950's date, however the manufacture and materials belie that heritage. An odd work, like much of Dressers output it apparently belongs in a different era but is actually drawn from historic or alternative cultural aesthetics - in this case probably Japan. The tripod legs are a typical Dresser motif that have the practical purpose of allowing stability on an uneven surface.

The Fire Dogs in the Lawson Park Collection are an excellent example of Christopher Dresser's many brass and copper designs for Benham and Froud, and represent the more arts and crafts end of his oeuvre.

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 ten 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 arguably 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:

Benham and Froud were a firm of copper and brass manufacturers in London. In addition to Christopher Dresser.

They exhibited at the International Exhibition in Paris (1855) and London (1862).

Bibliography & Further information

Victoria and Albert Museum