CRANE, Walter et al.

Arts Decoratifs de Grande-Bretagne et d'Irlande.

Letchworth: Printed by the Arden Press for the Stationery Office.. [1914].

First (and only) edition. Text in French. 253x193mm. pp. cxc, 168, [2]. 58 leaves of plates with 165 photographs of exhibits. Bound in blue cloth, bevelled edges to boards, title and coat of arms of the United Kingdom Government stamped in gilt to upper cover, title in gilt to spine. Some very slight rubbing to joints and a mark to lower cover but otherwise, near fine. Internally very good but with some slight foxing to the edges, the plates are particularly clean and fresh. Bound in after the preliminary matter is a black leaf pasted onto which is a postcard size reproduction of the poster for the Exposition designed by Walter Crane and Graily Hewitt. Often in poor condition, this example is near fine. Overall a very good copy of this important and rare (only two appearing in the auction records) catalogue of the exhibition organised by the British Board of Trade Exhibitions Branch and held in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs at the Palais du Louvre.
Representing something of a high point of the Arts and Crafts Movement and its perigee with Art Nouveau, this exhibition of British and Irish decorative art, feels like the end of the long nineteenth century. Most of the major figures of the Movement were on the consultative committee: Walter Crane, Selwyn Image, Lethaby, May Morris, Voysey, Christopher Whall. The book falls neatly into two parts. The first is a collection of essays on various aspects of the decorative arts in Britain and Ireland by many of the leading figures while the second part is a piece-by-piece description of the more than 1600 items in the exhibition. In the first part, Crane contributes the general introduction and a piece entitled Book Illustration and Decoration. The book arts feature heavily with essays on printing by Emery Walker, calligraphy and illumination by Sydney Cockerell, and bookbinding by his younger brother Douglas. Metalwork and stained glass also feature, and May Morris provides an essay on embroidery. The spirit of May's father hovers over the exhibition, the catalogue opening with a large section devoted to "William Morris et ses collaborateurs". Towards the end of the exhibition the Kelmscott Press features heavily. In between, there are sections on ceramics (featuring William de Morgan), jewellery, furniture, sculpture and hundreds of items related to book production including bookplates, illustration and bindings. The timing of this exhibition was tragic. In August, WWI broke out and the show had to be hastily dismantled with the exhibits being stored in the basement of the Louvre until after the war. The aesthetic and ethical impulses that had produced the great flowering of design in Britain over the previous decades were collapsing. This book marks the moment before it all ended.

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