Christopher Dresser - A Selected Chronology
See also: Studies in Design by Christopher
Born Glasgow, the third child of Christopher and Mary
(nee Nettleton), both from Yorkshire families.
Christopher Dresser (1807-1869) an excise officer, served
in Yorkshire, Glasgow, Sussex, County Tipperary, County Cork
and Hereford; he rose to the rank of collector.
Entered the Government School of design at Somerset House
(later to be transferred to Marlborough House)
Awarded scholarship of £15.00
Winner of 3 medals and 3 prizes.
Re-appointed to scholarship.
Re-appointed to scholarship. Prize for design of 'garment
Married Thirza Perry of Maidley, Shropshire (her father, William,
was a lay missionary with the City of London Mission).
Botanical illustrations and diagrams (for the Department
and Art) and now in the print room of the V & A appear
to date from this year.
Patented a method of 'nature printing'
Responsible for Plate XCVIII in Owen Jones' 'Grammar of Ornament',
the plate illustrated 'the geometrical arrangement of flowers'
- the accompanying note stated: '
.the basis of all form
is geometry, the impulse which forms the surface, starting
at the centre with equal force, necessarily stops at equal
distances; the result is symmetry and regularity'.
Began a series of articles for the Art Journal on 'Botany
as Adapted to the Arts and Art Manufactures' which continued
Delivered a paper 'On the Relation of Science to Ornamental
Art' at the Royal Institution where ideas concerning the application
of natural laws to design were developed; these were to be
expanded in the 'Art of Decorative Design (1862).
Paper 'Contributions to Organgraphic Botany' before the Linnean
'The Rudiments of Botany'
and 'Unity in Variety'
Paper - 'On the Morphological Import of Certain Vegetable
Organs' before the Edinburgh Botanical Society.
Had the degree of Doctor of Philosophy conferred by the University
of Jena 'in consideration of services he has rendered to botanical
science'. (The Chair of Botany at Jena was held by M.J. Schleiden,
1804-1881, co-founder with Theodore Schwann of the theory
of the cell.
'Popular Manual of Botany' published.
Elected Fellow of the Edinburgh Botanical Society.
Candidate for the Chair of Botany at University College,
London. (The chair was obtained by Daniel Oliver, 1830-1916).
Elected Fellow of the Linnean Society.
First book on design published - 'The Art of Decorative Design'.
'Development of Ornamental Art in the International Exhibition'
published (a critical guide).
Supplied a number of designs for this exhibition.
Although he probably knew something of Japanese design, from
the small collection acquired by Henry Cole for the Museum
at Marlborough House, it was due to the showing of Sir Rutherford
Alcock's collection at the International Exhibition that Dresser
had the opportunity of seeing a comprehensive selection of
Japanese work; he made drawings and purchases for Sir Rutherford's
A sketchbook dating from around this year suggests an interest
in the design of silver and plate and a decorative vocabulary
that was already mature.
Began a series of articles in the 'Chromolithograph' (a short
lived publication in which had been incorporated 'Nature and
Art') on selected examples of his work exhibited in the Paris
Exhibition of this year.
George Augustus Sala wrote of Dresser as the designer of
'beautiful and luxurious carpets' for Messrs Brinton &
Lewis: he also observed '
for some years past the skill
and taste of Dr. Dresser had been put into requisition by
some of the leading art manufacturers both of England and
both as a designer of models and patterns
and as a general art adviser
Last lectured in botany at South Kensington.
Moved to Tower Cressy, a large house on Camden Hill.
Began 'The Principles of Decorative Design', a series of articles
in Cassell's 'Technical Educator' (published in book form
Paper 'Ornamentation considered as high art' before the Royal
Society of Arts which set out views similar to those expressed
in 'The Art of Decorative Design' (1862); Dresser stated:
that true ornamentation is of purely mental origin,
and consists of symbolized imagination or emotion only. I
therefore argue that 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
Designed a cast iron ornamental table and hat stand for the
Coalbrookdale Company shown at the International Exhibition,
Designed a number of brocades for J.W.& C. Ward, illustrated
in the 'Art Journal' which noted that Dresser's designs '
been of great practical value to many classes
Visited the Vienna International Exhibition.
Lectured on Owen Jones at Jones' Memorial Exhibition. Dresser
spoke of Jones as first having taught him to think '
what was ornament unless it embodied mind?' Also referred
to 5 lectures delivered by Jones I 1849 and their formative
influence. Jones was 'the greatest ornamentist of modern times'.
The issue, in 20 parts, of 'Studies in Design' begun, Dresser
wrote that he had '
prepared this work with the hope
of assisting to bring about A better style of decoration for
Began designing for Elkington & Company, makers of silver
Left England to visit Japan (in a semi-official capacity)
calling at the Philadelphia Centenary Exhibition en route.
Spent about 4 months in Japan and presented the Emperor with
a collection of examples of the work of some of the leading
British manufacturers, intended to form part of the collection
of the newly founded National Museum. Dresser told the Emperor:
For years past I have been an admirer of Japanese objects
Travelled in all about 1700 miles in Japan visiting temples,
shrines and centres of traditional manufacture.
Also collected, o behalf of Tiffany & Company of New
York, examples of Japanese goods including 'many objects for
ordinary domestic use' which were auctioned in June 1877.
Served as Juror (class 22, paper hangings) at the International
Exhibition in Paris.
Earliest designs for Hukin and Heath (manufacturers of silver
and plate) appear to date from this year.
Entered into partnership with Charles Holme of Bradford; trading
under the name of Dresser and Holme, the company was to import
Japanese and other Oriental wares.
Sir Rutherford and Lady Alcock and members of the Japanese
legation were among the distinguished guests that attending
the opening of the showrooms in Farringdon Road.
Began designing for the Linthorpe Art Pottery and acted as
Appointed editor of the 'Furniture Gazette' a position which
Dresser held for a year. The first issue under Dresser's editorship
contains Owen Jones' propositions from his Grammar of Ornament
(1856) which began 'the decorative arts arise from, and should
be properly attendant upon architecture'.
Appointed 'Art Manager' of Art Furnishers Alliance, established
to 'carry on the business of manufacturing, buying and selling
high class goods of artistic design'. (Dresser had only a
nominal financial involvement in the Alliance). Among the
manufacturers and traders who had substantial holdings were
George Hayter Chubb (who was appointed chairman), Edward Cope,
James Dixon & Sons and A. Lasenby Liberty; Sir Edward
Lee, who had organised the Dublin Exhibition of Arts, Industries
and Manufacturers of 1872 was appointed Company Secretary.
Despite support by influential manufacturers the Art
Furnishers Alliance went into liquidation in May, 1883.
Decorated the interior and designed much of the furniture
of Bushloe House, Wigton Magna, near Leicester, the house
of Hiram B. Owston, his solicitor.
'Japan, its Architecture, Art and Art Manufactures', a lengthy
account of the visit to Japan, was published; in the preface
Dresser wrote of 'a long and painful illness' from which he
had suffered during the preparation of the book.
Moved to Wellesly Lodge, Brunswick Road, Sutton (probably
an indication of declining fortunes).
'Modern Ornamentation' is published (which included work by
assistants and pupils), the book represented 'but one phase
our office work
there are no examples of architectural
work, of designs for furniture, earthenware, metalwork or
the numerous things that emanate from this office'.
Moved to Elm Bank, near Barnes Railway bridge (probably an
indication of improving fortunes).
Apart from designing textiles and patterns Dresser was probably
designing for William Ault's pottery, for Benham and Froud,
metalworkers and William Couper of Glasgow, glass makers.
An anonymous article in 'The Studio' spoke of Dresser as 'not
the least, but perhaps the greatest of commercial designers,
imposing his fantasy and invention upon the output of British
Died on 24th November, in his sleep, at the Hotel Central,
Mulhouse (Alsace), whilst on a business trip. Dresser was
accompanied by his son Louis.
The net value of Dresser's personal estate was £2.157.3.
'The Builder' spoke of Dresser's last years: '
most of his time preparing designs for Manufacturers and in
the enjoyment of his garden and flowers'.
'He was a most genial companion and interesting talker, and
never tired of discussion on Art and the habits of the nations
of the East, trying to trace their histories by their ornamental
forms as a philologist does by their language