DUNCAN GRANT'S FABRICS IN THE YEAR OF THE KING'S ACCESSION, AN EXHIBT- tion was held at the Grafton Galleries which marks an epoch in the history of English taste. Painters and connoisseurs were at once divided into two mutually contemptuous camps by this exhibition, where for the first time the works of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Matisse were shown in England. It is now difficult to understand the fury which these paintings excited, for Cezanne is clearly seen as a great artist in the French classical tradition, and one of his masterpieces proudly holds its place in the National Gallery. But twenty-five years ago people used to pay to go into the Grafton Galleries to have a good laugh, as they now go to the play, Young England. The importance of this exhibition in the history of contem porary decorative art can hardly be exaggerated, for the essential message of these French painters was that a picture's value depended not on its representation of nature, but upon its pattern. It is a very old doctrine, but it had been forgotten in England during the latter half of the nineteenth century, and as a result painting here had fallen into decayThe generation of artists which has become prominent in the last twenty-five years is principally concerned with design and texture that is to say, with qualities which are common to both paintings and fabrics. The consequence is that the best of these contemporary painters are also interested in decorative or applied art. When Sargent attempted mural decoration at Boston, the result was disastrously bad, because his talent was for making "likenesses" of persons and places. Luckily, he never, as far as I know, attempted to design a fabric. If he had, the product would probably have been unsatisfactory, and would certainly not have been characteristically "Sargent," because the typical qualities of his painting could not be translated into terms of a textile. But when Duncan Grant designs a fabric, the result is characteristically "Grant": due allowance made for the demands of the material, he is tackling a problem not essentially different from that presented by the painting of a canvas. There are two points about his fabrics which seem to me specially interesting and important. The first is his colour. Caution carried to the pitch of 188 cowardice is the vice of most contemporary applied art: near-white, beige, grey, at best a duck's egg green or a wan blue, are the favourite colours of most fashionable decorators. They are so frightened of being vulgar that they too often become dull. The fabrics shown at the Art in Industry Exhibition at Burlington House were many of them tasteful, but Allan Walton's exhibits stood out among the others for the richness and boldness of their colouring. Mr. Grant, who has an enormous reputation as a painter for his colour, achieves in his textiles a wonderful sumptuousness by the variety of dyes employed. The second point is his drawing. In the past designs for fabrics have almost always been very rigidly drawn. Even the great Renaissance and eighteenth century stuffs show none of the freedom which we value and admire in paintings. Indeed, I think one has to go back to Coptic textiles to find this particular quality. An artist's drawing is as personal as handwriting, and when reproduced by modern printing methods on a fabric it gives extraordinary pleasure. Look for, instance, at the drawing of the blowing zephyr in the "Winds" designit has an individual elegance analogous to what we value in the drawings of Tiepolo or Degas or Matisse. This free drawing gives Mr. Grant's designs a vitality almost unparalleled among textiles. Even the leafy scribbles round the figures in the "Winds" are personal and alive. It is a great advantage of the printed over the woven design that it can carry this particular aesthetic quality so directly from the artist's "fist" to the manufactured material. A textile like the "Apollo and Daphne" makes supremely beautiful curtains; and at the same time a panel of it has most of the qualities which we enjoy in a gouache. It is no wonder that a panel of Mr. Grant's stuff" was exhibited recently at the Victoria and Albert Museum as "the Masterpiece of the Week." Printed textiles have been made ever since Roman times. Some English eighteenth century chintzes and French Toiles de Jouy are among the most delightful fabrics which men have ever invented. But I think that it is no exaggeration to say that these stuffs of Mr. Duncan Grant's have a vitality which you cannot find in any eighteenth century textile. In the greatAfwsrV des Tissus at Lyons you can see silks as magnificent in colour, and Coptic fabrics as incisive in drawing. But certain old Persian materials are the only textiles I know in which these two qualities are as triumphantly combined as they are in these fabrics of Mr. Grant's. Both the artist and the manufacturer are to be con gratulated upon a collaboration which has produced such supremely successful results. RAYMOND MORTIMER.

Industrial Arts en | 1936 | | page 28