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
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.