Wednesday, July 31, 2013

To Serve and Project: The Dresser Vegetable Dish and Lid, 1884

Vegetable Dish and Lid
Christopher Dresser, 1884
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Designed by the famed Christopher Dresser (1834 – 1904) for Old Hall Works in 1884, this vegetable dish is from a dinner service of earthenware is adorned with a transfer-printed pattern. As we know, these were the most affordable methods of creating dinnerware at the time, and, so, materially, the set is not out of the ordinary. However, Dresser didn’t create anything which didn’t have something special about it, and this dinner set does have some interesting features.

Christopher Dresser was as much of a slave to practicality as he was to beauty. With this set, he included some special features which were designed to make life easier. For example, Dresser designed an extra dip in the soup bowls to help in scooping up the last spoonful. The design of the dinner plates incorporated indentations in the rims for condiments and sauces.

The design of the set is perfectly represented by this vegetable dish and lid with their strongly geometric form. This shape was typical of Dresser's design style as was the decoration. He trained as a botanist and, therefore, always had an interest in organic forms. Even during his own lifetime, Dresser was described as a “pioneer of modern design” and one of the most prolific designers of his time. He famously promoted quality, machine production and the use and discovery of new materials. Furthermore, his work was considered quite fashionable—elegant enough for the finest homes, but inexpensive enough for daily use.

Though made in 1884, this particular design was not registered until 1886. Curiously, Dresser called the pattern “Shanghai” even though there is no hint of Chinese or Asian ornament or style. The Victorians enjoyed referring to china patterns by unrelated names. Dresser also introduced two other patterns the same year, both named for places which had nothing to do with their design—“Persian” and “Hampden.”

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