Monday, July 14, 2014

To Serve and Project: The Summer Tile, 1881

Tile of "Summer"
Kate Greenaway, 1881
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the late Nineteenth Century, ceramic wall tiles were considered quite fashionable and the demand for them grew considerably, especially to be used in conjunction with fireplaces since the new cast-iron grates that began to appear during this period were specifically designed to be set with tiles. The tiles were fitted to metal panels that bolted onto the frame. At the start of this trend, pictorial tiles with pastoral scenes were especially popular and, often, tiles with series of different scenes were used.

The invention of “dust-pressing,” which developed in the 1840s, aided the mass production of tiles. The process allowed tiles to be formed by compacting powdered clay under high pressure in a screw-press. As many as 1,800 tiles a day—of a consistently high quality--could made on a single press, operated by two people. The result was tiles which were much less prone to warping than earlier examples.

Here, we see a tile made in such a manner—in 1881. It is one of a set of four tiles of the seasons. In this example, a woman is in her garden watering flowers, wearing a Japanese hairstyle and clothing. The style of the figure on this tile is close in appearance to figures drawn by one Kate Greenaway (1846-1901)-- one of the most celebrated children's book illustrators of the period. It is highly likely to have been her work since she often lent her talents to especially commissioned tile pieces.

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