japonisme: talwin morris's glasgow japonisme

09 February 2007

talwin morris's glasgow japonisme

how delicious it has been, lingering among the beauty of the book covers of talwin morris, scottish practitioner of japonisme.

he instructs us on the importance of design, insisting upon the sensuous beauty implied within the studies of home, and horse, wordlessly, but with just one look.

carpenters are revealed as the noble artists that they truly are by symbol alone.

and morris, sometimes, simply creates an added beauty to the already beautiful.



With [the Japanese style's] absence of central perspective, along with the expressive linear lines or organic form, the style itself is ideal to apply to a flat surface of book design. Within the composition there can also be cutting of details within the composition and instead of the perspective moving into the the picture space there was a tendency to move up the picture space. These stylistic characteristics can create a flat decorative effect.

Along with these stylistic characteristics, there was another Japanese influence. In Western Society, the Hierarchy of Genres shows that History painting is the highest of all art forms. This however was different in Japan which placed significant importance upon items such as laquerware and porcelain. These objects would have been of lower importance to the West before this time. These objects then became very important and can be seen in the way in which Blackie and Sons [a publisher with whom morris worked] placed artistic emphasis upon the book cover, which had previously been of little importance.1

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9 Comments:

Blogger Princess Haiku said...

These are beautiful and unusual; see that you have been busy. :)
The sun came out for awhile!!!!!!!!!!!

11 February, 2007 09:04  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

yes--yay! and thanks for that. surprise for you coming soon.

12 February, 2007 15:59  
Anonymous John Debicki said...

Although all these covers are most attractive, it is virtually certain that neither Warners Chase nor Feats on the Fiord are by Talwin Morris: none of the elements - design, lettering, frame - are his. Neither appears in his drawings nor any list of his known works; neither is 'signed' with his monogram or 'morse code' (admittedly, not a pre-requisite.
Jack and the Gypsies is a series design acknowledged to be almost certainly by Morris's assistant, Ethel Larcombe.
Insofar as Japonism is concerned, Modern House Construction is much more likely to be based on the classical aedicule (Morris was trained as an architect): in addition to a cornice, it appears he even gives us pillars to support an entablature (containing the title). And surely The Modern Carpenter Joiner and Cabinet Maker is proto-modernist in style (see also Modern Power Generators).

30 October, 2007 01:56  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

this is a wonderfully interesting and informative post. thank you for it, and for your visit.

everything you say with regards to those items that break with his style become obvious as soon as you say it.

what about 'house' and 'horse'?

i can't debate you on your comments as to "the classical aedicule" (which i'll have to go look up), however i still see some elements i find it easy to attribute to japanese influence (rampant at that moment). and in fact it's also clear to me that modernism itself finds its roots in this movement as well.

30 October, 2007 04:45  
Anonymous John Debicki said...

Hi Lotusgreen
The Horse... (1902) is by Morris: it bears his monogram on the front board. One attribution criterion for Morris is that (almost) always nothing on a cover gives an indication of a book's contents. Interestingly, in this case, there is a small exception: there are stylised horses' hooves adjacent to the title. The Book of the Home (1902) is a variant which follows an earlier, different, edition of 1900. The similarities of the swirling grasses and the 'bubbles'of both books here are obvious. These design elements were often used by Morris. They are generally acknowledged to be in the Art Nouveau style; more specifically in the 'Glasgow Style' (seen by many as being the Scottish form of Art Nouveau). Both books are published by Gresham, an imprint of Blackie & Son, Glasgow where Morris was Art Manager from 1893 to 1909)which was formed in 1898. Morris would personally execute all the covers for Gresham during this period.

As for Japonisme, you will know that as a style it was seen as exotic and was all the rage in Europe from the mid 19th century, and there will be few artists who were not at least touched by it. And this is true of Glasgow (then Britain's second city) with its port and strong contacts and trading links with the Orient. Certainly from time to time Morris employs the two-dimensional approach; the use of space a la Japonisme; and in his Warwick Library series (Blackie's 1895/1896) the lines are almost like calligraphy. But I do not think it can be said that he was significantly an adherent to, or practitioner of, Japonisme.

It needs to be borne in mind that Morris was a friend, mentor and patron of the Glasgow Four, including the iconic architect/designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Mackintosh even designed Morris's gravestone). But although there were many artists and craftspersons who contributed to the Glasgow Style, for many it is now synonymous only with the Glasgow Four in general and Mackintosh in particular. And Mackintosh was powerfully influenced by Japonisme. Also, he and the others of The Four were also profoundly influenced by Symbolism (e.g. inter alia, the work of Jan Toorop and Carlos Schwarbe). Thus, the influences on the GLASGOW STYLE (represented by The Four)are now seen as Japonisme & Symbolism (& Art Nouveau of course)

My view is this. Because the Glasgow style IS now The Four - ask anyone the name of another Glasgow Style artist - and Morris is a Glasgow Style artist, then HIS influences are also now categorised as Japonisme & Symbolism by a sort of uncritical, academic extrapolation. And, for further example, whereas Morris occasionally employs his own symbolism, I challenge anyone to find a Morris design remotely connected to Toorop or Schwarbe. And so, because little is known of Morris each commentator uncritically repeats assertions for which there is little or no evidence.

Hopefully something to add to the debate.

30 October, 2007 09:58  
Anonymous John Debicki said...

P.S. In the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph in my last posting I did not mean you. Look at any references to Morris you can find and in most you'll see what I mean.

30 October, 2007 10:08  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

wow john, i'm really glad you found this place!

i know it's kind of massive at this point, but if you ever had the chance to go through this whole blog, i think you'd sense that perhaps we're defining japonisme in different ways.

i think the influence of the japanese arts and crafts was so prevalent at that moment that it literally changed the way people saw. there was frequently nothing conscious about it.

not only the outlines and the flat spaces, but also, as you mention, the influence of the look and feel of calligraphy. the surrender to the lines of, perhaps, nature rather than technology. (i think a lot can be explained by the way writing developed in eastern v western cultures.)

i further believe that everything from arts and crafts to jugendstil to stile floreale to art nouveau to glasgow style to the wiener werkstatte to whatever else those movements that occurred simutaneously in different spots of the world called themselves, they were all were just the different titles and variations of style of each particular culture in it's own interpretation of the break with tradition and the conscious or unconscious influence of the japanese. ie. japonisme by any name would smell as.... well, you know.

i have touched on your further mentions; see here and here for example, but know that there're miles to go before i sleep.

thank you again, john!

30 October, 2007 13:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just stumbled upon your site. I happen to have the complete set of volumes of The Modern Carpenter and Joiner and Cabinet Maker. In fantastic condition to boot!

13 November, 2011 21:54  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

what a treasure! are the insides as beautiful as the outsides? is it something you can use in your own work? thanks for the note!

14 November, 2011 06:50  

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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