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Teapot, Christopher Dresser, made by James Dixon and Sons, 1879. Museum no. M.4-2006

Teapot, Christopher Dresser, made by James Dixon and Sons, 1879. Museum no. M.4-2006

Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) was one of the most talented British designers of the nineteenth century, and these teapots are rare survivals of the radical work he produced at the very peak of his powers.

Dresser was an industrial designer before the profession had been invented, a man who found new ways of designing for production that few of his contemporaries could have imagined. He grasped both the properties of materials and the processes of production and adapted his designs and aesthetics to them brilliantly.

Dresser worked for a large and varied number of manufacturers and created designs for silver plate, cast iron, furniture, ceramics and glass, as well as textiles, carpets and wallpapers.

Teapot, Christopher Dresser, 1878. Museum no. M.5:1-2006

Teapot, Christopher Dresser, 1878. Museum no. M.5:1-2006

The teapots epitomise how innovative he could be and reveal his principles of design extended to their most extreme conclusion. It is to these designs, along with a select group of others developed in 1879, that Dresser owes his posthumous reputation as a major figure in British industrial heritage.

Some now view his metalwork, with its strikingly rigorous and stark forms, as an astonishing prefigurement of the Modernist designs of the Bauhaus, but his style is probably better understood as an extreme version of high Victorian aestheticism.

The design of Christopher Dresser

Dresser's interest in Japanese design can be seen in the ebonised finish and unusual combination of vertical and diagonal uprights in the back of this chair. It was part of a collection of furniture sold through the Art  Furnishers' Alliance, founded in 1880 to promote Dresser's work.

In the audio below the designer Tom Dixon discusses Christopher Dressers' work using the example images at the foot of the page.

Download: mp3 | ogg View transcript
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