Squirrels and leaves wallpaper frieze, William Burges

Squirrels and leaves wallpaper frieze, William Burges

Squirrels and leaves wallpaper frieze
William Burges (1827-81)
Great Britain
about 1872
Machine print on paper
Width 14.5 cm x height 37 cm
Museum no. E.1862-1934
Given by Messrs. Jeffrey and Company

Pattern

The pattern, which consists of dark squirrels and leaves on a paler background is similar to designs on medieval tiles where a dark motif, or pattern element, is emphasised by contrast with a light background.  The pattern unit consists of a squirrel and leaves which has been turned through 180 degrees to give a horizontal mirror repeat.  The squirrel and leaves pattern unit is within a border of trefoils.  There are three repeats on the frieze.

Processes and Techniques

This is a wallpaper frieze which is the decorated band to be placed along the upper part of an internal wall.  The wallpaper is a colour machine print printed from a wooden cylinder.  The printing process is a relief printing one in which the printing surface is raised above the areas which are to remain blank.  The surface is inked with a sticky ink, stiff enough to stop it from flowing into the hollows.  Woodcutting is a relief printing process. In woodcutting the drawing is made on a smoothed block of wood.  The lines of the design are left untouched and the wood on either side of them is cleared away with a knife.  Large areas are removed with chisels and gouges.  A relief printing process which dates from the mid-nineteenth century used water-based colours which were printed from relief cylinders.  These relief cylinders, used as the printing surface, were made of wood which operated like the block in woodcutting. The colour is of a distemper-like nature and there is an appearance of thickly applied emulsion paint. The great pressure of the machine process resulted in a squashing of ink to the sides of the printed area which helps to identify the process today.

The Designer

William Burges was born in London. He decided to take up articles, that is become bound as an apprentice, in Edward Blore’s architectural practice in 1844.  Fifteen years later, he moved to the office of the architect Matthew Digby Wyatt.  He assisted on the publications Metal Work and its Artistic Design published in 1852 and The Industrial Arts of the Nineteenth Century published 1851-3 and in doing so acquired a detailed knowledge of design and techniques in the applied arts.  He first publication was an article on ‘Damascening’, or decoration etched on metalwork, in the Journal of Design published in 1850.  Burges became assistant and later partner in Henry Clutton’s architectural practice.  Burges helped him with the publication Domestic Architecture of France published in 1853.  The partners won the competition for Lille Cathedral in 1856 but they quarrelled and their architectural design was never built.  The Lille designs were in a French thirteenth-century style.  Two years later, Burges began to design furniture. His Yatman cabinet, named after H.G. Yatman who commissioned it) was in a new style influenced by the only two surviving pieces of elaborate French thirteenth-century furniture.  These pieces were cupboards at Noyon and Bayeux, France.  Both were illustrated by the French architect Viollet-le-Duc in 1858.  Burges also sketched the Noyon cupboard in 1853.  Burges’ furniture was first exhibited to the public at the London 1859 Architectural Exhibition.  It was later shown in the Medieval Court of the London 1862 International Exhibition. 

Burges was a knowledgeable antiquarian (someone who studies antiquities or works of art from ancient times) and collector.  He much admired Viollet-le-Duc’s archaeological knowledge.  Burges was an active member of the Royal Archaeological Institute, showing many objects from his own collections at meetings,  and he published on antiquarian subjects in the Gentleman’s Magazine and elsewhere.  He founded the Mediaeval Society in 1857.  Five years later, Burges gave the Royal Society of Arts’ Cantor Lectures on Art Applied to Industry, published as a book the following year in 1865.  He commemorated the publication by having his earlier design for a decanter executed.  The decanter was encased in metalwork which in turn incorporated an extraordinary variety of ancient, collected materials.  These included porphyry, lapis lazuli, Chinese jade, Persian seals and Greek coins.  The result was an object distinguished by its originality. This treatment was typical of Burges’ metalwork.  His designs were for a range of metalwork from chalices to ink-pots and jewellery.  Burges met the Marquis of Bute in 1865 for whom he restored Cardiff Castle from 1869 and Castle Coch in South Wales.  He designed a series of reformed Gothic interiors for these commissions.  Burges designed some wallpapers, of which this wallpaper frieze is one, for Jeffrey & Company in about 1871.

This image can be found in Print Room Box 7.