Owen Jones (architect)
(15 February 1809 - 19 April 1874)
He rose to prominence with his studies of Islamic decoration at the Alhambra, and the associated publication of his drawings, which pioneered new standards in chromo-lithography. Jones was a pivotal figure in the forminf the South Kensington Museum (later the V&A) through his close association with Henry Cole, the museum’s first director, also another key figure in 19th century design reform. Jones was responsible for the interior decoration and layout of exhibits for the Great Exhibition building of 1851, and for its later incarnation at Sydenham. Jones advised on the foundation collections for the South Kensington museum, and formulated decorative arts principles which became teaching frameworks for the Government School of Design, then at Marlborough House. These design propositions formed the basis for his seminal publication, The Grammar of Ornament, the global and historical design sourcebook for which Jones is perhaps best known today.
Jones passionately believed in the search for a modern style unique to the nineteenth century - one radically different to the prevailing aesthetics of Neo-Classicism and the Gothic Revival. He looked towards the Islamic world for much of this inspiration, using his observed studies of Islamic decoration at the Alhambra to develop bold new theories on flat patterning, geometry and abstraction in ornament. The V&A’s Word & Image Department holds the world’s most comprehensive collection of Owen Jones material - including travel sketches, illuminated books, wallpapers and original design drawings for tiles, textiles, furniture, metalwork, interior decoration and architecture. Other departments within the museum hold examples of his furniture and textiles.
Indian textiles & Empire: Owen Jones. Indian Court at the Great Exhibition, 1851 by Joseph Nash
Projects: Great Exhibition, 1851
Jones was born on 15 February 1809, at 148 Thames Street, London the son of Owen Jones (1741-1814), a successful furrier and amateur Welsh antiquary, and his wife, Hannah Jane Jones (1772/3-1838). Being the Son of Owen Jones Snr. (bardic name of Owain Myfyr), a Welsh antiquary and the principal founder of the Gwyneddigion Society in London in 1770, for the encouragement of Welsh studies and literature, Jones Jnr. was born into a Welsh speaking family at the heart of the Welsh cultural and academic societies in London.
Jones embarked on a Grand Tour to the continent in 1832, having completed studies at the Royal Academy Schools and an apprenticeship with the architect Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871). He travelled first to Italy and then to Greece where he met the young French architect Jules Goury (1803-1834), who was assisting Gottfried Semper (1803-1879) with his radical studies of the polychromy of Ancient Greek buildings. Jones and Goury travelled together to Egypt to study the Islamic architecture of Cairo and the ancient sites, and continued on to Constantinople before finally arriving at Granada in southern Spain where they embarked on their studies of the Islamic decoration at the Alhambra.
Jones’s studies of the Alhambra in Granada were pivotal in the development of his theories on flat pattern, geometry and polychromy. His travelling companion, Jules Goury, had recently been working with Gottfried Semper on his analysis of the polychromy of Ancient Greek buildings, and this was very likely a key factor in Jones embarking on such a scientific and detailed appraisal of the decoration at the Alhambra. Goury died of cholera - at the age of 31 - during their six-month stay at the Alhambra, and Jones returned to London determined to publish the results of their studies. The standard of colour printing at that time was not sophisticated enough to do justice to the intricate decoration of the Alhambra, therefore Jones undertook the printing work himself. Collaborating with chemists and printers, Jones took it upon himself to research the new process of chromo-lithography. He issued this labour of love, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra, in twelve parts over a period of almost ten years, from 1836 to 1845. It was the world’s first ever published work of any significance to employ chromo-lithography, and was to be a key milestone in the development of Owen Jones’s reputation as a design theorist.
Printing Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra had been a significant financial strain for Jones, but the publication had gained Jones a huge profile due to its pioneering standards of chromo-lithography. After, and possibly during, the long gestation period for Alhambra, Jones used his printing press to enter the lucrative market for illustrated and illuminated gift books which were becoming increasingly popular with the Victorian middle class. Jones designed both secular and religious books (collaborating most notably with the publishers Day & Son and Longman & Co.) and developed innovative new binding techniques using materials such as embossed leather, papier-mâché and terracotta - all in an attempt to do justice to the luxurious contents, much of which could trace its aesthetic lineage back to sumptuous medieval illuminated manuscripts and religious bindings. Apart from these books, Jones’s most significant (and most widely-consumed) printing output was through his long-standing relationship with the firm of De La Rue. From the mid-1840s until the end of his life, some 30 years later, Jones designed an astonishing variety of products for De La Rue including playing cards, menus, biscuit-tin wrappers, postage stamps, chessboards, endpapers, scrap albums and diaries.
The Great Exhibition 1851
The Crystal Palace at Sydenham
Through his work at the Great Exhibition, Jones developed a close working relationship with the civil servant Henry Cole (1808–1882) who went on to become the first director of the South Kensington Museum (later to become the V&A.) Through his contact with Cole, Jones was able to present his theories on decoration, ornament and polychromy via a series of lectures at the Society of Arts and at the Government School of Design, whose headmaster was the artist Richard Burchett, and which was administered by the newly formed Department of Practical Art at Marlborough House. Jones also advised on the formation of the teaching collections at Marlborough House (much of it acquired from exhibits at the Great Exhibition) which were collated together as the Museum of Ornamental Art, and which later became the foundation collections for the South Kensington Museum.
Both Jones and Cole were concerned that these collections would encourage students to simply copy examples of ornament, rather than be inspired to examine the underlying decorative principles behind the objects. Furthermore, the location of the collections in London made it difficult for students at the provincial Schools of Design to gain access to them. These two factors would undoubtedly have been significant catalysts in motivating Jones to publish what is possibly his longest-lasting legacy: his seminal design sourcebook, The Grammar of Ornament, published in 1856. Through his articles and lectures, Jones had been formulating what he considered to be key principles for the decorative arts, and indeed these principles provided the new educational framework for the Government School of Design at Marlborough House. Jones expanded his propositions to create 37 “general principles in the arrangement of form and colour in architecture and the decorative arts” which became the preface to the 20 chapters of The Grammar of Ornament.
The first 19 chapters presented key examples of ornament from a number of sources which were diverse both historically and geographically -- notably examining the Middle East in the chapters on Arabian, Turkish, Moresque (Alhambra) and Persian ornament. The final chapter, titled ‘Leaves and Flowers from Nature’ acknowledged that “in the best periods of art, all ornament was based upon an observation of the principles which regulate the arrangement of form in nature” and that “true art consists of idealising, and not copying, the forms of nature”. Christopher Dresser, Owen Jones’s most well-known protégé, contributed one of the plates in this final chapter, and he was concurrently presenting theories on natural-form ornament in his famous botanical lectures at the Government School of Design in the mid-1850s.
Jones gathered together these samples of ornament as ‘best’ examples of decoration in an attempt to encourage designers to follow his lead in examining the underlying principles contained within the broad history of ornament and polychromy. The Grammar was hugely influential in design schools in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and is still in print today, maintaining its relevance as a source of inspiration for contemporary designers.
Jones was able to disseminate his theories on pattern and ornament through his work for several of the key manufacturers of the period, thus facilitating public consumption of his decorative visions in a number of diverse contexts. During the 1840s, having been inspired by the tilework at the Alhambra, Jones became known for his designs for mosaics and tessellated pavements, working for firms such as Maw & Co., Blashfield and Minton. He designed wallpapers for several firms from the 1840s until the 1870s including Townsend and Parker, Trumble & Sons and Jeffrey & Co. Jones was also prolific in the field of textiles - designing silks for Warner, Sillett & Ramm and carpets for Brinton and James Templeton & Co. Jones also immersed himself in a number of decorative schemes for domestic interiors, most notably working in collaboration with the London firm Jackson & Graham to produce furniture and other fittings.
Due to the overwhelming impact, influence and enduring legacy of The Grammar of Ornament, it can be easy to forget that Jones was, during his lifetime, well known to the public for his work as an architect. This skew in our contemporary perception of Jones’s work is made particularly acute because many of Jones’s built projects have since been demolished or otherwise destroyed - most notably the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, which was lost forever due to a fire in 1936. His most important building was St James's Hall, which was located between Piccadilly and Regent Street and for almost fifty years was London’s principal concert hall. Jones was also responsible for two grand shopping emporiums: the Crystal Palace Bazaar and a showroom for Osler’s, the glassware manufacturer, both in the West End. These three buildings all opened within a few years of each other, between 1858 and 1860, but had all been demolished by 1926. Their sumptuous polychromed interiors of cast iron, plaster and stained glass were breathtaking monuments to leisure and consumption.
One of the earliest examples of Jones’s decoration as applied to architecture (and one of the few examples to exist today, albeit restored) was his work on Christ Church, Streatham, built in 1841, by James Wild (1814–1892), who later became Jones’s brother-in-law. Jones was responsible for the interior decoration, but would most probably have also contributed to the design of the exterior which exhibits brick polychromy and architectural details with Byzantine and Islamic influences. During the early 1860s, Jones was commissioned to design the South Kensington Museum’s Indian Court and Chinese & Japanese Court, collectively known as the Oriental Courts. The V&A also holds design drawings by Jones for a speculative ‘Alhambra’ Court, which presumably would have housed exhibits of Islamic art - but for reasons which remain unclear, this scheme was rejected in favour of his designs for the Chinese & Japanese Court.
Also in the 1860s, Jones designed a number of luxurious interiors for high-profile clients, in collaboration with firms such as Jackson & Graham (for furniture) and Jeffrey & Co. (for wallpapers.) For the art collector Alfred Morrison, Jones designed the interiors for his country house at Fonthill (1863), and for his London town house at 16 Carlton House Terrace (1867.) In what he described as the great triumph of his life, Jones was also commissioned to design interiors for the palace of the Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, in Cairo (1864.) The work at Carlton House Terrace and the Viceroy’s Palace was noted for Jones’s mastery of Arab and Moorish design principles. en.Wikipedia
View painter's works: Owen Jones (1809-1874)