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Toast rack and kettle, by Christopher Dresser


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About the artwork

Christopher Dresser was the son of an excise officer, born in Glasgow in 1834, the same year as William Morris. He attended the government school of design at the exceptionally early age of thirteen where he studied both design and botany, following a system of art education set up to train designers for industry.

Christopher Dresser was one of the most influential designers of his time. A contemporary of William Morris, he is widely known as Britain’s first independent, industrial designer. At a time when the design of mass-produced items often favoured novelty and availability over taste or rationale, Dresser pioneered a new modern style creating beautiful objects for the emerging consumer culture. Where Dresser differed most from his contemporaries was in his designs for metal ware. He was determined that cost should not place products ‘beyond the reach of those who might otherwise enjoy them’. 

Dresser believed that people's surroundings influenced their well-being, that art should be available to everyone regardless of their socio-economic status and that mass-production did not automatically lead to ugliness but could be used just as easily to fashion beautiful objects. Christopher Dresser designed a remarkable number of different articles for the preparation and serving of hot food and drink such as teapots, kettles, soup tureens and ladles, tea and coffee sets, egg-coddlers and an impressive variety of toast racks.

His influences came from AWN Pugin, Henry Cole and Owen Jones amongst others, who forged a modern style, their particular concern being fitness for purpose. Dresser himself was to invent a language of design inspired by his study of botany and cultures beyond the confines of the West. He was a natural propagandist and his influences included abstract pattern, based on his study of botany, as well as Japanese, Egyptian and Asian art and design. A trip to Japan in 1876 transformed his style, leading him to focus on the quality of materials and simplicity of form. He died in 1904 of a heart attack whilst on business, selling textile patterns, in Mulhouse in France.

Hukin & Heath, founded in 1855, manufactured silver and electroplate. Dresser was appointed art advisor in about 1878, the date the company registered the first of his designs. They carry the mark 'Designed by Dr C Dresser'.  The firm, who supplied novelties for the luxury market, were looking for a new direction. Although the last registered date of Dresser's designs is 1881, they were still produced for some years.  The modern Italian company, Alessi, have used Dresser’s designs for Hukin & Heath in some of their own ranges in the last few years.