Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement: Reality and Imagination

Posted on January 19th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Judith B. Tankard, Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement: Reality and Imagination (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2004), 224 pp., illus. in colour and black-and-white, £26.70, (hbk), ISBN 0-8109-4965-2

The foundations of the Modern Movement of the twentieth century lie in the Art Nouveau synthesis of Arts & Crafts values and innovative materials and technologies. In Europe, Art Nouveau existed alongside with the Arts & Crafts Movement, peaking in Spain with the work of Antoni Gaudí, but in England it gave way to the social and aesthetic message of William Morris, who stands at the heart of the movement. His gardens at Red House and Kelmscott presaged the works of Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson. Morris’s London-based Firm was the meeting point for a new generation of artisans and designers who established the Art Worker’s Guild and offered a new style for the growing middle class. Architects designed smaller, simpler country houses combining the formal spirit of Queen Anne, Tudor and Georgian styles, with a regional vernacular of materials and crafts.

Through the eyes and words of artists, designers and critics, Judith Tankard offers a comprehensive discussion of design from 1860 to 1920 by which time, she claims, Arts & Crafts was transitioning into the Modern Movement. She begins with a discussion of the late nineteenth-century move away from the English landscape park and Victorian ornate heaviness to a new aesthetic based on simplicity, utility and traditional values.

Subsequent chapters focus on ranging aspects of the Arts & Crafts Movement: the Cotswolds and the people who lived, designed and gardened there; the design theorists who wrote for The Studio and the gardens they designed; the work of Charles F. A. Voysey and Baillie Scott; the writings of Thomas Mawson and Jekyll who provided the ‘how to’ practicalities of designing and laying out smaller properties. Robinson is also juxtaposed with Jekyll, both writers and horticulturists promoting indigenous and hardy plant material, but very different people, houses and garden styles; A Perfect House and Garden deals with the partnership of Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens; and Jekyll features again in Color in the Flower Garden, which spans artists–gardeners from Alfred Parsons to Graham Stuart Thomas and Helen Dillon. Scotland and Wales have a chapter to themselves; and then Tankard crosses the Atlantic where Americans had picked up on the spirit of Arts & Crafts, but the philosophy was diffused and regionalized by the range of cultures and climates. Artistic communes flourished on the East Coast, which saw a colonial revival of romantic, old-fashioned gardens. The Midwest incorporated Arts & Crafts ideals into the Prairie School of Architecture and the use of native plantings. Probably Arts & Crafts had its greatest fulfilment in California’s Spanish mission-style architecture, outdoor informal living, and a wide range of hardy plants, indigenous and exotic.

Tankard defines the Arts & Crafts Movement as a ‘philosophical approach to design rather than an identifiable style’, and concludes with examples of contemporary gardens featuring craftsmanship, sophisticated plantings, an intimacy of scale and a harmonious relationship with the house, the guiding principles of the movement. She includes Bryan’s Ground, home of Simon Dorrell, whose contemporary garden drawings and plans appear throughout the book.

Each of the twelve chapters could stand alone, but they interrelate well with occasional overlap. Lucidly written, lavishly illustrated with 163 drawings, plans, watercolours and photographs dating from the 1880s to 2003, with full-page designs by Morris, Voysey and Wheeler heralding each chapter, and a list of seventy-five gardens to visit in Britain and the USA, this book will be attractive to all garden lovers. Its scholarly depth, extensive notes and bibliography ensure it will be an essential text for all who study this period of design.

Liz Goodfellow

32:1 (Summer 2004)

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