Importance of Textile Art as an Art Form in its Own Right

The Fashion and Textile Museum presents a new exhibition entitled Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol. The display explores the history of 20th-century textile design and shows how contemporary art was made accessible to mass consumers. 

When we think of 20th century art many of us overlook textiles, thinking only of sculptures, paintings and drawings. Yet art in textiles is a vibrant and colourful art form in its own right. Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol features more than two hundred rarely shown items including pieces by leading modern artists such as Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Barbara Hepworth, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and many more.

Popular Art by the Yard

In the years after World War II there was a powerful movement to put a work by a famous artist into every home. Masterpieces were transformed into commercial fabrics, either sold by the metre - art by the yard - or turned into garments and soft furnishings. They appeared as Joan Miró dresses, Salvador Dali ties, and by the 1960s Pablo Picasso's artwork appeared almost everywhere except on upholstery. He drew the line at that. Curators, Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain, quote an article in the December 1953 edition of Look magazine which announced that Picasso's textiles could be used for ″every form of interior decoration, except upholstery. By the maestro's wishes, Picasso's may be leaned against, not sat on.″[1]

Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol touches some of the most important European and American art movements including fauvism, cubism, constructivism, abstraction, surrealism and pop art. 

Leading post-war design experts Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain are the authors of several books about popular culture including Pop! Design Culture Fashion 1956-1976. In a recent statement Rayner and Chamberlain said: 

‘This exhibition allows a remarkable glimpse of how ordinary people were once able to directly engage in a personal and intimate way with high modern art through their everyday clothing and the furnishings of their homes’. 

Pop!: Design, Culture, Fashion 1956 -1976
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An excellent resource for students of pop culture, or anyone just interested in the years between 1956 and 1976.

Highlights of the Exhibition

One of the first 20th-century artists to be successful as a textile designer was the French Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Born in Le Havre, Dufy studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris. 

Well respected as a draughtsman, printmaker, book illustrator and scenic designer, Dufy preferred strong clear colours and heavy contours. His colourful, highly decorative style, became very fashionable, appearing on ceramics, as decorative schemes on public buildings, and on textiles. 

Dufy is remembered especially for images of race courses, seascapes, regattas and Parisian scenes, which formed part of a range of fabrics produced by Fuller Fabrics Inc., an American company that manufactured mass-produced fabrics and created the Fuller Fabrics Modern Master series of Print Fabrics. The company collaborated with contemporary artists such as Raoul Dufy, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso to create a range of affordable cotton fabrics. This 'art by the yard'[1] sold at between $1.49 and $1.98 a yard. 

As one of the most important artists in the field of textile design Dufy influenced numerous artists and textile companies not only in Britain, but also in Europe and the United States.  The exhibition features Chariot, designed in about 1919.

Raoul Dufy, ChariotCredit: Frances Spiegel 2014, with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum

Picasso and Textile Design

Claire McCardell, Dress, 1955, In Picasso 'Fish' printCredit: Frances Spiegel 2014 with permission from the Fashion and Textile MuseumVisitors to the exhibition may well recognise some of the textiles on show such as the Fish print by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Born in Spain, Picasso studied at the Barcelona Art School, and soon established a name for himself as a painter, ceramist, sculptor, designer, writer and printmaker. He also created designs for silver plates and jewellery as well as writing poetry, books and a play, Desire Caught by the Tail.

The exhibition features an extensive selection of textiles by Picasso including a Fish print, which was used by American designer Claire McCardell for her range of summer dresses. The garments were manufactured by Fuller Fabrics. McCardell, who is regarded by many as the creator of the ″American Look″.

Florals by Marc Chagall

Florals and paisleys were very popular in the 1950s and the exhibition also features designs by Marc Chagall (1887-1985).  

A pioneer of Modernism, Chagall was one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. Born in Russia, into a poor Jewish family, he was initially self-taught. From 1906, he studied under Leon Bakst in St. Petersburg, and then moved to Paris in 1910. For many years he divided his time between France and Russia, but was eventually forced to leave Europe in 1941 because of Nazi persecution of the Jews. 

Marc Chagall created work in almost every media including fine arts; floor and wall mosaics; pottery; tapestries; stained glass; sets and costumes for ballet and stage, ceramics and ceramic murals. Fuller Fabrics used Chagall designs for dresses and soft furnishings. Belle Fleurs was created for Fuller's Decorama label, a more exclusive range of furnishing fabrics, only available to the public through interior decorators.   

Marc Chagall, Belle Fleurs, furnishing fabric for Fuller Fabrics, c. 1956Credit: Frances Spiegel 2014 with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum
Chagall (25)
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Marc Chagall's work never fails to please.

Henri Matisse - Echarpe No. 1

Henri Matisse, Echarpe No. 1Credit: Frances Spiegel 2014 with permission from the Fabric and Textile MuseumEcharpe No. 1 is Matisse's first design for Czech-born artist and designer Zika Ascher. Zika Ascher and his wife Lida moved to Britain following Germany's annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Asher commissioned Matisse to create a range of brightly coloured head scarves. The postwar years saw British women wearing dull, austere colours, and Ascher intended to cheer up the subdued British wardrobe. Echarpe No. 1 features a coral-based motif, and was originally intended as a limited production run of just 275.

Salvador Dali - Number, Please?

Also on display is Salvador Dali's Number, Please? Dali (1904-1989), born in Catalonia, Spain, Salvador Dali, Number, Please?Credit: Frances Spiegel 2014 with permission from Fashion and Textile Museumwas a leading painter, set designer, sculptor and film-maker closely associated with the Surrealist movement. His output includes carpet designs, motifs for silver and jewellery, and he is especially remembered for his outlandish lobster telephone and the iconic Mae West lips sofa.

Salvador Dali was also known for his textile designs.  His output in this field was prolific, working at various times for Wesley Simpson, Schiffer Prints, World of Silk and the International Silk Congress. 

Artist Textiles showcases a silk scarf designed by Dali in 1947 for American designer Wesley Simpson. Simpson created a range of rayon crêpe fabrics, featuring florals and paisleys as well as geometric, abstract and stripe patterns. Number, Please? is based on a sequence Dali's unfinished animation, Destino, for Walt Disney in 1946. Dali, an ardent self-promoter, would have welcomed this opportunity. He also created fabric designs for men's neck ties and soft furnishings as well as a wrapper for Chupa Chups Lollypops and bottles for Rosso Antico. 

Salvador Dali
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Interviewing the Curators

During my visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum I interviewed both Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain.  We discussed the complexities of setting up an exhibition like this. To read the full interviews go to  Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol at Fashion and Textile Museum - Curators Speak to Infobarrel About Curating Exhibition.

Visit the Exhibition

Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol will be open from 31st January to 17th May 2014. Tickets and further information are available from the Fashion and Textile Museum.   The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated book, Textile Design, Artists' Textiles 1940-1976, written by Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Stapleton. Published by Antique Collectors' Club, the book is available from the Fashion and Textile Museum and all good book stores.

Artists' Textiles 1940-1976
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This well-presented book, published in 2012, provides the core information for this exhibition.

Fashion and Textile Museum, 83 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3XF

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Artists' Textiles in Britain 1945-1970: A Democratic Art
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Five Star Rating for Outstanding Exhibition

Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol - Exhibition at Fashion and Textile Museum Fran5050 2014-02-05 5.0 0 5