A Fabulous Book...

Written by Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Stapleton, Artists' Textiles 1940-1976  is another beautifully presented publication from Antique Collectors' Club. The book looks at some iconic designs that many of us will remember and shows how modern art by leading artists entered the mass market at reasonable prices. 

The book opens with a quotation from American painter and Art Deco textile designer Ruth Reeves (1892-1966) who held the view that fabric design deserved the status of fine art. Writing in Craft Horizons (May 1946, vol. 5 no. 13, p.6) Reeves said: 

″It is my personal opinion that fabric design rightfully belongs in the category of the Fine Arts, … as an art, it is just as important as good architecture, and certainly is more closely associated with our everyday living than are paintings″.[1]


Artists' Textiles 1940-1976 by Geoff Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Stapleton
Credit: Antique Collectors' Club 2012

Layout of the Publication

The book is arranged chronologically: 

  • Introduction 1910-1939 – The Introduction discusses the growth of mass-produced textiles.  Since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries artists wanted to give their works a place in the lives of ordinary people. Many of these initial attempts failed because of ″elitist cultural attitudes to new materials, inexpensive industrial manufacturing methods and mass marketing″[1].   Attitudes changed after World War II when works commissioned from leading contemporary artists appeared on mass-produced fabrics.

    The authors cite design historian Nikolaus Pevsner who responded to textile designs from the post-war era with an article entitled Can Painters Design Textiles? published in Art in Industry, vol. 1, no. 1, Calcutta, December 1946 pp.11-17. He asked if painters and sculptors could work in the field of applied arts and still maintain their artistic integrity. The book explores this issue looking at the work of artists such as Vanessa Bell, Raoul Dufy, Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Pablo Picasso, Ruth Reeves, Edward Wadsworth and many others.

  • The 1940s – This chapter examines some of the textile companies, such as Horrockses Fashions Ltd., and Ascher Ltd., in Britain, and Schiffer Prints and Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics in the United States. These companies initially commissioned artists like Feliks Topolski and Henry Moore to create designs for their collections of fashion fabrics and scarves. More internationally acclaimed artists including Alexander Calder, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Henri Matisse, Francis Picabia, Graham Sutherland and Marcel Vertes became a major part of the design process. This close involvement of fine artists in the design of mass-produced textiles had never been seen before.

  • The 1950s – Artist-designed textiles were at an all time high in the 1950s. British and American manufacturers were commissioning some of the most important contemporary artists to participate in design projects that raised textile design to the status of high art. One of the most important projects was Fuller Fabric's 'Modern Masters'. This was literally art by the yard. Fullers commissioned artists like Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Jean Miró, Pablo Picasso and John Rombola. Andy Warhol is also thought to have sold designs to Fullers (ibid. p. 294). One of the many popular designs was a dress designed by American designer Claire McCardell using Pablo Picasso's 'Fish' print. 

  • The 1960s –  The years following the end of World War II saw a massive building boom in both the private and public sectors. New public buildings needed new décor and new fabrics and furnishings.  Where better could established or aspiring artists show their designs than in these brand new buildings? 

    Pablo Picasso, for example, created The Picasso Collection – a range of furnishing fabrics for Bloomcraft Fabrics. Picasso designs appeared on almost every form of interior decoration, but he drew the line at upholstery.  His quirky sense of humour is apparent in an article written for Look magazine in December 1963.  He stated in no uncertain terms that his designs were suitable for ″every form of interior decoration, except upholstery. By the maestro's wishes, Picasso's may be leaned against, not sat on."[1]

Artists' Textiles 1940-1976
Amazon Price: $49.95 $28.60 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 1, 2016)
An outstanding book: fascinating texts accompanied by superb photography.

Artists' Textiles - About the Authors

The book is compiled by leading post-war culture and design historians Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Stapleton, co-authors of other books on similar subject matter including Pop: Design, Culture, Fashion 1956 - 1976. In 2012, Geoffrey Rayner and Richard Chamberlain curated a highly successful exhibition, with the same name, held at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London.

In 1994 Rayner and Chamberlain founded the Target Gallery renowned for ground-breaking exhibitions such as Design in Tandem: The Work of Robin and Lucienne Day (1999) and Reconstruction: Designers in Britain 1945-1951 (2001).

Pop!: Design, Culture, Fashion 1956 -1976
Amazon Price: $59.95 $23.44 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 1, 2016)
A fascinating book about Pop culture from the authors of Artists' Textiles 1940-1976.

Artists' Textiles - A Good Read

Artists' Textiles 1940-1976 offers a comprehensive overview of the collaboration between leading artists and textile manufacturers in Europe and America in the years between 1940 and 1976.  More than 200 superb colour and black and white images accompany scholarly, yet highly readable and light-hearted, texts.  

Several double-fold pull-out sheets allow readers to see these beautiful textiles as they were originally intended. 

Available from the Fashion and Textile Museum and all good book stores, the book is a valuable resource for students, or anyone interested in textile, fashion and interior design history.  

Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol - Exhibition Based on this Book

In 2014 Geoff Rayner and Richard Chamberlain curated an exhibition at London's Fashion and Textile Museum.  Entitled Artist Textiles Picasso to Warhol, and based on the contents of this book, the display is open at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 17th May 2014.  A detailed review of the exhibition appears on Infobarrel, together with interviews with Messrs. Rayner and Chamberlain where they discuss the making of the exhibition.  

Jacqueline Groag: Textile & Pattern Design: Wiener Werkstatte to American Modern
Amazon Price: $55.00 $26.74 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 1, 2016)
Another textile design book by Geoff Rayner, Richard Chamberlain and Annamarie Stapleton.
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