Enfilade

Exhibition | Botanical Expressions

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on February 7, 2022

Part of the Nature by Design series at the Cooper Hewitt:

Botanical Expressions
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, 7 December 2019 — 25 September 2022

‘Hans Sloane’ Plate, Manufactured by Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory, soft paste porcelain, vitreous enamel, 22.5 cm diameter (New York: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 1957-11-8).

Interpretations of botanical forms wind their way through the decorative arts of the late 18th through the early 20th centuries. Botanical Expressions focuses on key figures—Christopher Dresser, Emile Gallé, William Morris, and Louis Comfort Tiffany—whose knowledge of the natural sciences and personal practices of gardening enriched their creative output as designers. A timeline of objects reflects botanicals in form and pattern, highlighting shifting styles across geography and media in textiles, ceramics, glass, wallcoverings, and more. Significant loans from Smithsonian Libraries include illustrated guidebooks that designers used for natural research and drawing instruction.

At the turn of the 20th century, the intersection of botanical study with design practice stimulated an array of plant forms and motifs in furnishings, glassware, ceramics, textiles, and more. Botanical Expressions reveals how designers, inspired by nature and informed by scientific knowledge, created vibrant new designs in America, Britain, France, and the Netherlands. Blossoming vases, plantlike stuctures, fanciful garden illustrations, and a diversity of vegetal and floral patterns reveal how nature and design dynamically merged.

An increasing number of designers, trained as botanists, advocated for the beauty and order of nature’s systems, colors, and patterns. Many manufacturers operated in proximity to gardens for natural study and stocked books of botanical illustrations as resources for their designers. These primary sources, on loan from Smithsonian Libraries, appear alongside the objects they influenced.

Since the 19th century, the garden was often seen as a refuge from industry and a natural source of plenty and pleasure. This history of botanical expressions in design illuminates a reflection on the critical role of nature within our world.

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