This section is from the book "Ideals In Art: Papers Theoretical Practical Critical", by Walter Crane . Also available from Amazon: Ideals in Art: Papers Theoretical, Practical, Critical.
Such types of houses, however out of date, ought not to be without interest to the house-painter and decorator, since they depend for keeping up appearances almost entirely upon fresh paint - and nothing is, as we know, "as fresh as paint." Indeed, I have often noticed in London - from that commanding eminence the top ofa'bus - how the white-painted old-fashioned fronts with green doors of some of the houses in Piccadilly, facing the Green Park, donning new "coats" for the season, quite put to shame some of their neighbours - the gorgeous stone-built and marble-columned club facades with all the grime of a London winter thick upon them.
There is nothing like leather - I mean paint - after all! In fact, whether inside or outside, the town house requires constantly cheering up by the painter and decorator, but it must be the decoration that cheers but not inebriates - and there is a good deal of what I should call in-ebriated decoration about. Much of what is generally known as "l'Art nouveau," for instance, belongs to this category - the wild and whirling squirms which form the chief ornamental unit, whether in surface decoration, furniture construction, wood carving, inlays, or textiles - which was so much in evidence at the late Paris Exhibition, and in the pages of "The Studio," which is, moreover, generally on the continent considered to be English in its origin. In some of its forms it certainly does suggest a free translation into French or German of a kind of decorative art associated with the designers of the Glasgow school, but, no doubt, like all modern and mixed styles (like the melancholy of Jacques in "As you like it), it is extracted from many simples and compounded of many elements. It is said that the Emperor Augustus found Rome of brick and he left it a city of marble. I should, contrariwise, suggest that our decorator, supposing he found the woodwork of "a desirable residence" grained, should leave it plain-painting - beginning at the front door. Iron railings, it may be noted, in passing, are generally painted (perhaps from economic reasons) too dark a colour, which darkens still more in the smoke of towns. A favourite hue is a kind of beefy red, sometimes picked out with gilding, though this artistic touch is generally reserved for public buildings - or the public house. Graceful wrought iron-work of a light kind often looks well painted white or a light cool green, but ordinary Brunswick-green (of a middle tint) has a good appearance with the white window frames, reveals and door jambs of a red-brick house, the green being repeated for the front door and any outside shutters. Apropos of the heavy red paint so frequently used for ironwork, I think that the cylinders of gas-works (which form such important items in the scenery of our suburbs) would be far less trying objects if they were painted a discreet and retiring cool tint of green, and the light iron work supporting standards or columns painted white. I do not think such a treatment ought to raise the price of gas, but it would certainly elevate (or shall we say mitigate) the gasometer, and it would certainly dispel the irresistible impression on the mind of the unprejudiced that these rotundas were really huge rounds of pressed beef waiting for some giant Cormoran's luncheon.
But we stopped at a green door, with white jambs. Dear to some decorator-painters' hearts (and hands) is "graining." Wonderful, and sometimes fearful are its results. I quite recognize the skill sometimes spent upon graining - the extraordinary imitation of costly natural woods which a skilled grainer can produce over ordinary painted deal. There are also motives of economy, I believe, to account for the persistence of graining - in an age of such transparent honesty and simple habits as ours (?). The practice, I have heard, commends itself in some quarters for the same reason that influenced Dame Primrose in the choice of her wedding gown, namely, "for qualities that wear well."
Nothing can be a more delightful, or a more durable lining for the walls of hall or living-room than oak panelling, but nothing, to my mind, can be more sordid and unpleasant than the woodwork of a room grained to imitate oak.
The one field where skill in graining and marbling would be appropriate is that of stage scenery and decoration, where the object is to imitate, and where the scene has to be quickly changed in obedience to the demands of the drama.
Interior, 1a, Holland Park.
Designed by Philip Webb
From a Photograph by W. E. Gray
Few interiors are more pleasant than the white-painted panelled rooms in eighteenth-century houses, a mode which some modern architects have revived with much success. There is nothing like white paint for the woodwork of modern rooms. It is the best set-off to wall-papers, and though many attempts have been made by house painters and decorators to get variety of effect by repeating in the styles and panels of the doors some leading tint of the wall-paper, the eye soon tires of the rather restless result, and welcomes plain white flatted paint, leaving it to the mouldings to give the necessary relief.
Door panels are often considered suitable fields for painted or other decoration; if, however, door panels are emphasized in this way, the walls would have to be quiet in pattern and colour, so as to let the doors tell as the chief decorative points; in such a scheme they would naturally be balanced by a painted treatment of a wood mantelpiece and connected by a chair rail and panelled dado, or wainscot; on the other hand, with a richly patterned and coloured wall the wood-work, if painted, should be kept plain colour.
If our technical schools where house-painting is taught, instead of devoting time and skill to teaching methods of imitative graining, were to endeavour to train the pupils to use the brush as decorators and encourage them to design and paint simple ornamental borders, fillings, and friezes, such as might be useful in interior decoration, and train them to be able to space out walls with simple but tasteful sprays of leaves and flowers, decoratively treated, and painted by direct clean brush touches, we should surely see better results. Following the spirit of such types as these from the Ranworth screen in Norfolk, for instance (a beautiful piece of mediaeval English work of the fifteenth century, drawn for me by Mr. Cleobury, who has also furnished the South Kensington Museum with a complete set of drawings from the screen), they would be doing much more excellent as well as interesting work, work which in its practical results ought to prove much more pleasant and useful, both to house-painters and to house-holders. This might be supported by prizes being offered for such work in public exhibitions.
Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk
Drawn by W. T. Cleobury
Drawn by W. T. Cleobury
Painted Decoration, Ranworth Rood Screen, Norfolk
Drawn by W. T. Cleobury