This section is from the book "Hints On Household Taste In Furniture, Upholstery And Other Details", by Charles L. Eastlake. Also available from Amazon: Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and Other Details.
MODERN manufacture may perhaps be said to have received the greatest aid from science at a period precisely when the arts of design had sunk into their lowest degradation. A twofold error sprang from this mesalliance. In the first place, bad ornament was multiplied into vicious elaboration; and secondly, the eye became accustomed to appreciate and afterwards to desire a certain quality of finish and ignoble neatness, which while it is an almost inevitable result of machinery in its perfected use, must at the same time be utterly opposed to a free and vigorous style of decoration. Every lady recognises the superiority of hand-made lace and other textile fabrics over those which are produced by artificial means. The same criterion of excellence may be applied to almost every branch of art-manufacture. The perfect finish and accurate uniformity of shape - the correct and even balance of pattern-form which distinguish European goods from those of Eastern nations, and English goods especially from those of other countries in Europe - indicate degrees not only of advanced civilisation, but, inversely, of decline in taste.
Our table-glass and porcelain, for example, have long been remarkable for pureness of material and symmetry of outline. Old Venetian glass and Italian majolica-ware were, on the contrary, seldom quite symmetrical in shape, or entirely free from natural defects. They depended for their beauty on qualities which cannot be tested by rule and compass, or be ensured by ordinary care. But the variety of their forms was endless, and every form had a grace and beauty of its own. The lovely colours with which they were invested may indeed, in some instances, have been the result of certain chemical combinations which modern science has failed to reproduce. But they owe their chief charm to the taste with which those colours were opposed to each other - not to the evenness and equality of their tone. In fact, the very irregularity of form and inequality of tint which distinguish these objects of ancient art, conduced towards their real beauty; for they were the evidence of human handiwork, and that to the end of time will always be more interesting than the result of mechanical precision. Of course, division of labour and perfection of machinery have had their attendant advantages, and it cannot be denied that many articles of ancient luxury are by such aid now placed within reach of the million. But, although it would be undesirable, and indeed impossible, to reject in manufacture the appliances of modern science, we should be cautious of attaching too much importance in decorative art to those qualities of mere elaboration and finish which are independent of thought and manual labour.
The textile fabrics of Persia, Turkey, and India have long been famous for the graceful harmony with which their colours are blended. But, beyond a general uniformity of purpose which is preserved in the design, the whole system of their ornament is absolutely careless. Examine any old and good specimen of an Eastern carpet, and you will probably find a border on the right in which the stripes are twice as broad as those on the left. There are exactly thirteen of these queer-looking angular flowers at this end of the room; over the way there are only twelve. At the north corner, near the window, that zigzag line ends in a little circle; at the south, in a square; at the east, in a dot; at the west, there is nothing at all. This is in the true spirit of good and noble design. On the Continent, as well as in this country, Oriental goods are often imitated; but the imitation is a failure, because the English and French designers look with disdain on the irregularity of Eastern work. In their eyes nothing can be quite beautiful of which the two opposite sides are not precisely alike. Accordingly the wholecarpet is planned, line for line and spot for spot, with studied accuracy throughout.
The result, no doubt, will be found mathematically correct by any one who takes the trouble to measure it, but the vigour and independence of the original are utterly lost in the copy*
Choose, then, the humblest type of Turkey carpet or the cheapest hearthrug from Scinde, and be sure they will afford you more lasting eye-pleasure than any English imitation. As for the specimens of our own peculiar national taste in textile art - the rose-wreaths - the malachite marble patterns - the crimson moire antique with borders of shaded vine-leaves - the thousand-and-one pictorial monstrosities which you see displayed in the windows of Oxford Street and Ludgate Hill - they are only fit to cover the floor of Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors. It is curious that the English, who take pains that the patterns of their carpets shall be worked out with such nice accuracy, should be quite indifferent to the symmetry of their general outline. Except in the dining-room of an English house, one rarely sees such a thing as a square (or perhaps I should say a rectangular) carpet. Two sides of it at least are sure to be notched and chopped about in order that they may fit into the various recesses caused by windows and the projection of the chimney-breast. This is essentially a modern fashion, and a very objectionable one. In the first place, much of the material is cut (as the phrase goes) 'to waste.' Secondly, a carpet once laid down in a room will never suit another (although it is often convenient to make such changes) without further alterations. Thirdly, the practice of entirely covering up the floor, and thus leaving no evidence of its material, is contrary to the first principles of decorative art, which require that the nature of construction, so far as is possible, should always be revealed, or at least indicated, by the ornament which it bears. No one wants a carpet in the nooks and corners of a room; and it is pleasant to feel that there, at all events, the floor can assert its independence. It is true that the colour of deal boards, especially when they become old and dirty, is by no means satisfactory, but a little of the staining-fluid now in common use will meet this difficulty at a merely nominal cost.
W.DICKES PARQUETRY Floors.
W.DICKES Parquetry Floor Borders.