His first love was botany—he held a doctorate and wrote three textbooks on the subject—but, fortunately for us, Christopher Dresser also applied his creative intelligence to design; one could say, in fact, that he and his contemporary William Morris invented the field as we know it. Dedicated to producing beautiful, useful, and affordable objects for the masses, Dresser (British, 1834–1904) rationalized the mechanical process of manufacture and worked closely with the companies that produced what he drew and painted.
Dresser’s vision manifested as textiles, wallpaper, ceramics, metalware, linoleum, glass, and stencilwork. His design aesthetic, deeply influenced by his study of plants, was informed by the simple, elegant harmony of form and function that he observed in nature. Dresser’s influences also encompassed Indian, Egyptian, and Japanese art, but he produced much work without apparent precedent; his metalware prefigured Bauhaus design by fifty years. Through his many books and lectures, and widespread plagiarism of his designs, Dresser was far more influential than he was influenced. In 1899 Studio magazine called him “perhaps the greatest of commercial designers, imposing his fantasy and invention upon the ordinary output of British industry.”
During the last twenty years of his life, Dresser concentrated largely on textile and wallpaper designs, producing a body of work that is stunning in its vibrancy and diversity, as is apparent in the selection presented here. The twenty-three textile and seven wallpaper designs reproduced in this book of postcards are from the collection of The National Archives, London, the official government archive for England, Wales, and the United Kingdom.