In his long and varied career Christopher Dresser was an ornamentalist, a lecturer in botany, and a designer of silver, ceramics, glass, furniture, and textile patterns. Like his contemporary William Morris (1834–1896), he believed that it took an artist, not just a craftsman, to create good design. However, unlike Morris, who shunned industrial production, Dresser embraced it.

He is considered one of the most important independent industrial designers in history, dubbed ‘The father of industrial design’. In his time he was a pivotal figure in the Aesthetic Movement and a major contributor to the allied Anglo-Japanese style.

Christopher Dresser was born in Glasgow, Scotland, of a Yorkshire family. At age 13, he began attending the Government School of Design, Somerset House, London. From this early date his design work widened to include carpets, ceramics, furniture, glass, graphics, metalwork, including silver and electroplate, and textiles printed and woven. He claimed to have designed "as much as any man" at the International Exhibition London 1862. 

In 1859, he received a Philosophy doctorate in absentia from the prestigious University of Jena, Germany. 

He wrote several books on design and ornament, including The Art of Decorative Design (1862), The Development of Ornamental Art in the International Exhibition (1862), and Principles of Design (1873), which was addressed in the preface to "working men". In 1899 The Studio magazine found it was possible to quote this book "page after page and not find a line, scarcely a word, which would not be endorsed by the most critical member of the Arts and Crafts Association today." In effect Dresser set the agenda adopted by the Arts and Crafts movement at a later date.

In 1873 he was requested by the American Government to write a report on the design of household goods.

En route for Japan in 1876 he delivered a series of three lectures in the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art and supervised the manufacture of wallpapers to his design for Wilson Fennimore. He was commissioned by Messrs Tiffany of New York to form a collection, whilst in Japan, of 3,000 art objects both old and new that should illustrate the manufactures of that country.

In 1876, the British Government appointed Dresser as an emissary to Japan and sent him to visit Japan after he became associated with Japanese art in 1862, and made a number of Japanese business associates such as Kiritsu Kosho Kaisha, in the years following. In four months in 1876 - 1877 Dresser travelled about 2000 miles in Japan, recording his impressions in Japan, its Architecture, Art and Art-Manufactures. He represented the South Kensington Museum whilst in Japan, and was received at court by the Emperor, who ordered Dresser to be treated as a guest of the nation – all doors were open to him. He was requested by the Japanese Government to write a report on 'Trade with Europe'. His pioneering study of Japanese art is evident in much of his work which is considered typical of the Anglo-Japanese style.

As well as a designer Dresser also imported and retailed. From 1879 to 1882 Dresser was in partnership with Charles Holme (1848–1923) as Dresser & Holme, wholesale importers of Oriental goods, with a warehouse at 7 Farringdon Road, London.[5]

Between 1879 and 1882, as Art Superintendent at the Linthorpe Art Pottery in Linthorpe in Middlesbrough he designed over 1,000 pots. If his ceramic work from the 1860s onwards (for firms such as Mintons, Wedgwood, Royal Worcester, Watcombe, Linthorpe, Old Hall at Hanley and Ault) is considered, he must be amongst the most influential ceramic designers of any period.

During the same period he was designing some of his best known metalwork. Silver plated functional items such as tea-pots, toastracks, and spoon warmers for the likes of Hukin & Heath, James Dixon & Sons, and Elkington.

Some of these Dresser metalwork designs are still in production, such as his oil and vinegar sets and toast rack designs, now manufactured by Alessi. Alberto Alessi goes so far as to say Dresser 'knew the techniques of metal production better than any designer who has come to Alessi'.

Museums with work by Christopher Dresser:

Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough, UK

Art Institute Chicago, Chicago, USA

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum/Parsons School of Design, New York, USA

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

MoMa. New York, USA

The Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK

Kirkland Museum, Denver, Colorado, USA

Christopher Dresser Items for Sale

Christopher Dresser Items Sold

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