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KATHRYN FERRY

OWEN JONES – ARCHITECT & DESIGNER (1809-74)


I studied for my PhD at the University of Cambridge researching the career of Owen Jones, one of the Victorian era’s most under-appreciated designers. Though he trained as an architect, Jones applied his brand of colourful, geometric flat pattern to a huge range of media including furniture, carpets, books, tiles, playing cards, wallpaper and even biscuit wrappers. Today he is best known as author of the design classic The Grammar of Ornament first published in 1856 and still in print. With its bias towards Eastern ornament this book clearly demonstrates Jones’s admiration for Islamic and Indian design. Indeed, Jones was a pioneer in this field having made drawings of mosques in Cairo and Istanbul before going on to undertake an exhaustive survey of the Alhambra in 1834 that has yet to be bettered.

The Grammar of Ornament
Like many of his contemporaries Owen Jones was a workaholic, inspired by the great potential of his industrialised age. He was responsible for decorating the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and again when it moved to Sydenham, South London in 1854. There he also created a series of Fine Art Courts to take members of the public through the history of art in three dimensions. He subsequently designed his own vast iron and glass buildings projected for sites in North London and Paris, though neither was ever built.

As a key figure in the movement for design reform Jones was involved in the creation of the South Kensington Museum that is now the V&A. In 2009 the museum celebrated the bicentenary of Jones’s birth with an exhibition and study day

For my review of the exhibition see Apollo.

For a list of my publications on Jones click here

Historian and Writer Kathryn Ferry at the V&A exhibition
After contributing to a 2011 symposium on ‘Modern Europe and the Arts of Islam’ at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon, I was delighted to speak in February 2012 at the Alhambra in Granada. It was fantastic to see the V&A’s travelling exhibition on Jones so well received in the place that influenced his career so hugely.