Pictured: The Acropolis
“Jones was born on 15 February 1809 at 148 Thames Street, London the son of Owen Jones (1741–1814), a successful furrier and amateur Welsh antiquary, and his wife, Hannah Jane Jones (1772/3–1838). Being the Son of Owen Jones Snr. (bardic name of Owain Myfyr), a Welsh antiquary and the principal founder of the Gwyneddigion Society in London in 1770 for the encouragement of Welsh studies and literature, Jones Jnr. was born into a Welsh speaking family at the heart of the Welsh cultural and academic societies in London.”
From the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London:
“Form without colour is like a body without a soul”. – Owen Jones, 19th century
Owen Jones (1809 – 74) was a versatile architect and designer, and one of the most influential design theorists of the 19th century. In his search for a unique modern style, Jones looked to the Islamic world for inspiration.
Jones developed key principles for the newly-established Government School of Design, which later became the Royal College of Art. Jones’ bold theories on the use of colour, geometry and abstraction formed the basis for his seminal publication, The Grammar of Ornament, a design sourcebook that is still in print 150 years later.
Owen Jones grew up in a world dominated by the austere ‘whiteness’ of Neoclassical architecture. He was aware however that recent discoveries suggested Ancient Greek buildings were in fact originally coloured. The prospect of studying these examples of architectural polychromy (architecture decorated in a variety of colours) would have been irresistible to a young, ambitious architect such as Jones. He embarked on his Grand Tour – the coming-of-age trip for (mainly) young, upper-class men – at the age of 23, visiting Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey before arriving in Granada, in Spain to carry out studies of the Alhambra Palace that were to cement his reputation.
Jones and the French architect Jules Goury were the first to study the Alhambra as a masterpiece of Islamic design…
Jones didn’t consider the standard of printing at this time sophisticated enough to do justice to the intricate and brightly coloured decoration of the Alhambra Palace, and so spent time researching the then new technique of chromolithography – a method of producing multi-colour prints using chemicals. The resulting book, Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra (1842 – 45), became one of the most influential publications on Islamic architecture of all time.
The publication of Jones’s Alhambra studies firmly established architectural polychromy as an issue for debate and discussion…His designs for tiles attracted the attention of key figures associated with Victorian design reform, including Prince Albert, and led to his involvement in the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Jones finally introduced his colour theories to the wider public when he was asked to decorate the interior of the 1851 Great Exhibition building…A temporary ‘Crystal Palace’ was built in Hyde Park to house the displays and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert presided over the grand opening ceremony. Jones’ simple yet radical paint scheme for the interior utilised only the primary colours: blue, red and yellow…Six million people – three times the population of London at that time – visited the colossal iron and glass palace.
When the building was removed to Sydenham in south London a year later, Jones, in his new role as Joint Director of Decoration of the Crystal Palace, designed the Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Alhambra Courts.
Established in 1837, the Government School of Design (in Somerset House) was the first design school in Britain. Its aim was to raise the standard of British manufactures by improving design – the same spirit of reform underpinned the 1851 Great Exhibition, which included what were regarded as some of the world’s finest manufactures…
Christopher Dresser was Owen Jones’s most famous disciple, and the most successful graduate from the School of Design. An expert in botany, he contributed plant studies to Jones’s seminal design sourcebook. Jones firmly believed that the best principles in design were derived from forms found in nature…
19th-century Britain was dominated by historical revivals such as Neoclassicism and the Gothic Revival. These design movements were riddled with religious and social connotations. Instead, Owen Jones sought a modern style with none of this cultural baggage…
The V&A holds in its collection many of Owen Jones’ original drawings for The Grammar of Ornament…
The School of Design collections, collectively known as the Museum of Ornamental Art, were eventually moved to a site in South Kensington that had been bought through profits from the Great Exhibition. This museum later became the V&A. Henry Cole, another key figure in design reform, had helped Jones publish The Grammar of Ornament, and in his capacity as first director of the South Kensington Museum, asked Jones to design a series of galleries known as the ‘Oriental Courts’. The Oriental Courts comprised two galleries: an Indian Court and a Chinese and Japanese Court, which showcased the museum’s growing collection of objects from these countries.
The Oriental Courts had closed to the public by the end of the 19th century and unfortunately Jones’s designs were later painted over. The rooms were used as the kitchens for the V&A restaurant for many years. However, conservation work carried out in the 1980s revealed that much of the original decoration still remains intact beneath the whitewash.
Such was the impact and influence of The Grammar of Ornament that it’s easy to forget that Jones was, first and foremost, an architect. Sadly, many of his built projects have long since been demolished. They include St James’s Hall – London’s principle concert venue for almost 50 years, and two shopping emporiums: the Crystal Palace Bazaar and a showroom for Osler’s, the glassware manufacturer. Their sumptuous interiors were breath-taking monuments to leisure and consumption.”