The Arts and Crafts Movements in Dublin and Edinburgh 1885-1925, Nicola Gordon Bowe & Elizabeth Cumming. (Irish Academic Press, £29.50) ISBN 0716525798

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Book Reviews, Issue 3 (Autumn 1999), Reviews, Volume 7

From the moment I turned the first page of this book I was riveted. This is a splendid study of the subject, one which will undoubtedly be regarded as a landmark publication by the specialist and as a thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating overview of the cultural and artistic climate of Dublin and Edinburgh at the turn of the century.
Since the mid-1980s there have been an increasing number of titles being published on the subject of the Arts and Crafts Movement, mainly its national Romantic corollary, the Celtic Revival, but this is the first comparative study exploring the growth of the movement in two important regional capital cities. Prior to this publication, studies of the Movement could be divided into two main categories. The first incorporated general survey studies of the history of the Movement, as represented by Paul Larmour’s superb study The Arts and Crafts Movement in Ireland (1992). This publication was an important advance in an area which had (and to a degree still has) received little attention from scholars. The second category has been biographies of the major artists comprising the Movement, as represented by Nicola Gordon Bowe’s The Life and Work of Harry Clarke (1989) and Elizabeth Cumming’s profile of a craftswoman of the Edinburgh Movement Phoebe Anna Traquair (1993). They have joined forces in a work which is a revision of the catalogue produced in the wake of the acclaimed exhibition curated by the authors from the 1985
Edinburgh International Festival.
The Arts and Crafts Movements co-existed in Britain and Ireland between 1885 and 1925. In both countries these movements arose out of a Victorian obsession for revivalism in art and architecture. William Morris, a leading mid-Victorian  craftsman and influential intellectual, believed that during the Industrial Revolution artists had lost control over the means of production. They had merely become ‘cogs’ driving the ‘wheels’ of industry. By applying the craftworking traditions of past ages to the needs of the present Morris believed that this situation could be redressed. Morris believed that the artist would thereby regain control over the means of production. For Morris, the ‘Golden Age’ of the craftsmanship was during the High Middle Ages under the guilds system. While radical figures like Patrick Geddes, W.B. Yeats and George ‘AE’ Russell were influential, nevertheless, this study shows that the ideas of William Morris formed the intellectual basis of both Movements in Dublin and Edinburgh.
In Dublin, once the Movement had become established by 1896, co-operative workshops began to produce stained glass, graphic art, textiles, enamel work, metal and woodwork. The furniture, embroideries, mural paintings and bookbindings produced by the Arts and Crafts Movement in Edinburgh, on the other hand, were often the products of a small number of craftspeople working independently or in small groups. However, in both cities an increased awareness of tradition and a vanishing past together with the growth of exhibiting groups during the 1890s and craft classes during the 1900s helped foster new aesthetics. The quality of the work produced in both cities between 1885 and 1925 was both technically and iconographically remarkable as is demonstrated by this fully illustrated volume. It reproduces contemporary photographic sources and the technical ability of skilfully crafted pieces is beautifully reproduced in colour plates capturing the best work of the Movement in both cities.
A factor receiving attention in this study is the ambivalent relationship each city enjoyed with its native cultural heritage and with England. In Dublin the association between art and politics was more profound than in Edinburgh, but the Dublin Arts and Crafts Movement was also concerned with social ideology similar to that found in the Edinburgh Movement.
While the architectural tradition was well represented by the Edinburgh Movement, unfortunately few Irish architects produced work in a progressive Arts and Crafts idiom. An interesting example of where a concern for the aesthetic forces of national art and architecture came together is exemplified by the decoration of the Honan Chapel on the grounds of University College, Cork built and decorated between 1915 and 1917. As one of the few new buildings designed and built during the Movement in Ireland the authors remind us of the importance of this chapel, one of the finest examples of the Dublin Arts and Crafts Movement.
The commentary sections are followed by two substantial catalogue sections which give biographical accounts of artists, designers, architects, craftsmen and women whose range of work deserves, and within this volume receives, contextual and critical re-evaluation. This publication is a valuable addition to the study of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and Ireland. Hopefully, it will inspire future comparative studies.

James G.R. Cronin

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