Truth, Beauty, Power: Chapter and Verse

“Truth, Beauty, Power” is a bimonthly series where we can share the wonderful details found within the Archive’s Christopher Dresser artworks with you. Every other month we’ll highlight one or more artworks from the Dresser Portfolio as detailed images, galleries, or interactive comparisons. We hope you enjoy them! You can also find out more about Dresser and his relationship with the company in our In Depth introduction to the series.

In a porfolio bursting at the seams with beautiful artwork it’s easy to become a little blasé, but beware: it’s only a matter of time before a striking design full of rich, vibrant colours and acres of brightly-glittering gold will leap off the page and pull you back in line. The examples below – part of a small group of designs in this style found within the Dresser Portfolio – fit this description perfectly, but these particular artworks are made even more distinctive thanks to the incorporation of biblical verses into their designs.

In this sumptuous design for a ewer and basin – which looks as though it were drawn yesterday such are the richness of the colours – the chosen verses, rather appropriately, read:

Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow
(Psalm 51:7)

When though fastest anoint thine head and wash thy face
(Matthew 6:17)

In the second design, for vase shape “1304”, specular highlights (the stripes of white “reflecting” off the yellow bands) and a subtle shadow effect have been included to give the appearance of a three-dimensional object. As before the striking colours belie the artwork’s age – it’s estimated that this illustration was penned around 1867.

When the chief shepherd shall appear ye shall receive a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4)


View the source artwork for the highlights above

What is Truth, Beauty, Power?

Long since I was so fully impressed with the idea that true art-principles are so perfectly manifested by these three words, that I embodied them in an ornamental device which I painted on my study door, so that all who entered might learn the principles which I sought to manifest in my works.

The imitation is always less beautiful than the thing imitated; and as each material has the power of expressing beauty truthfully, thus the want of truth brings its own punishment. Let the expression of our art ever be truthful.

Shapes which are not beautiful are rarely decorative. A composition that is beautiful must have no parts which could be taken from it and yet leave the remainder equally good or better. The perfectly beautiful is that which admits no improvement.

We now come to consider an art-element or principle of great importance, for if absent from any composition, feebleness or weakness is the result… power is antagonistic to weakness… power means energy; power implies a conqueror. Our compositions, then, must be powerful.

Christopher Dresser, Principles of Decorative Design

Principles of Decorative Design is available to read at the Internet Archive.