Truth, Beauty, Power: Class Letter G

“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.

This month the line between Truth, Beauty, Power and our other long-running series, Magnificent Majolica, becomes a little blurred. That’s because all the illustrations featured in the gallery below are marked with the class letter “G”, identifying them as majolica designs. The corresponding section in the 1871 Art Catalogue lists twenty two “coloured drawings” as being attributed to “Doctor Dresser”, seven of which we’ve used in this post:

84. Decorative Vase […] 93. [Design] for a tea cup & saucer, conventional flowers & leaves […] 96. Small low vase […] 98. We’re a band of Brothers 99. small upright vase […] 103. small flat circular Vase with Bird

The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the extract above only highlights the descriptions of six of the seven items – that’s because there seems to have been a mix-up when item G.102 was originally recorded in the Art Catalogue. Described as a nine inch tile the artwork labelled G.102 is actually of a small vase, with a faint pencil annotation next to the design’s identifying number reading “thrown & Turned for Earthw – 6″ Diam. fired”.


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.