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Reviewed by:
  • Grand Designs: Labor, Empire, and the Museum in Victorian Culture
  • Julie F. Codell (bio)
Grand Designs: Labor, Empire, and the Museum in Victorian Culture by Lara Kriegel; pp. xviii + 306. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2007. $106.00 cloth; $30.00 paper.

Lara Kriegel brings design history into the discourses of art history, labour studies, and museum studies to understand, as her punning title implies, how design history was linked to the empire-museum nexus. She begins with the 1851 Great Exhibition, which was both a culmination of earlier debates over design education and a springboard for later debates over relations of design, imperial commerce, and museums. In the 1840s and 50s, the artisan was empowered and given a public profile by emerging aesthetic debates over the marriage of design and manufacturing, which the Great Exhibition revealed as lacking in British goods. The Exhibition brought industrial arts into a public space where objects and their manufacturing machines were displayed. Following the historical trajectory of design from a working-class form of art education to a place within Victorian liberalism, Kriegel seeks to embed culture in social history. Her totalizing offer of "a seamless institutional narrative" (13), an unfortunate phrase that suggests a master narrative, is offset by her insightful analyses of contested moments of intersecting cultural and social histories.

Chapter 1 examines the Government School of Design from its beginning in 1837. There were competing models for schools of design, and these were marked by the social class of their intended students and their educational practices. The Royal Academy (R.A.) anticipated students who were middle-and upper-class young men and was modelled on late-Renaissance academies identified by the study of the human figure for the acquisition of drawing skills, ideally to be used in history painting, the acme of all genres.

The other model was a vocational model designed to train working-class students in basic design patterns, ultimately for designing manufactured objects. Academy-trained painters did not always agree with one another over whether design students should study from the nude. Benjamin Robert Haydon thought they should; William Dyce, that such study was unfit for design schools. Clearly, such debates were more about class than pedagogy, and they provoked student [End Page 158] protests and breakaway academies, undergirded by the increasing publication of drawing books for the public that demystified and de-privileged drawing.

In addition, national interests were at stake: the Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures heard testimony on curricula for design schools, putting the matter into the discourse about national interests in improving manufacturing design. When given the authority to manage the design school, the R.A., not surprisingly, forbade figure study, though its hours and fees made it inaccessible to most working-class aspirants anyway. Finally, Dyce, appointed head of the School of Design, introduced figure study, since design students lacked drawing skill, best learned through study of the human figure. Kriegel follows the Manchester branch of the School of Design, where figure study was first instituted, then suppressed, provoking a student revolt in 1843. London students revolted in 1845 under similar circumstances. Kriegel examines the Penny Magazine's reproduced Renaissance paintings that promoted a combination of aesthetics and vocationalism for artisans. She concludes, however, that in the end the market, not aesthetics, drove criticism of the school for not training designers to meet market demands.

Chapter 2 focuses on copyright debates from 1839, provoked by pirated designs for textiles, porcelain, and wallpaper. Kriegel unearths archival material on copyright, aesthetic reform, the free market, the "foreign invasion" (55) of Indian calicoes, and British protectionism. Protectionism induced British provincial cotton manufacturers to copy Indian goods using new technologies, pitting London printers against provincial "pirates." As global markets homogenized tastes in Europe, the Americas, and the Levant, design patterns were disseminated by shops, travelling merchants, the press, and catalogues, all available to imitators. Kriegel explores pattern books, too often ignored by cultural historians, to offer "different values accorded to pattern by the proponents of [copyright] extension and their adversaries" (83). This innovative conjunction maps linkages among design functions, aesthetics, business, and class politics.

In chapter 3, Kriegel argues that the Great Exhibition...


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