Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol

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One of the group of four screen-printed rayon headsquares designed by Marcel Vertes for Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics Inc., circa 1944.
Henri Matisse’s first design for Ascher, ‘Echarpe No. 1’, was exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery, 1947. One of the two coral-based designs, it was intended to be produced in a limited edition of 275.
‘Sun God’ by Pádraig Macmiadhacháin for David Whitehead’s ‘Living Art’ collection, 1969.
 (Steve Tanner)
Steve TannerNumber, Please?’ a silk scarf designed by Dali for Wesley Simpson circa 1947. The design is derived from a sequence in Dali’s animation for Disney of 1946, Destino.
‘Ballerina’, a screen-printed silk scarf designed by Salvador Dali for Wesley Simpson circa 1947.
 (Steve Tanner)
Steve Tanner‘Spring Rain’ a furnishing textile from Schiffer Prints’ second ‘Stimulus’ collection, 1949. Dali’s surrealist designs of the 1940s had a wide influence on textile design in the USA for the next ten years.
‘Manhattan’, a block-printed cotton, furnishing textile, designed by Ruth Reeves and produced by W & J Sloane. This design was exhibited at the International Exhibition of Metalwork & Cotton Textiles, 1930, under the title ‘Canyons of Steel.’
Dress designed by John Tullis for Horrockses Fashions, made from a textile designed by Eduardo Paolozzi. The Artwork for this textile was one of two by Paolozzi exhibited at ‘Painting into Textiles’, 1953. Highly publicized at the time, this stunning design was produced in at least two colourways.
Printed cotton dress by Horrockses Fashions, made from a textile designed by Graham Sutherland, circa 1949, and featured in both Tatler and The Queen. Sutherland’s work with textiles was extensive, from carpets in the 1940s through to scarf designs for Hardy Amies in the 1960s.
Lucian Freud’s winning design for furnishing fabric, shown at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing and published in Art & Industry, October 1942.
 (Steve Tanner)
Steve Tanner‘Circus’, the first textile design by John Rombola to be produced by Patterson Fabrics, 1956. Rombola’s designs were also produced as wallpapers by Patterson’s sister companies, Piazza Prints and Harben Papers.
 (Steve Tanner)
Steve Tanner‘White Trellis’, an artist’s square designed by Graham Sutherland for Ascher Ltd, 1946. Screen –printed rayon. A version of this scarf and a companion design were exhibited by Ascher at ‘Britain Can Make It’, 1946, alongside Henry Moore’s ‘Standing Figures’ and yardage by Gerald Wilde.
One of the group of four screen-printed rayon headsquares designed by Marcel Vertes for Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics Inc., circa 1944.
One of the group of four screen-printed rayon headsquares designed by Marcel Vertes for Wesley Simpson Custom Fabrics Inc., circa 1944.
 (Steve Tanner)
Steve Tanner‘Endless – Where?’ a printed rayon tie designed by Salvador Dali, late 1940s. Dali created numerous tie designs throughout the 1940s for a number of companies.
Parade’, by Rombola for Patterson Fabrics, 1957, was also printed as a wallpaper by Piazza Prints.
Screen-printed velvet furnishing textile, designed by Duncan Grant and intended for use on the P & O liner ‘Queen Mary’, produced by Allan Walton 1936.
 (Steve Tanner)
Steve TannerBen Nicholson’s ‘Princess,’ hand block-printed cotton, designed circa 1933.
‘Family Group’, an artist’s square designed by Henry Moore for Ascher, was exhibited both at ‘Britain Can Make It’, 1946, and the Lefevre Gallery, 1947, as well as being used for the cover of Grace Lovat Fraser’s book, Textiles by Britain, 1948. The original sketches for the square date from circa 1944.
‘Chiesa De La Salute’, one of the Sanderson centenary textiles designed by Piper in 1959, and issued in 1960.
A silk square, designed by Sonia Delaunay, and produced in a limited edition by Liberty of London, 1969.
‘Fall’, designed by Cliff Holden for Heal Fabrics, 1960. Holden, Grönwall and Nilsson, were known collectively as the ‘Marstrand Designers’.
 (Steve Tanner)
Steve TannerDetail of ‘Flower Ballet’ a textile designed by Salvador Dali, circa 1947, printed by Wesley Simpson on their ‘Pebble Crêpe’ rayon, giving this design a further surreal aspect.

A comprehensive survey of over-200 works on fabric by leading 20th-Century artists including Pablo Picasso Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Henry Moore, Andy Warhol and Barbra Hepworth. In the 1910s, led by painter Wyndham Lewis and the artists of Bloomsbury’s Omega Workshops, artists begun to reconsider the distinction between fine and applied art. Raoul Dufy was the first 20th-century artist to become successfully involved in producing textile designs. After the war the movement to create ‘a masterpiece in every home’ flowered with the involvement of leading contemporary artists: John Piper, Salvador Dalí, Ben Nicholson and Steinberg. Eventually, these art textiles were turned into commercial clothing: a Joan Miró dress, a Salvador Dalí tie. By the 1960s, Picasso was allowing his pictures to be printed on almost any fabric, save upholstery. The sofa was a line he wouldn’t cross, as the curators note: ‘Picassos may be leaned against, not sat on.’


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Artist Textiles tells the story of 20th century art through textiles. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the democratisation of modern art through collaboration between artists and fabric manufacturers. The exhibition opens with a series of diverse and attractive pieces from before WWII, a time in which textile design, like graphic design, became a legitimate way for an artist to diversify their practice.

The ground floor of the main gallery explores British and American fashions in the 1940s and 50s. Highlights include dresses from Horrockses, a dressmaker popularised by Princess Margaret but affordable by all. The Pop Artists were also heavily involved in textile design, as evidenced by beautiful pieces by Independent Group members Edouardo Paolozzi and Nigel Henderson (and their wives). 

Upstairs, the Pop Art theme continues, with a detailed study of textile work by Andy Warhol. Less well-known for his textiles, Picasso produced a collection of furnishing fabrics, also on display. The artist said they could be used for any application except upholstery, as he did not want his work to be sat on. Picasso’s unlikely collaboration with ski-wear brand White Stag is also featured - the ‘Hostess Culottes Dress’ is a particular treat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zandra Rhodes also has a section in the exhibition. But then, she did build the museum, so perhaps that’s only fair. Over all, Artist Textiles affords the viewer a fascinating view of 20th century art in a non-fine art medium. If nothing else, there are some fabulous frocks.

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