Friday, January 11, 2013

The Embroidery Work of Hans Christiansen

Illustration: Hans Christiansen. Applique and embroidery design, c1900.

Embroidery has its traditions and it has its innovators, it also has those who straddle both camps, extending the discipline through its traditions. During the period that spans the last few years of the nineteenth century and the first few years of the twentieth, a whole range of artists and designers produced embroidery work. A number of individuals saw opportunity in whatever discipline they found themselves in, to stretch the parameters of that discipline, adding a new distinctiveness of creativity in which to build upon. One of these designers was Hans Christiansen.

Christiansen might not be as well known today as some names from the period that saw the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth. However, he was instrumental in publicising, through his work, the ideas of new art and design, particularly through the Jugendstil movement, which although often seen merely as the German version of the French Art Nouveau movement, was different in some fundamental ways, particularly in its visual effect and also that of its reasoning. Jugendstil was very much a continuation, at least in part, of the idealism of the original English Arts and Crafts movement, and then that of the German.

 Illustration: Hans Christiansen. Applique and embroidery design, c1900.

The German Arts and Crafts movement differed somewhat from that of the English. The German form was very much concerned with the idea of reform in both presentation and production. While the English favoured hand production, the German, although valuing hand production in its own right, realised that the momentum of the Arts and Crafts movement would be better placed on reform, and therefore to focus itself on raising the standards within production in general, whether hand of machine. 

Although an anathema to many English Arts and Crafts practitioners, the German interpretation worked efficiently and effectively, producing manufactured goods that concentrated on performance, ergonomics and customer satisfaction. The ideal of reform was also to be more evidently found in the visual effects of production, where tradition, so much a part of the English system, was only a part of the vocabulary of design, not its main instigator. Tradition within a discipline was seen by many in the German design world as the framework of a discipline. Within the framework, interpretation was deemed to be flexible.

Illustration: Hans Christiansen. Applique and embroidery design, c1900.

The examples of Christiansen's embroidery work shown in this article, all produced in around 1900; clearly show a disregard for any form of historical dominance. There is little to identify with any previous design era, as opposed to the English decorative world with its unrelenting and near constant reference to the past. Christiansen's work was deliberately and specifically non-historical. Part of his remit as a designer was to create a bold, contemporary look that that was detached, as much as possible, from tradition and history. Although, no one can truly work within a vacuum and all designers derive at least a percentage of their inspiration from the past, this particular era in Germany saw a bold attempt to break out of the habits formed in Europe where the overlayering of design styles had led to pastiche and formula rather than individuality and creativity.

Although, because Christiansen spent a number of years in Paris, he is often thought of as a German designer that was perhaps more influenced by the French understanding of Art Nouveau, than that of the German interpretation through the Jugendstil, it would be a mistake to think of him as approaching contemporary design and decoration purely through the eyes of a Frenchman. Christiansen made a specific and individual contribution to the German decorative arts that added to the feel and look of contemporary German design, one that was increasingly admired throughout Europe as the twentieth century progressed from the initial first few years.

Illustration: Hans Christiansen. Various embroidery designs, c1901.

Christiansen worked in many disciplines from graphics, through textiles, to wallpaper, stained glass, ceramics and decorative wall and ceiling painting. Through his wide-scaling range of creativity, he always made it a proviso to work in a clear, focused contemporary style, attempting to move the different disciplines away from a reliance on the past. In this respect he was largely successful and, although as I said earlier, perhaps not the best known designer of his period, he was an individual that moved the ideal of reform of creativity within the design disciplines, into a reality rather than a theory, and at the end of the day the practical result surely matters more than the theory.


pansypoo said...

very nice.


Your blog is astounding! -- barbara

Maria De Pascale said...

thanks for bringing to our attention a not so well-known embroiderer with this post while cramming a lot of information and balanced judgement at the same time

John hopper said...

Thanks so much for the comments. It's good to know that the articles are appreciated.

Embroidery designs said...

impressive work!