A History of Curtains & Drapes Part Six

Part Six: Art Nouveau

The Arts and Crafts style was a direct rejection of the fussy and heavily ornamented tastes of the Victorians, and window treatments featured much simpler design and natural colours. The movement was also a reaction against the industrialized economy, including factory conditions for workers and the displacement of the true British craftsman and thus often harked romantically back to medieval times.  Inspired by writer John Ruskin and artist William Morris, design from this era is still admired and reproduced today.

British architect and furniture designer Charles Eastlake also helped revive the Early English or neo-gothic style, especially after  publication of Hints on Household Taste in Furniture, Upholstery and other Details, arguing for an end to lambrequins and valances in drapery and against the ‘burlesque quality’ of Victorian taste.

Art Nouveau was an overlapping movement of more European influence but also inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in the use of flower and plant designs but in its signature curling lines reminiscent of climbing trellises. Art Nouveau, like Arts and Crafts, was considered a way of life and a return to an earlier time.

Natural Fabrics and Colours

Morris in particular revived traditional wood block printing for fabrics in natural flora and fauna motifs, favouring natural textiles such as muslin, cotton voile, linen and wool.  Outer drapes were made of heavier weight linen, cotton or velvet, and popular colours included blue-gray, corn yellow, terra cotta, green, brown and a coppery gold. Patterns were likewise simplified in quiet stripes or solid colours with small patterns such as dots or embroidered plants to inspire a more relaxed, muted and soft look in contrast to the rich and more heavy-handed hues of the Victorians.  Sometimes these curtains had appliquéd or stencilled decorative borders, also in botanical themes.

Disrobing Layered Curtains

Arts and crafts windows aimed for simplicity by doing away with oppressive Victorian layers and often used only two sets of curtains or half curtains, the first a translucent sheer hung against glass to filter light and the outer drape drawn at night for insulation and privacy. The glass curtain was made of linen or muslin, sometimes designed to look like stained glass windows, and hung only to the window sill. However the roller blind made a comeback later in the period and, often stencilled with gold and green gingko leaves or stylized dragonflies, water lilies and rose medallions.

Outer curtains were only 1.5 times the width of window to encourage soft, gentle folds and did not reach the floor, sometimes not even falling far past the sill. In fact sometimes they were even mounted inside the window frame to pick up other decorative elements on the walls such as plate rails or friezes.

Arts and Crafts design also no longer tried to hide hardware, but incorporate it into design, and wood, brass or wrought iron poles hung on basic gooseneck brackets or drapery hooks which were usually devoid of ornamentation. Often the drapery fabrics were shirred directly onto retractable rods.

Curtains were also used in many other places in the home during the Arts and Crafts period, including portieres hung across drafty doorways or passages, over closets and utility spaces, and to keep the dust off bookcases.

Return in two weeks for Part Seven: Art Deco and Modernism