London’s Fashion and Textile Museum is tracing the history of 20th century textile design through an exhibition featuring rare examples by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and other artists better known for working with canvas than fabric.
The exhibition, titled “Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol,” opens January 31 and runs through May 17, 2014. More than 200 pieces, many of which are being displayed for the first time, will detail the evolution of textile design, touching on examples from major 20th century art movements, including Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, Abstraction, Surrealism, and Pop Art.
The story begins in the 1910s with designs conceived by members of the Omega Workshops, a collective that operated out of a Georgian townhouse in London. The artists, including Wyndham Lewis, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, wanted to change “the erroneous distinction between fine and applied art,” according to the museum. The Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy was among the first artists to put serious time and effort into coming up with textile designs, and his work influenced artists and companies in Britain, Europe, and the United States.
After World War II, such well-known artists as John Piper, Salvador Dali and Ben Nicholson had taken up textile design, crafting fabrics that in some cases were turned into commercial clothing. By the 1960s, Pablo Picasso was allowing his paintings to be reproduced on most types of fabric, upholstery excepted. As the curators note, “Picassos may be leaned against, not sat upon.”
“This exhibition of rare fashion and furnishing fabrics by artists highlights the quality of textiles as a medium for combining art and mass production,” says Celia Joicey, head of the Fashion and Textile Museum. “With recently discovered works by Dufy, Dali, [Joan] Miro, and Picasso, we hope to shed new light on artistic practice in the mid-20th century.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by the book Artists’ Textiles: 1945-1976 by Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain, and Annamarie Stepleton, published by ACC Publishing.
Will Lamb is a writer and editor based in Jersey City, New Jersey. He served as a senior editor at Dwell from 2013 to 2015.