The Info List - Owen Jones (architect)

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OWEN JONES (15 February 1809 – 19 April 1874) was an English-born Welsh architect. A versatile architect and designer, he was also one of the most influential design theorists of the nineteenth century. He helped pioneer modern color theory , and his theories on flat patterning and ornament still resonate with contemporary designers today.

He rose to prominence with his studies of Islamic decoration at the Alhambra
, and the associated publication of his drawings, which pioneered new standards in chromolithography . Jones was a pivotal figure in the formation of the South Kensington Museum
South Kensington Museum
(later to become the V&A ) through his close association with Henry Cole , the museum's first director, and another key figure in 19th century design reform. Jones was also responsible for the interior decoration and layout of exhibits for the Great Exhibition
Great Exhibition
building of 1851, and for its later incarnation at Sydenham . Jones advised on the foundation collections for the South Kensington
South Kensington
museum, and formulated decorative arts principles which became teaching frameworks for the Government School of Design , then at Marlborough House
Marlborough House
. These design propositions also formed the basis for his seminal publication, The Grammar of Ornament, the global and historical design sourcebook for which Jones is perhaps best known today.

Jones passionately believed in the search for a modern style unique to the nineteenth century – one which was radically different to the prevailing aesthetics of Neo-Classicism and the Gothic Revival. He looked towards the Islamic world for much of this inspiration, using his carefully observed studies of Islamic decoration at the Alhambra to develop bold new theories on flat patterning, geometry and abstraction in ornament. The V&A's Word "> Joseph dreams of stars: page from The History of Joseph and His Brethren (1869), a sample of an illustrated book by Jones.

Printing Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra
had been a significant financial strain for Jones, but the publication had gained Jones a huge profile due to its pioneering standards of chromolithography. After, and possibly during, the long gestation period for Alhambra, Jones used his printing press to enter the lucrative market for illustrated and illuminated gift books which were becoming increasingly popular with the Victorian middle class. Jones designed both secular and religious books (collaborating most notably with the publishers Day & Son and Longman "> The Great Exhibition 1851

Jones was employed as one of the Superintendents of Works for the Great Exhibition
Great Exhibition
of 1851. He was responsible for not only the decoration of Joseph Paxton 's gigantic cast iron and glass palace, but also for the arrangement of the exhibits within, and this was the architectural project which first brought Jones to the wider public's attention. Based on his observations of primary colour polychromy within the architecture of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece
and at the Alhambra, he chose a simple palette of red, yellow and blue for the interior ironwork. Colour theories were relatively new, and his controversial paint scheme created much debate and negative publicity in the newspapers and journals of the day. Crucially, after early viewings, Prince Albert maintained his support, and Jones ploughed on regardless. The public and professional criticism gradually dissipated until the building was eventually unveiled by Queen Victoria to much critical acclaim – some commenting that Jones's colouring was similar in effect to the paintings of Turner . Jones had been offered a rare chance to put some of his theories on polychromy into practice on a grand scale: six million people witnessed his vision at the Great Exhibition during its short existence – roughly three times the population of London at that time.


General view of The Crystal Place at Sydenham

After the Great Exhibition
Great Exhibition
closed, the "Crystal Palace " was re-erected in Sydenham . Jones was given joint responsibility, with Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820–1877), for the decoration and layout for this new incarnation which opened in 1854 as a permanent venue for education and entertainment. Jones and Digby Wyatt envisaged a series of 'Fine Arts Courts' which would take the visitor through a grand narrative of the history of design and ornament. Jones had the opportunity to re-visit his work at the Alhambra
by building a luxurious re-creation of the famed palace in the ' Alhambra
Court'. He also designed the Egyptian, Greek and Roman courts. For its first thirty years, the Crystal Palace at Sydenham welcomed approximately 2 million visitors a year, which is roughly equal to the number of visitors the V"> A typical plate from the Grammar (plate XXXV from the 1868 folio edition)

Through his work at the Great Exhibition, Jones developed a close working relationship with the civil servant Henry Cole (1808–1882) who went on to become the first director of the South Kensington Museum (later to become the V"> Illustration from The Grammar of Ornament (1856)

Jones was able to disseminate his theories on pattern and ornament through his work for several of the key manufacturers of the period, thus facilitating public consumption of his decorative visions in a number of diverse contexts. During the 1840s, having been inspired by the tilework at the Alhambra, Jones became known for his designs for mosaics and tessellated pavements, working for firms such as Maw & Co., Blashfield and Minton . He designed wallpapers for several firms from the 1840s until the 1870s including Townsend and Parker , Trumble & Sons and Jeffrey & Co. Jones was also prolific in the field of textiles – designing silks for Warner, Sillett & Ramm and carpets for Brinton and James Templeton & Co. Jones also immersed himself in a number of decorative schemes for domestic interiors, most notably working in collaboration with the London firm Jackson & Graham to produce furniture and other fittings.


Due to the overwhelming impact, influence and enduring legacy of The Grammar of Ornament, it can be easy to forget that Jones was, during his lifetime, well known to the public for his work as an architect. This skew in our contemporary perception of Jones's work is made particularly acute because many of Jones's built projects have since been demolished or otherwise destroyed – most notably the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, which was lost forever due to a fire in 1936. His most important building was St James\'s Hall , which was located between Piccadilly
and Regent Street
Regent Street
and for almost fifty years was London's principal concert hall. Jones was also responsible for two grand shopping emporiums: the Crystal Palace Bazaar and a showroom for Osler’s, the glassware manufacturer, both in the West End. These three buildings all opened within a few years of each other, between 1858 and 1860, but had all been demolished by 1926. Their sumptuous polychromed interiors of cast iron, plaster and stained glass were breathtaking monuments to leisure and consumption.

One of the earliest examples of Jones’s decoration as applied to architecture (and one of the few examples to exist today, albeit restored) was his work on Christ Church, Streatham , built in 1841 by James Wild (1814–1892), who later became Jones's brother-in-law. Jones was responsible for the interior decoration, but would most probably have also contributed to the design of the exterior which exhibits brick polychromy and architectural details with Byzantine
and Islamic influences. During the early 1860s, Jones was commissioned to design the South Kensington
South Kensington
Museum's Indian Court and Chinese & Japanese Court, collectively known as the Oriental Courts. The V&A also holds design drawings by Jones for a speculative 'Alhambra' Court, which presumably would have housed exhibits of Islamic art
Islamic art
– but for reasons which remain unclear, this scheme was rejected in favour of his designs for the Chinese & Japanese Court. By the early twentieth century, the Oriental Courts were closed, but conservation work carried out in the 1980s has shown that much of Jones's decoration still exists beneath the modern paintwork.

Also in the 1860s, Jones designed a number of luxurious interiors for high-profile clients, in collaboration with firms such as Jackson & Graham (for furniture) and Jeffrey & Co. (for wallpapers.) For the art collector Alfred Morrison , Jones designed the interiors for his country house at Fonthill (1863) and for his London town house at 16 Carlton House Terrace (1867.) In what he described as the great triumph of his life, Jones was also commissioned to design interiors for the palace of the Viceroy
of Egypt, Ismail Pasha , in Cairo (1864.) The work at Carlton House Terrace and the Viceroy's Palace was noted for Jones's mastery of Arab
and Moorish
design principles.


Form without colour is like a body without a soul.

Who then will dare say that there is nothing left for us but to copy the five or seven-lobed flowers of the thirteen century? True art consists of idealising, and not copying, the forms of nature. Owen Jones, 1865


* 1809: Owen Jones born on 15 February at 148 Thames Street, London * 1825: begins an apprenticeship with the architect, Lewis Vulliamy * 1829: begins attendance at the architectural class at the Royal Academy schools * 1832–4: sets out on a Grand Tour to the Continent , travelling first to Italy and Greece
(where he meets the architect, Jules Goury) then continuing with Goury to Egypt
and Turkey
before arriving at Granada
in southern Spain where they complete a detailed analysis of the Islamic decoration at the Alhambra
Palace * 1834: Goury dies of cholera at the Alhambra. Jones returns to London and issues Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra
in twelve parts between 1836 and 1845, pioneering new standards in chromolithography * 1840—2: Jones carries out the decoration for James Wild's Christ Church, Streatham , in a mixture of Islamic and Byzantine
styles * 1842: contributes drawings to the publication Designs for Mosaic and Tessellated Pavements which helps establish Jones's reputation as a designer of tilework and geometric patterns * 1840s—1860s: designs a number of illustrated and illuminated gift books for publishers including Longman & Co. and Day ">

* ^ Clouse, p. 179. * ^ Edwards, p. 147. * ^ Clouse, p. 66. * ^ Clouse, p. 179. * ^ Flores, C.A.H. 1996, Owen Jones, Architect, A Dissertation, Atlanta: Georgia Institute of Technology. * ^ Clouse, p. 15. * ^ Clouse, p. 66.


* Clouse, Doug. "The Handy Book of Artistic Printing: Collection of Letterpress Examples with Specimens of Type, Ornament, Corner Fills, Borders, Twisters, Wrinklers, and other Freaks of Fancy”. Princeton Architectural Press, 2009. * Crinson, M. Empire Building: Orientalism and Victorian Architecture ( Routledge
, 1996) * Darby, M. The Islamic Perspective: An Aspect of British Architecture and Design in the 19th Century (exhibition catalogue, World of Islam
Festival Trust, 1983) * Darby, M. Owen Jones and the Eastern Ideal (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Reading , 1974) * Edwards, Clive. "Interior Design: A Critical Introduction". Berg Publishers, 2011. * Ferry, K. R. Awakening a Higher Ambition: The Influence of Travel upon the Early Career of Owen Jones (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge , 2004) * Ferry, K. R. Printing the Alhambra
(Architectural History , vol. 46, 2003) * Flores, Carol A. Hrvol. "Owen Jones: Design, Ornament, Architecture & Theory in an Age of Transition". Rizzoli, 2006. * Jespersen, J. K. Originality and Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament of 1856 ( Journal of Design History , vol. 21, no. 2, 2008) * Sloboda, S. The Grammar of Ornament : Cosmopolitanism and Reform in British Design (Journal of Design History, vol. 21, no. 3, 2008) * S. Ashmore, Owen Jones and the V&A Collections ( V&A Online Journal, Issue 1, 2008)