Christopher Dresser is widely acknowledged as one of the most creative and influential industrial designers of the past two-hundred years. Born in Glasgow, he attended the government-run School of Design at Somerset House in London, at the age of thirteen, focusing on the study of botany. Dresser met Owen Jones in 1852 and assisted in the publication of Jones’ landmark book, The Grammar of Ornament (1856). This led to Dresser’s interest in the artistic potential of plant forms and in 1862 published his own The Art of Decorative Design.
Objects made to his designs were first displayed at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, where Dresser was introduced to Japanese decorative objects. He became increasingly active as an industrial designer and developed working relationships with a number of pottery manufacturers including Minton and Wedgwood. By the early 1870s, Dresser was also designing for several metal shops, such as Hukin and Heath, Elkington, and James Dixon & Sons, who was the manufacturer of the exceptional teapot offered here.
Dresser traveled to Japan in 1876 and was deeply moved by the detailed exactness of the tea-drinking ceremony practiced by the Japanese aristocracy. When he returned home after this three-month journey, Dresser decided to design a series of teapots appropriate for single travelers. This example, Dixon shape number 2275, was made approximately three years later and clearly indicates how dramatically that Japanese trip impacted his aesthetics. Dresser revoked the contemporary British trend of having ornate repousse exteriors, and instead decided on smooth, undecorated surfaces. The gracefully angled rectangular spout and the low drum-shaped body, raised on six slender cylindrical feet, are highly reminiscent of the traditional Japanese sake bottle. The unusual small hinged semi-circular cover, situated at the front of the teapot, brings to mind the typical writing set frequently found in Japan. The flared circular knob further emphasizes the overall circular form of the teapot. All of which makes the long rectangular handle, made of ebonized wood and electroplated metal, all the more a striking and impactful visual counterpoint.
Dresser believed that an industrial designer “should be an artist in every sense of the word, yet he should be a utilitarian also. He should be able to perceive the utmost delicacies and refinements of artistic forms, yet he should value that which is useful for the very sake of its usefulness.” This teapot, considered not only of radical design at its time of creation, but appropriate even for the most modern of contemporary twenty-first century tastes, exquisitely fulfills that ideal. Never put into production, there are only three known examples, one of which is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh). This model, with its timeless design and beauty, truly exemplifies the decorative genius of Christopher Dresser.