Owen Jones and Islamic inspiration

30 January 2011–30 April 2011

The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design

The exhibition features 105 objects, including several original designs, lithographs, books and objects by Owen Jones himself as well as by other British, European and Norwegian designers who were inspired by his Islamic discovery and vision.

The exhibition, examines how the Victorian design establishment, with Owen Jones in the lead, looked within Islamic art to adopt the ideal of geometric abstraction, flat pattern and polychromy to develop a new vision for the future. European material and intellectual culture drew heavily on the Arab world in the Medieval and Renaissance periods, and this was repeated in the 19thcentury to an extent that has hardly been realised, and which in fact has continued to this day. This exhibition reveals how the West turned to the Islamic world to create a much needed modern style in design and architecture.  

Islamic art had an enormous impact in British and European design and architecture in the second half of the nineteenth century, giving it a new sophistication and greater integrity. A leading agent of this design revolution was Owen Jones (1809–1874), a skilled and versatile designer and architect, and one of the main art theorists of his age. Drawing on the unrivalled collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, this exhibition shows how and why Jones was able to bring this great change about.

Jones’s new theories, rooted in his studies of the Alhambra Palace in Spain, enabled him to create ground breaking interior design for the first world fair in London in 1851. His advocacy of Islamic art as a model for contemporary designers was a prominent feature of his work as a design educator in the following decade, and it is reflected in his profond contribution to the formation of the Victoria and Albert Museum. His theories were most extensively featured in his great design sourcebook, The Grammar of Ornament (1856), which was hugely influential in Victorian design reform and is still used by designers today.

The exhibition is organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in collaboration with the National Museum.

Curators in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Mariam Rosser-Owen and Abraham Thomas
Curator in the National Museum: Widar Halén