Saturday, 5 February 2011

William Railton, Thomas Morris and Style

I haven't found any published writings by William Railton, but some comments in a book by his admiring assistant Thomas Morris might throw some light on his attitudes to style. A House for the Suburbs is an odd work, full of curious asides and poetic flights .Obviously it would be wrong to view Morris merely as a mouthpiece for Railton - he is a man of decided views. But the passages on style seem to accord with Railton's practice.

The insecurity which made strength so exclusive a consideration down to Henry VI. had been succeeded by a gradual change in circumstances; and architecture was not slow in assuming the improvements available from augmented intercourse and more intimate continental relationship; and the "prodigal bravery in building" attained in the time of Elizabeth is especially noticed by Camden, " verily to the great ornament of the kingdom," though he simultaneously complains of the concomitant "riotous banquetting", and the decay of the "glorious hospitality of the nation."

The innovations in building at that time occurred most rapidly; the chief elements of modern houses were introduced; and from the engrafting of Italian scions on the old Gothic stock, arose that picturesque hybrid, which, not wholly indigenous nor altogether exotic we cheerfully accept as a national variety of art.

It may be divested of uniformity with unimpaired effect; the joint employment of brick and stone is an agreeable characteristic; and the interior decorations may be applied with a sparing or more liberal hand; while the predominating quaintness, the slight intrusion of the grotesque is favourable to richness, and a foil to criticism.

In other words, the Tudor style was practical, because it was not academic, or doctrinaire. The word "picturesque" seems to hark back to an earlier phase of the gothic revival. Tudor was appropriate because it was a native style; but then again not too native:

It is a natural and laudable impulse, which gives priority in choice to native features, without excluding the agreeable modifications and adventitious graces derivable from foreign observation.

Gothic correctness can be taken too far, it could become too Catholic:

The reaction in favour of Gothic art matured in a great degree by the felicitous pencils of Blore, Pugin and Scott, has been occasionally perverted into a sort of pre- Anglican counterpart of the pre-Raphaelite in painting. There is an example at W * * * where neither in church, school, or parsonage, a single feature calls to mind that a dynasty of Tudors have existed, or that the great event of Henry's life ever took place, and light continues to be shed from the lamp-makers version of a Papal tiara!

A little later he takes a sideswipe at the excesses of ecclesiology:

In throwing off a condition of sloth it was not necessary that zealous churchmen should adopt a style of rank exotic medievalism.

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