Lead-crystal glass had been developed in Britain in the seventeenth century and decoration was produced by the use of criss-cross cuts to form patterns. These became more and more complex and by the beginning of the 19th century had become traditional and no new developments were taking place. Then, in the 1820s, the technique of moulding glass was developed and in the 1870s, blown glass made its appearance.
Dresser wrote, "Glass has a molten state in which it can be blown into the most beautiful of shapes. This process is the work of but a few seconds. If a material is worked in its most simple and befitting manner, the results are more beautiful than those which are arrived at by any roundabout method of production".
His designs were practical because they were based on a sound understanding of the manufacturing techniques involved.
As well as new techniques for producing glass, new types of glass were developed in the 19th century. One of these was Clutha glass which was used by James Couper & Sons. This glass was bubbled and streaked throughout and was used for many of Dresser's designs. This signified a change of fashion, as, until the latter part of the 19th century, glassmakers spent time and effort trying to remove unwanted airbubbles. Now they were being left in so that the object had the appearance of ancient Roman glass.
Dresser based some of his shapes on Egyptian, Islamic and Roman models as well as creating original ones. He was interested in the colouring of glass but not in its ornamentation, preferring to concentrate on the beauty of form, which he considered was the outcome of designing an object with its function in mind. He did not like the popular fashion of engraving glass but his opinion made little difference to current production.
Along with the developments in ornamental glass, technical improvements in the manufacture of sheet glass, coupled with the abolition in 1851 of a tax on windows according to their size, led to houses having much larger windows than had previously been the case. As a result of this, rooms were now flooded with light and visible to passers-by. This led not only to the development of lace curtains to cut down the glare and provide privacy but also to the use of stained-glass windows in rooms and on staircases with a view to the outside.
Dresser's approach to the design of stained glass windows differed from that of his contemporary William Morris whose work was mainly religious and figurative. It was Dresser's opinion that many stained glass windows were utterly spoiled through the window being treated as a picture, and not as a protection from the weather and as a source of light. He said, "If pictorially treated subjects are employed upon window glass, they should be treated very simply, and drawn in bold outline without shading, and the parts should be separated from each other by varying their colours". He advocated the use of subdued colours in designs with only very small inserts of bold ones.
An example of a house whose interior was totally decorated by Dresser is Bushloe House in Leicester, England. Not only did he choose the wallpaper and floor coverings, the furniture, some of which he designed, and other decorative objects, he also designed the skylight which was a feature of the house.
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