Special Collections: Pattern & Ornament

Owen Jones (1856) The Grammar of Ornament (GSA Library, Special Collections)

The Pattern & Ornament Collection includes a number of highly visual volumes of decorative motifs, published across the 19th and early 20th centuries. It reflects one of the then prevailing paradigms of art education, in which draughtsmanship and the copying of motifs for later re-use were privileged. At Glasgow School of Art, students were schooled in classes on flat pattern, ornament, and decoration. Today, the potential of these volumes often lies more in the abstract and geometric nature of their contents.

Pattern Encyclopedias

The collection is rich in encyclopedias of decoration and ornament. Such volumes were popular in the 19th century, as they provided rich seams of pattern for designers to copy and adapt. Many were grouped into sections useful to the designer, such as ‘floral’ or ‘Oriental’. Attempts to itemise and present in a single publication the myriad decorative motifs of disparate cultures can, to some extent, be seen to stem from the encyclopedist movement, with its roots in the French Enlightenment.

The Grammar of Ornament by Owen Jones is perhaps the best known of these volumes. Jones was concerned that popular museum displays would encourage students simply to copy examples of ornament, rather than be inspired to examine underlying decorative principles. Furthermore, their London locations made it difficult for students at the provincial Schools of Design to gain access. Through articles and lectures, Jones had been formulating what he considered to be the key principles of the decorative arts. He expanded his propositions to create “general principles in the arrangement of form and colour in architecture and the decorative arts”. The Grammar of Ornament was first published in 1856. The first 19 chapters presented key examples of ornament from a number of sources, notably the Middle East. The final chapter was titled ‘Leaves and Flowers from Nature’.

Polychromatic Ornament by Albert Racinet can be considered France’s monumental reply to Jones’ Grammar. Racinet’s visual record of 2000 examples ornament and decorative art from all over the world and throughout history originally appeared in ten instalments between 1869 and 1873 before being published in volume form. Today the portfolio of 100 colour plates is viewed as one of the masterpieces of 19th century chromolithography. The book features distinct sections on Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arabian and Moorish, and Byzantine design. Racinet’s colophon is explicit in noting that motifs have been arranged in historical order and in a form suitable for practical use, with his book very much intended as a tool from which contemporary designers might learn.

Glaswegian Christopher Dresser developed many of the concerns and much of the aesthetic of Jones, becoming a key figure in the burgeoning Aesthetic Movement. It was due in no small part to his influence that the decorative arts of Japan came to such prominence at the end of the 19th century. Studying at the School of Design in London, he specialised in botany and soon became known for articles illustrated how botanical motifs could be applied to design. His own design practice was widely eclectic, encompassing carpets, ceramics, furniture, glass, graphics, metalwork, textiles both printed and woven, and wallpapers. His Principles of Decorative Design was first published in 1873 and went on into 4 editions in just 10 years or so.

Other pattern encyclopedists featured in the collection include Heinrich Dolmetsch, A. W. Pugin, James Colling, Henry Shaw, Robert William Billings, and John Henry Parker. Pattern encyclopedias also feature prominently in the Stoddard-Templeton Collection.

Pickford Waller

Pickford Waller (1925) Sketchbook (GSA Mackintosh Library, Pattern & Ornament Collection)

We are lucky to hold 4 original sketchbooks by artist Pickford Waller (1849-1930), displaying decorative motifs and designs in ink and watercolour. A prolific artist, Waller designed bookplates, book covers, title pages, and page borders, and produced book designs for Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Laurence Binyon, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and James Guthrie’s Pear Tree Press. Waller was also a renowned collector of Whistler and others. A portrait of him by Matthew White Ridley resides in the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow. Designs by Waller reside in the Getty, V&A and Metropolitan Museum of Art. A small number of published designs by Waller can also be found in our Book Arts Collection.


The Pattern & Ornament Collection also features several volumes on heraldry, emblems, ciphers and insignia, including notable works by Alexander Nisbet, Charles Boutell, John Woodward, Antoine Pyron du Martre, Robert Brydall, Thomas Robson, Jouffroy d’Eschavannes, Charles Boutell and Ludovic Drigon. Within the context of Glasgow School of Art, these were normally purchased for their decorative content and potential, rather than for genealogical reasons.

Digital Volumes

We have digitised a selection of volumes from this collection, which you can view online or download.