Styles of the Aesthetic Movement


The Aesthetic Movement consisted of a group of artists who wanted to sell their designs to everybody, 'art for all' was a guiding principle of the aesthetes. They took and developed the popular designs of the day and brought them to the mass market thereby creating a vast array of designs that were widely enjoyed. Their group was spawned shortly after the birth of the Arts & Crafts Movement who seemed more concerned with promoting the interests of the artists rather than the interests of the customer. The Arts and Crafts artists not only took inspiration from medieval style but medieval manufacturing processes when mass production was not available and the artist and the craftsman were one and the same.

The Aesthetic Movement sought to bring popular designs to the general public at a reasonable cost by using modern manufacturing methods. They were incredibly successful, especially compared to the arts and crafts movement. Aesthetic designs made using modern manufacturing methods produced better quality goods at a fraction of the price. A lot of the general consumers may not have noticed the quality difference but they sure noted the price and of course they didn't want to pay over the odds. The price difference was not a few tens of percent more for a better product but usually several times more, or even an order of magnitude, often for poorer quality wares.

The aesthetic artists met the challenge of the massive market with diversity and innovation in their designs. As new influences, like Japanese and Persian, came to the fore they were incorporated in to the aesthetic movement's designs. Japanese influence struck a chord with the aesthetes, the purity and simplicity of design coordinating well with the movement and easily adapatable to mass production. The artists also worked in the factories tailoring their designs to the manufacturing means available and their influence pushing technical innovation to achieve the results they desired.

Those elements from nature that are commonplace, foliage, flowers and birds, predominated in medieval art and have a simplistic, child-like quality. The aesthetic artists similarly began with such natural forms, abstract designs were limited to borders (which in turn also often included stylised natural elements) and backgrounds. The aesthetic style in it's pure form is easily recognised. There is an archetypal layout wherein several elements are positioned without reference to the natural order. A potted plant may hover above a miniature landscape, or the design be dominated by a sunflower or daisy in a circular frame which brings it above the several smaller drawings of flora and fauna behind. Another is the trellis like grid overdecorated with flora and fauna, some elements restricted to one square but others reaching two or more.

But perhaps the quintessential aesthetic design is the quartered tile as popularised by William Morris in the 1860s. One of his most popular patterns, 'Longden', had floral sprigs in two opposing quarters the other quarters having similar stylised flowerheads. On many arts and crafts and aesthetic tiles each quarter had a different simple and stylised floral sprig, the divided pattern forming in to a trellis when tiles were arranged en block. This basic quartered layout developed in to a wide range of more complex designs, the output of the Aesthetic Movement with their larger market and collaborative instincts far outstripping the Arts & Crafts movement. There was cross pollenation, the art and crafts artists learning from and copying some of the aesthetic artists designs.  

In the 1880s Japanese art was reintroduced to England, their styles were a good fit with aesthetic design and became very popular. Bamboo is just a natural aesthete and the stylised crane in flight also became a popular element in design of the period (but we have had a crane tile with a registered design for 1868). Many aesthetic artists took the opportunity to broaden their portfolios blending oriental and aesthetic styled elements. Towards the end of the century as artists and designers further sought new expositions of an essentially simple style that had been popular for decades styles became complex and more realistic representation of natural forms came to the fore.

If there's one element that sets 'aesthetic design' apart it is that each design was composed of a number of elements. Even borders were strong contributors rather than the plainer frame to emphasise the central motif. Some series of designs had different borders for each one in the series, some designs even had a different border pattern on each edge. Designs proliferate with an abundance of almost miniature detail building to a complex feast of vision that can not fail to entertain the eye. This contrasts strongly with the following Art Nouveau period, when designs were bold and strong and occupied a lot of space. As the aesthetic style disappeared in to a wealth of fine detail many designs began to have a similar feel, that of a mass of busy pattern. And so botanical tiles with a bold near-realistic flower design were the natural reaction to the overwhelming complexity. Technology played it's part too as the design emphasis shifted from complexity of artwork to the brilliance of gloss colour and the lighting effects of three dimensions.

The advent of majolica tiles would have hastened the demise of complex aesthetic style, the complexity not suited to the majolica manufacturing process. Earlier (lead glaze) majolica tiles were always rather crude (not the Mintons etc true majolica, opaque glazes on red clay) and the degree of complexity of aesthetic design in the latter half of the 1880s could not be cost effectively translated in to majolica. The propronderence of more expensive processes 'Marsden's Patent' popularised by Wedgwood, 'Barbotine' most used by Sherwin & Cotton and 'reverse encaustic' used in Jackfield were popular as the best way to achieve good definition, especially of colour, in moulded tiles.

Sherwin & Cotton were one of the leading exponent of the aesthetic style on tiles producing a range of designs that caught the public's imagination. Close cooperation with artists spurred innovation at the company, both technical and artistic. Sherwins were one of the first to produce bright reds, mauves and purples in (durable) underglaze colours and their expertise with glazes is illustrated by the relationship with George Cartlidge. Many of his designs would not have been not possible without the technical prowess of the glazes and his designs showed off the glazes to their greates extent, the artist and the technologists working hand in hand. Minton Hollins were the archetypal 'big company' and produced a wide range of designs in the aesthetic style as did many of the other tile companies on the last quarter of the 19th century and many smaller concerns.

Whilst aesthetic figural designs often have the artist attributed the bulk of floral/geometric designs were by unknown artists. The best known aesthetic artists are John Moyr Smith, Walter Crane, Lewis Day, Kate Greenaway and Christopher Dresser. Their principle of art for all is further illustrated that they all designed for a wide range of products notably the other mass medium of the day, printing. Their illustrations adorned many books and magazines of the last quarter of the 19th century.

Yet none of these names are as well known as the Arts and Crafts artists William Morris and William de Morgan despite that the aesthetes did works as good or better than these two. A major part of this is that both Morris and de Morgan set up their own factories and so established their brands. Neither were particularly successful as managers, both took in partners to run the businesses. It can be argued that their involvement in management distracted them from the tasks of designing and making their wares.

The rise of the Aesthetic Movement coincided with and went hand in hand with technological advances that brought real art of a good quality to the vast majority of the population. Had it not been for them art and style would have remained restricted to the wealthy few, we owe a great debt to these guys. But after near three decades from it's start as a simple style with it's foundations in the medieval style popularised by William Morris it had evolved in to a mass of complexity and run out of steam leaving the door open for the striking contrast of Art Nouveau.



The 'standard' aesthetic layout. A quartered design with apparently randomly positioned designs in each segment. Based on popular early William Morris' designs.


Another 'standard' two quadrants with matching stylised flowerheads the other two with different sprigs. Transfer printed to imitate block printing which was a medieval process acceptable to the Arts & Crafts movement. The design is loosely based on a pattern known as 'Longden' by William Morris.

Minton Hollins

Another variation on the 'standard' aesthetic layout, two of the quarters further divided in to four parts.


The 'standard' aesthetic layout broken in to more segments. Transfer printed to imitate medieval block printing. An 8 inch square tile.

 Unattributed probably made by Minton Hollins for another company.

Blossom was a popular subject.

Maker uncertain, most likely Boote

Here we have the blossom and the fruit too, spring and autumn together.


Rather unusual for an aesthetic design from Minton Hollins as the tile uses strong reds and blues.

Minton Hollins

Blossom was a popular subject but butterflies much less common. Note the opposing images are similar but rotated.


Designs were sometimes further divided, here creating a trellis effect.

Sherwin & Cotton, 1888

And again the division goes on. Four of these make a great chess board.

Made for Barnard, Bishop and Barnard

Design registered 1880.

Minton Hollins

Made at Broseley so pre 1884. Most unusual oriental elements including a dragon, fish, bird and flowers

Maw & Co

Unusual subjects, sea creatures and seaweed.

E Smith

Great arts and crafts decoration, this would not be possible to print and retain it's life. Clearly free hand painted the artist having a genuine feel for the flow of the design. The four corner aesthetic layout taken to a new level.

Doulton Lambeth

Random arrangement of simple floral and foliate motifs.

Mintons China Works and others for Barnard, Bishop and Barnard

Similar idea from Wedgwood. This tile has a translucent coloured lead glaze over the print. It is more often found with a typical clear glaze.


Quintessentially aesthetic with Japanese influence.

Sherwin & Cotton

The Japanese influence showing again. Bamboo is a natural aesthete. The little birds and butterflies add as do the range of patterns within the border.


Design registered 1881. Characteristic bamboo leaves and a cracked ice background.

Mintons China Works

Strong Japanese influence, an unusual very full design.


A simplified and stylised sunflower or daisy appears on many Aesthetic designs. An unusual design which merges three 'corners' in to one. A purposeful vertical design with a complimentary tile flowing the other way.

Craven Dunnill

45 degree lines are often used to segment aesthetic patterns. Here a 45 degree line links the two circular vignettes.


The 45 degree split was another way to divide a tile though it rarely ran from corner to corner as in this example.


Many characteristic aesthetic elements

Sherwin & Cotton

Complex division of this design including an underwater view of fish swimming. Design registered 1883.

T A Simpson

An extremely well made 1880s flowers in vase design.


Highly stylised for it's date (1884), simple floral and geometric motifs in a most unusual layout.

Jackson Bros

Overlapping circular and other shaped vignettes are common in Japanese art and much copied in aesthetic design. Each vignette usually carries a different design, here the designs are the same but rotated.

Crystal Porcelain Pottery Co

Design registered 1868. Smith's beat Christopher Dresser to it!

E Smith

In this series of twelve tiles each has a different border. This with an unusual grey body but seen in many colour variations.

Minton Hollins

Birds and insects are relatively uncommon, handpainted.

Doulton Lambeth

Handpainted, pre 1884.

Maw & Co

Few aesthetic designs are well represented in majolica. The simple two colour format and indented moulding of the sprigs avoids the glaze bleeding that spoiled the crispness of aesthetic style in many majolica tiles.

Gibbons Hinton

Unusual from this maker, the colours separated by a raised outline on the circles.


Marsden's patent enabled 'majolica' like tiles with well defined edges.


A very complex Marsden's patent impressed tile.


Kate Greenaway style designs, the tiles bear the registration mark for 1881. The left is one of the popular seasons set widely attributed to Greenaway.

The design registration related to the floral borders rather than the central pictures. The same borders are found with a variety of pictures and the picture from the right tile in the borders from the left tile etc.

T & R Boote

Floral motifs and a random arrangement of natural and idyllic scenes. The overall impression is much changed in a larger area of these tiles as the corners combine to make flowerheads and the borders form a strong grid. Animals appear in relatively few aesthetic designs, landscapes and pictures are rarer still almost invariably reflecting an idyllic and relaxing scene. Note the change in the arrangement of layers. The left picture has the bottom left corner as the foreground image, on the right tile the central stylised flowerhead is to the fore.

Minton Hollins

Design registered 1882. Fruit is relatively uncommon.

Minton Hollins

John Moyr Smith from the Early English History series designed around 1870.


This seasons tile depicting winter has a verse in the four corners, poetry was popular but rare on tiles.

Malkin Edge & Co

Night. This series included the Seasons and Times of the Day.

T & R Boote

An imitation of a block print and of bold medieval design. An 1870s pattern,

Minton Hollins

An ancient Greek style, this kind of design often attributed to Christopher Dresser.

E Smith
(an extremely similar pattern was produced by Maw & Co)

Rare aesthetic majolica tile, all the moulding indented.

Craven Dunnill

Fabulous blue clay tile.


A most unusual aesthetic design. It would be near impossible to fit more design elements in to a single tile. The fan became a typical aesthetic motif in the late 1870's

Probably Crystal Porecelain

A design mixing foliate aesthetic and Persian elements in a geometric layout.


Moving towards a design that fills the tile, the lesser elements pushed to the corners and repeated but the borders remaining dominant.


With hand painted colours in this tile is even more desirable but it somehow loses some of the aesthetic style's feel.


Bold imitation of a block print, the only process available in medieval times. Strong geometric borders around the principal flower motif, a style often linked with Christopher Dresser.


Another example of a style often linked with Christopher Dresser. This was a very popular tile, perhaps because Minton's promoted it as an alternative tile for their picture series, eg Aesop's Fables and so it may well be a Moyr Smith design.

Mintons China Works

Similar design in a very different and complex technique. This has a single glaze colour, three kinds of clay were moulded on to the surface of a flat tile produce the colours.

Craven Dunnill

A very bold and popular aesthetic majolica tile. Date of origin unknown (probably around 1890) but made in to the 1900s

Henry Richards (made by other factories too)

The central flowerhead here is more stylised and by far the strongest element in the design


Dramatic and interesting with unusual pebble backgrounds.

Elijah Birch?

Lightly stylised daisies in the centre, strong aesthetic borders segmenting the tile and with more symmetry in the surrounding wheat.

Made for Braby of London (by Sherwin & Cotton?)

Simplified and stylised aesthetic flowerheads bound together by a swirling leafy stem.


Very complex and late aesthetic design, registered in 1897

J H Barratt

Nearer mainstream design, a more realistic and prominent flower. Cleverly designed to work well individually in rows or columns and in large areas where the effect would have been quite different as the four corners combine.


The central flower has lost most of it's style becoming almost a botanical likeness. The four corners maintain style and variation each being a little different.


Here the central flower is so stylised it is barely recognisable as a flower because the geometry takes over. The corners combine to give a stunning array of bold flowerhead motifs in a larger panel.

Mintons China Works





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