Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/404

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390
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE PRINCIPLES OF DECORATION.
By Prof. G. AITCHISON.[1]

WE have, in our cities, three things that are adverse to the embellishment of our lives: First, we live, as a rule, in hired houses. No one will ornament his house with that which is beautiful, permanent, and costly, if some one that he neither knows nor cares for will, after a few years, enjoy it, and that without paying one farthing as compensation for the outlay. Secondly, our clothes are not only ugly, but ignoble in form. Sculpture or statuary, when used to portray man in the costume worn in England, is impossible; the ablest sculptor can but turn out a scare-crow if he is bound to reproduce the actual clothes. Thirdly, in our buildings the atmosphere and its accompaniments almost forbid external color in monumental materials. Those materials that are unaffected by wet, frost, and the vitriol of the atmosphere, are soon covered with a pall of soot and dust. If we could once get Englishmen to love something beautiful, the fine arts might then enter on a new career. Our machinery and mechanical appliances could furnish almost the poorest houses with copies of first-rate works of art if the demand once arose. It is, however, much more important that the outsides of buildings should be enriched with color and lovely form than their insides. I may say that they are wanting in their first duty to the public if they are not beautiful, for they have not only taken some sky and air from us, and possibly flowers, trees, or herbage, but they help to poison the air by their smoke, dust, and exhalations.

In using decoration we are strictly following Nature, who not only makes the most of her works of beautiful form and of beautiful color, but enriches them with a variety of texture, of patterns, and of colors that would in man's work be most strictly decoration. No doubt some of this is protective, but much also, as far as we can judge, is purely ornamental.

The schemes for decoration are purely architectural, not only when they apply to buildings but also in the case of separate articles that are movable, and that are not wholly covered with one scheme of ornament, and for this reason, that architecture deals with harmonic proportions, and with the contrast of primitive forms.

What may be called formal ornament is the application of certain observed facts in Nature that please. Up to a certain point the repetition of some simple form is pleasing: lines are said


  1. Abridged from Ins lectures before the Society of Arts.