Influences From beyond Europe takes us on a journey through foreign design objects deriving from the 19th century. In Victorian Britain retailers traded an array of imported good from Asia, and the Islamic world. Between 1840-1900 the British Empire was expanding and as a result of this trade amongst China, India, Japan, the Islamic world and Southern Spain steadily improved. Due to factors such as the industrial revolution photographers could now experience these other cultures truthfully. This was a chance for designers to break free from the traditional British style that had dominated the 18th and 19th century previously. Despite Britain leaping forward in time with technology, countries such as Asia and the Islamic world were ahead with the appearances of their stimulating use of colour and pattern.
The Victoria and Albert museum was originally the South Kensington Museum in which Queen Vitoria and Prince Albert introduced items that remained from the notorious Great Exhibition of the Victorian era. The great Exhibition took place during the growth in sales whilst partially being the reason for it. Britain was the most powerful and important nation in the world.
A lot of these artistic principles taken by the British from abroad were displayed in the Japanese section from the Influences from Abroad exhibition. Although these displays were larger and contained more artifacts the feeling of the room is still as dark and depressing. If anything expectations might be that the display held in a larger room might feel more spacious and bright but it was quite the opposite. The Influences from Japan are held in a larger room the feels, unbelievably, even more confined than the constricted corridor containing a century worth of prominent design from three parts of the world.
Conversely the colour and lighting of the displays were clearly well thought through during the curation of the displays. Nevertheless this does not necessarily work to its benefit. There is the use of a gold wall within the Japanese display, representative of the rich colour and fabric that were used at the time. Correspondingly within the corridor made up of Asian and Islamic works presented and rich red solid red background, a colour that was not traditionally considered British at this time. These indulgent backgrounds multiplied with the darkness of the gallery perhaps detract from the decorative items that are displayed.
The main item that stood out from all the other exhibits was the Japanese inspired sideboard. this famous piece of furniture design with its geometric form and ebonized finish come from the designer, E.W Godwin’s study of Japanese artistic principles. Un-like the other items from Asia and the Islamic world the sideboard is strategically placed on a simple bamboo flooring, in front of a well-lit and modest plain white wall. This encourages that it lives up to its glory as all of these beautiful and exotic items should.