Curator Oscar Humphries on the most radical designer of the 19th century

Curator Oscar Humphries presents a short film and digital exhibition on the work of designer Christopher Dresser

One of the most innovative and influential designers of the 19th century, Dresser dabbled in ceramic, textile glass and metal, working with some of Britain’s most important manufacturers of the time. Designing with a modernist spirit and inspired by Japanese aesthetic and craft, Dresser experimented with cutting-edge technologies (such as electroplating, to create a metal coating on his objects) creating pieces that were functional and democratic.

Dresser had such a huge influence — when he was alive but also after. His trip to Japan is one of the reasons why the Japanese aesthetic had such a transformational effect on design in the late 19th century, observes Humphries.

‘It was “Japonism" that was the major influence on the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century. And a lot of that leads back to Dresser. I wanted to make a show about the metal, because that’s so proto-modernist. The metal is so ahead of its time – and designers still reference it. I’m obsessed with Dresser because he did so many different things – he was a botanist, an educator, a Japanophile, a polymath, and a genius. This show and the film focus on just a small part of his work, but a hugely important part.'

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.