The simple geometry of this elongated claret pitcher is characteristic of Dresser’s designs, which contrast starkly with the heavily ornamented styles of his time. Dresser had studied Japanese decorative arts, which influenced his own designs and those of his more progressive contemporaries. In this pitcher, the long, vertical ebony handle is almost a direct quotation of the bamboo handles on Japanese vessels. As in many of his designs for metalwork, the pitcher’s fittings are made from electroplated metal, a technological innovation that made silverware available to a growing middle class before the turn of the twentieth century. The exposed rivets and joints presage the enthusiasm for the machine aesthetic in industrial design several decades later.
A trained botanist as well as a designer, Dresser was strongly inspired by the underlying structures of natural forms and by his interest in technological progress. While he shared some of the theories of the British Arts and Crafts movement, which sought to replace the often shoddy design of mass-produced goods with skilled handcraftsmanship, Dresser was completely committed to quality design for machine production, and was one of the world’s first industrial designers.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)