Art Botany in Nineteenth-Century Design Reform, 1830-1865
“Art Botany in Nineteenth-Century Design Reform, 1830-1865” investigates the relationship between developments in botanical morphology and the increasingly codified principles of design reform, the state-sponsored movement to improve the competitiveness of British manufacturing by establishing design as a professional field. The literature of design reform tends to conclude that the movement’s main aim was to raise the quality of manufactured items and improve consumer taste. However, my study builds upon the few analyses that contend the theory of design reform became integrated into the principles of natural philosophy and industrial art, which were then folded together into a uniquely nineteenth-century conception of the vital affinities between natural and industrial ideals, a world in which the design principle “form follows function” is connected to botanical science and idealist philosophy. My thesis brings together the natural philosophy of design together with its material objects. While reformers aimed to produce objects that were ideal, based on a priori patterns or types, their designs were also meant to be popular and to do concrete work in the social realm. I investigate this tension between the ideal and the real by drawing upon dialectical models of material culture to examine four objects in relation to the stated aims of design reform and within the context of nineteenth-century natural science and liberal ideologies.