The Aesthetic Movement, House Beautiful & Cottier

Submitted by Christine Edmonson on

Yale's Paul Mellon Professor, Dr. Tim Barringer, presented his lecture, "Aspiring to the Condition of Music" to the Museum last week. It was a lively examination of the Aesthetic Movement's relationship to art and music, and included real music! It was both serious and entertaining, and delivered wonderful images, too. One of them was a gorgeous red book cover for Clarence Cook's 1878 title,The House Beautiful: essays on Beds and Tables, Stool and Candlesticks, a guide to decorating ones's "comfortable and handsome" home.

And we own a copy! Thankfully, the cover is pristine and all the lavish illustrations, including a chromolithograph frontispiece by Walter Crane, are intact. Cook leads us from the front door entrance, through the living and dining rooms, and finally to the bedroom with examples of Aesthetic Movement design. One is a clever print-stand, a center pole with hinged frames for double viewing works of art on paper - it is really genius. Cook's states, "The best plan is to know first, as near as may be, how we ought to live externally, and then to surround ourselves with the things best suited for that mode of life, whatever it may be. Look about you, reader, and ask yourself, how many people you know who live as they really like to live, and let the world go by." 

First published as essays in Scribner's Monthly (and apparently critized by the readership), the preface names the designer of the beautiful cover, one Daniel Cottier (1838-1891), to whom the author is indebted for advice and "practical help." Not recognizing Cottier's name as one associated with Ruskin or Morris, a search in the Ingalls library catalog turned up one monograph and seven auction catalogs; five for his art collections and two containing massive collections of furniture, glass and antiques. The art collection sold in 1892 at Durand-Ruel in Paris, and 1909 at New York's American Art Association (with provenance), for the benefit of his wife and children.The decorative arts and furniture, much of it manufactured at Cottier and Company, sold at The American Art Association in New York in 1913 and Anderson Galleries in 1923, at Mrs. Cottier's death.   

Cottier, born and trained in Glasgow, drew for Ruskin in London before opening a business as decorator, picture-dealter and manufacturer of glass.  After an "uphill fight" to Fifth Avenue, Cottier became extraordinally successful in the decoration of houses and churches, and opened even more offices in Boston and Australia. He collaborated with Louis Comfrot Tiffany and John La Farge on various stained glass projects. When some of his inventory sold at auction in 1913, it included 242 lots of stained glass, mostly Cottier made.

So why don't we know more about Daniel Cottier, and Cottier and Company? A 2011 Burlington Magazine article claims "Cottier & Company, a firm that had neither the reputation nor the society connections of London studios such as those of William Morris." Perhaps it is exactly that which made him a success in America, and responsible for introducing the Aesthetic Movement here.

Cottier's in context: Daniel Cottier, William Leiper and Dowanhill Church, Glasgow  explores the life, work and influence not only in Glasgow, but internationally. Best of all, an appendix serves as a catalogue raisonne of Cottier projects and works of art.This publication, The House Beautiful and the seven auction catalogs may be consulted in the Ingalls Library. And finally, some art exhibition catalogs for Cottier & Company reside at the Archives of American Art, where they may be consulted on microfilm through interlibrary loan. As I've said before, one thing leads to another.