Lionel Lambourne, one of the pioneering scholars of the Aesthetic Movement, points to the major influence of Owen Jones:"In establishing the central significance of ornament and pattern throughout the Aesthetic period, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of The Grammar of Ornament published in 1856. . . In it Jones made permanent the immense range of his knowledge of ornament that hitherto had gained him such varied commissions as the decoration of the Khedive's Palace in Egypt, a major role in the arrangement of the Crystal Palace and the compilation of a standard work on the Alhambra" .
Plate 4 from The Grammar of Ornament
Jones, who had "the ability to analyze the primitive art of the Pacific with a welcome absence of the prejudiced condescension so common in the Victorian age" (Lambourne, 15), believed in what the historian A. O. Lovejoy termed soft primitivism — the belief popular in the eighteenth century that preliterate tribal cultures possessed important advantages over so-called civilized ones. Jones thus argued that their superiority derived from the fact that their ornament, "being the result of natural instinct is necessarily always true to its purpose; whilst in much of the ornament of cilivilzed nations the ornament is oftentimes misapplied . . . by superadding ornament to ill contrived form" (quoted by Lambourne, p. 15). Writing as a veritable Rousseau of ornament — that is, as someone who believes living close to nature produces beauty and virtue corrupted by the rise of civilization — Jones argued that "If we would return to a more healthy condition, we must even be as little children or as savages; we must get rid of the acquired and artificial, and return to and develop natural instincts." Jones can make such assertions because he believed that "the secret of success in all ornament is the production of a broad general effect by the repetition of a few simple elements" (p. 15). Although to an important extent Pugin and Ruskin paved the way for the acceptance of Jones's ideas, he probably had a much greater effect upon the Aesthetic Movement because The Grammar of Ornament provided designers and decorators with hundreds of specific examples.
Lambourne, Lionel. The Aesthetic Movement. London: Phaidon, 1996.
Last modified 29 October 2006