January’s featured work is The Window, a silk mosaic, by Lucienne Day.

The Window

© Lucienne Day

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Textile designer Lucienne Day was born on 5 January 1917 and died aged 93 on 30 January 2010. This January marks 100 years since her birth. Day was a leading British textile designer of the 1950s and 1960s, who developed a new style of abstract pattern-making known as ‘Contemporary’ design for furnishings, including wallpapers, ceramics and carpets. Her bright colourful designs tapped into the spirit of optimism in post-war Britain, with long production runs keeping prices reasonable.

In the 1970s, while a consultant to John Lewis, Day was working on a commission to design a set of five shutter doors for one of their department stores. After an architect friend assumed these were designs for embroidery, Day took the basic architectural concept of doors and windows and developed these into her ‘silk mosaic’ tapestries. Using a traditional patchwork approach, she composed an overall abstract pattern from tiny pieces of shot silk.

Some of these tapestries were sold privately or given to friends; others were made to commission. The Window (1986), commissioned by the Department of the Environment for the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in Westminster in 1986, is one of the most celebrated. Other artists who were commissioned to produce site-specific works for the same government building include Eduardo Paolozzi and Jennifer Jones. Today The Window is hanging in the Ambassador’s office in the British Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine.

The window of the title is clearly recognisable as a leaded window made of fifteen rectangular yellow shapes in the top left corner of the mosaic. Day described her woven silk pieces as mosaics, because the small squares or rectangles of coloured silk that were stitched together, reminded her of the small coloured tiles or ‘tessarae’ of Roman mosaics. Her approach to them was highly design-led: she regarded them solely as works of art, rather than the mass-produced utilitarian textiles, such as furnishing fabrics, that she had designed during the 1950s and 60s.

Although Day initially laboriously hand-stitched her early prototypes for the silk mosaics, she eventually employed two seamstresses, her niece, Karen Conradi and Henrietta Brooks, to weave the final designs. She enjoyed the challenge of silk mosaic design, which was a freer and less detailed process than that of her earlier textile designs. The architectural qualities of the mosaics also complemented the interiors and furniture of many of the buildings in which they were displayed.

Born in Coulsdon, Surrey in 1917 to a Belgian father and English mother, Lucienne Day initially attended Croydon School of Art in 1934, specialising in textile design. There she was introduced to the work of the Bauhaus and especially to Swedish design. From 1937 she continued her studies in printed textiles at the Royal College of Art, where she met her future husband and collaborator Robin in 1940. From the 1950s she designed for major commercial clients such as Heal’s, Liberty and Cole & Son. Today these iconic ceramic, wallpaper, carpet and fabric designs are highly sought after by international collectors and museums.

Between 1962 and 1987, the Days worked as joint design consultants for the John Lewis Partnership, designing interiors, fittings and packaging. During the 1980s several exhibitions of Lucienne’s silk mosaics were held in London, Tokyo and Gothenburg; and in 1993 a retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. This was followed in 2001 by a major joint retrospective, Robin and Lucienne Day: Pioneers of Contemporary Design, at the Barbican Art Gallery in London.