The Fine Art Society, London, has most generously given its permission to following material from its exhibition catalogue in the Victorian Web. The copyright on text and images remains, of course, with the Fine Art Society. [GPL]

1. The aim of all art must be the realisation of truth.

2. Art, both Decorative and Pictorial, is capable of making utterance; the utterance made may be truth or falsehood.

3. All decorated objects should appear to be what they are; they should not pretend to be what they are not.

4. Different materials are susceptible of different treatments. What would be legitimate as a mode of 'handling' one material would be wrong as a mode of treating other materials.

5. A different art effect results from a different mode of treatment, hence every material should yield a particular art aspect.

Carved wood, carved stone, cast iron, wrought iron, and plaster work should all present individual qualities, even if so painted as to perfectly resemble in colour but one material.

6. Art is ideal or imitative.

7. Imitative art concerns itself with reproducing; ideal art with creating.

8. Imitative art seems to owe its origin to a sort of instinct which is shared by man and certain other of the higher animals; .i.e. the desire to copy, mimic, re-create.

9. Ideal art has its origin in th emind, and results from no quality possessed by any other animalthan man.

10. Ideal art, being purely of mental origin, is of a more noble character than imitative art, inasmuch as mind is superior to matter, or as the mental is to the physical.

11. The mental faculties are capable of being refined and elevated, or of being rendered coarse and degraded.

12. The value of a work of art may be said to depend upon the amount of mind infused into it, and the degree of refinement manifested by the utterances of the infused mind.

13. To understand a work of art is to perceive the nature of the utterances made by the producer to the observer -- to comprehend the teachings of the artist.

14. Ornamental art can only be ideal. Pictorial art may be either ideal or imitative.

15. Works of pictorial or ornamental art may be the outgoings of a degraded or of an elevated mind.

16. Pictorial and decorative art should always be regarded as distinct the one from the other. They aim at the production of different results, and have little in common.

17. When viewing a good picture we look, as it were, through a sheet of glass upon an ideal scene which represents such combinations of objects, usually having existence, as shall convey some particular lesson or noble idea to the mind of the beholder.

In one sense a picture always pretends to be what it is not, but the frankness with which it acknowledges that it is not a real scene fully excuses it from all censure as a deceptive work. We are pleased with exhibitions of 'magic' because we know that we are being deceived. A wax-work figure is highly offensive, for it tries to be what it is not and does not confess it.

18. When beholding good decorative work we look upon that which beautifies what is in itself useful in such a manner as to emphasise or render more apparent the particular work which the decorated object has to perform, or as to subordinate, or exalt, the decorated work to its true position in relation to its surroundings.

In arranging a room everything should be made secondary to the living objects which are to occupy it. Next in order come pictures and works intended to give pleasure by being viewed; then the articles of furniture, and last the walls and floor, which serve as a background to all objects in the room.


Dennis, Richard, and John Jesse. Christopher Dresser, 1834-1904. Exhibition catalogue. London: The Fine Art Society, 1972.

Last modified 15 January 2005