Rug and carpet design came in many forms and guises throughout its history, particularly within the context of European interiors. Although never exclusively so, the 1830s and 1840s saw a large proportion of carpet and rug design in the form of effusive and often charming arrangements of flowers and ornamentation from different eras and geographical areas, so that decoration could well include classically inspired motifs as well those that had more of an affinity with China for example.

The example shown here is a small rug designed in 1849 by the English company Watson, Bell & Co. In fact the rug belonged to a carpet, as in the specific decoration on the rug would have been duplicated on a much larger scale for a carpet. Both would have been positioned in one room, with the smaller rug taking a prominent position in order to emphasise the complexity of the pattern that could be found on the larger carpet. This was a relatively common practice and a number of these partnerships between carpet and rug were produced during this period by a range of companies.

Although there is unfortunately not a colour source for the rug or carpet by Watson, Bell & Co, there is actually a brief description of the smaller rug that was produced in the Journal of Design and Manufactures for 1849.

'The ground is of very dark green; the light and dark flowers are well grouped, and arranged so as to lead the eye through the governing ornamental lines: the colour is varied and harmonious.'

Although the description by no means gives all of the colour identities to be found in the rug, it does at least give some indication as to the general styling and decorative qualities to be found in this particular interior accessory.

This goes some way into helping to explain the style that was prevalent during this period. Very often floral representations would indeed be set against a very dark background, in this case green. In addition, also in this case, orchids have been used as a part of the decorative composition. Orchids were considered somewhat exotic and certainly foreign during this period, and in some respects add an element of exclusivity, or at least a curious quality within the context of a domestic rug or carpet.

Although this type of effusive floral work was eventually to become tired and played out, engendering much criticism later in the nineteenth century and certainly in the twentieth, it must be seen within the context of its time. Much of the early Victorian floral work was seen as a colourful, even playful diversion from the somewhat austere approach that was often taken by decorators and designers during the late Georgian period. Neoclassicism in particular was often seen as a rigorous, sparse and certainly male dominated decorative interpretation of the classical world, and this certainly appeared so at least when contrasted with some of the styling seen in the early Victorian period. 


In the new exuberance of colour, pattern and style that saw the dawning of the Victorian era, interiors by the very nature of this new decorative format became much more familiar, comfortable and certainly less of a male preserve. The softening of interior decoration through the liberal use of pastels, frills, curves, scrolling and large scale floral motifs and pattern work, might well seem too intense a statement for our own contemporary period. However, it perhaps was fitted more perfectly to the beginning of a time period which saw itself, perhaps self-consciously, as a young generation entering a new and bold era. Many saw it as spelling the end of the Georgian period, the Napoleonic wars, and of a social intransigence, which had limited access to self-development and through that class mobility. This was now at least possible and would become increasingly so through the accruement of money rather than inherited position. This new generation consciously distanced themselves on all levels including decoratively, from an older generation that were rapidly becoming associated with a past era.

In many respects, changes in interior formats, particularly domestically, are cues, or at least indications of the changeover of generations, and with that a change of emphasis on social, political and cultural ideas. Sometimes there is more to a floral rug than just the pattern work.

Originally published in The Textile Blog by John Hopper.