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The British textile company GP & J Baker was founded in 1884 by brothers George Percival and James Baker. Together with their father, they traveled around the Far East and Asia purchasing designs, textiles, sketches and thousands of pattern books. More than a century of discerning collecting has resulted in one of the largest privately-owned textile archives in the world, and part of this diverse collection are many designs based on eighteenth century block prints and English chintzes.
These historical patterns have been adapted to new printing techniques and the colourways have changed to suit the continuing evolution of decorating styles. In 1982, GP & J Baker was granted the Royal Warrant by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as suppliers of fabrics and wall coverings to the Royal Household. To this day, Baker continues to grow its reputation as one of the world’s innovators of fabric design.
Svenskt Tenn at the Liljevalchs exhibition 1934, with furniture upholstered with prints by GP & J Baker.
Svenskt Tenn became one of GP & J Baker first customers in Sweden when Josef Frank, who was inspired by their designs, introduced the company to Estrid Ericson in the 1930s. For her, it was important that Svenskt Tenn always provided products with exclusivity for its customers so at the end of the 1930s she entered into an agreement with GP & J Baker for exclusive rights to several of its designs.
Japanese Magnolia, William Turner, 1917.
Lotus, William Turner, 1915.
The store in Stockholm in 1940, where a sofa was upholstered with GP & J Baker print, Lotus.
Over 100 years old, Japanese Magnolia feels just as modern today as when it was first created.
Japanese Magnolia, with its naturalistic depictions of magnolia blossoms inhabited by birds and butterflies, was designed by William Turner in 1917 and was first-hand block printed onto a fine linen. No trace can be found of it being printed after this date so it subsequently became a hidden gem in the renowned GP & J Baker archive. It is over 100 years old, but as relevant today as when it was first created.
Lotus (Swedish Name) / Nympheus (original name)
William Turner’s designs for GP & J Baker in 1915 adopted a Chinese theme as the artist increasingly spent time studying collections at the British Museum. Nympheus is based upon a Ming dynasty painted silk scroll that had been acquired by the museum a couple years earlier. It is a genre picture of the Piling school that depicts a pair of kingfishers flying above an egret who shelters beneath drooping lotus leaves.
The classic Ferns print is the only GP & J Baker fabric in Svenskt Tenn’s range, not designed by William Turner. It was created by Joseph M Doran, who set up a studio in Hounslow in the early 1900s. GP & J Baker patronised his work from 1912 to 1936, bringing out twenty Doran designs as hand-blocked furnishings. Ferns was purchased in January 1935 for twelve Guineas. The design is based upon botanical drawings published in Curtis’ Flora Londinensis between 1777 and 1798 (a record of plants growing within a ten-mile radius of London).
Toucans was designed by William Turner in 1922 and is one of five hand-block patterns that he produced for GP & J Baker that year. Turner loved Oriental painting, and the basic elements of this design are adapted from a Chinese wallpaper in the company archive. The birds are certainly not toucans, joking misnomers being a feature of many patterns’ names assigned by the studio. The bird looking down in the motif may be a painted snipe, and the one on the rock is possibly a juvenile cormorant.
This pattern was designed in 1912 by William Turner, drawing heavily from the tradition of Chinese hand-painted wallpapers. Turner had been studying Chinese painting for several years, attracted by the flat decorative arrangements and subtle colourings of bird and flower pictures. His challenge was to convert the imagery of single panels into repeated structures, and to bring the number of colours into a practicable range for block printing. This was achieved by careful balance of visual interests that keep the eye moving from bird to flower to branch.
Körsbär (Swedish Name) / Eldon (original name)
Eldon was designed by Turner in 1920 when the "art deco" movement was in the upswing. Here, he takes the traditional "bird and branch" motif further toward the modern taste by simplifying shapes and colours. The name may have come from GP & J Baker's travels in the Netherlands, where there is a village called Elden, marking its contrast with L'don (London). In Old English, the name can mean "old friend," which seems especially appropriate to this pattern which has been an enduring favourite.
Estrid Ericson in her home in Stockholm. The Liljevalchs sofa upholstered in GP & J Baker's Körsbär. Image: Lennart Nilsson 1964.
William Turner (1859-1926) was born in Hamilton, Lanarkshire in 1859. As a young man he trained as a furniture designer, whilst his eldest brother, Thomas was an architectural draughtsman. By 1901 had established themselves in London where they became decorative designers, mostly known for their many beautiful wallpaper prints.
He drew his characteristic birds combined with motifs inspired by hand painted Chinese wallpapers. He achieved international recognition in 1914 by showing his work at The International Decorative Arts Exhibition held in London. Between 1909 -1925, William Turner sold nearly sixty designs to GP & J Baker, including Rockbird (1912), Nympheus (1915), Japanese magnolia (1917), Eldon (1920) and Toucans (1922).