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In regard to the application of these figures there is much to be said.
- written by Cecilia Glaisher on the back of the drawing below

4/17/1 [recto]

4/17/1 [verso]

As early as 1854, the possible utility of the Glaishers' snow crystal forms in art education was discussed. On February 8th, Lyon Playfair wrote to thank James Glaisher for sending him photographic illustrations of snow crystals. He continued: 'Mr Redgrave thinks they would be most useful... the idea is to give them as an illustration to the art student of the importance of minute observation.' 31

Playfair had been a chief adviser on the Great Exhibition of 1851 and was Secretary at the Department of Science and Art. Richard Redgrave was the department's Art Superintendent.32

Redgrave's suggestion may have been taken up - as can be seen in this carefully made copy of three sequences of crystals from the Glaishers' 1855 paper.33

Sheet of ink drawings torn from an exercise book. Private Collection

Although begun as scientific investigations, the Glaishers realised that the underlying symmetrical proportions of snow crystals made them suitable as the basis for patterns in design. This resulted in a second paper, 'On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design' published in The Art Journal in March and April 1857. 34

6/5/1 detail

On the annotated proof sheet above, the addition in James Glaisher's handwriting reads:

... James Glaisher Esq. F.R.S., of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, a gentleman whose scientific acquirements are well known throughout the country. In the course of his examination of these snow-crystals, it occurred to Mr Glaisher that they would furnish novel and most beautiful suggestions for the ornamental designer; and our attention having been directed to them, Mr Glaisher has kindly placed in our hands a few of the numerous blocks he has caused to be engraved, and has also supplied us with the interesting and valuable communication that accompanies the engravings. We may, perhaps be allowed to add that the drawings from the crystals were made by Mrs Glaisher; their extreme accuracy and delicacy are most striking; some coloured examples we have seen, by way of application to manufacturing purposes, exhibit a thorough knowledge of the true value of colour.

The paper begins by describing their findings on snow and then turns to consider how snow crystals 'suggest new forms in decorative design, as applied to the industrial arts.' They quote several of Owen Jones' principles from his highly influential 1856 work, The Grammar of Ornament, and discuss how the forms of snow crystal might meet these criteria.

Proposition 3. - As architecture, so all works of the Decorative Arts should possess fitness, proportion, harmony, the result of all which is repose.
Proposition 5. - Decoration should never be purposely constructed: that which is beautiful is true, that which is true is beautiful.
Proposition 8. - All ornament should be based upon a geometrical construction.
Proposition 9. - As in Architecture, so in the Decorative Arts, every assemblage of forms should be arranged on certain definite proportions; the whole and each particular member should be a multiple of some particular unit.
Proposition 10. - Harmony of form consists in the proper balancing and contrast of the straight, the inclined, and the curved.

Some of the items for which the Glaishers thought snow crystal designs would be appropriate were: mosaics, 'encaustic tile work', earthenware, porcelain, 'paper-hangings', and fabrics. The holding includes this ink drawing which has been glued onto a satin-like fabric - on the back of which is a rough pencil sketch of a chaise-longue.

2/8. Crystal diameter 11 cm (crystal at bottom left, included for scale, is 1 cm)

Another idea was 'a set of ice-plates for the dessert or supper table,' which they described as follows:

We can imagine the ground of the plates a clear light blue; in the centre may be the crystal, selecting in preference from those forms which are most crystalline and arborescent; among them, that most graceful of all, the water crystal, distinguishing it from the ground by shades of grey, which should be so distributed as to impart to the copy the frosted effect of the original. Around the centre, and immediately beneath or upon the raised margin of the plate, might be arranged, a circular bordering, similar to that we have described as surrounding the margin of a pond on its first congelation, when the needles, becoming encrusted with crystalline deposit, assume the appearance of frosted ferns.

Below is the 'water crystal', reproduced as Plate 74 in the Art Journal paper.


The paper includes this example of a crystal at the centre of a design for 'ornamental or domestic purposes.'

The Art Journal, April 1857, p.126

In the Fitzwilliam Museum's holdings are two similar artworks of elaborate circular designs.

4/19/4 Crystal diameter 9 cm, 'plate' diameter 19.5 cm

4/18/3 Crystal diameter 7.5 cm, 'plate' diameter 24 cm

The artwork at left is based on a crystal seen by Dr Smallwood of Canada, which the Glaishers included on sheet H of the Arctic section of their planned extended publication. In the 1855 Snow Crystal paper, Glaisher wrote: 'Dr Smallwood of Isle Jesus, Canada East, imagines them [snow crystal forms] to be intimately connected with the electrical state of the atmosphere, whether negative or positive.'36 (The holding includes a coloured lithograph of this artwork).

In the design at right, the nucleus of the crystal combines the two distinct forms, star and hexagonal, which the Glaishers believed to be at the base of all the snow crystals they had seen. The 12 points to the star shape may be a reference to the form seen in double crystals.

Initial coloured drawings and photographic copies of these two crystals are shown at the end of the Colouring & Copying section.

31. Playfair to Glaisher, February 8th, 1854. (Playfair copybook. Science Museum Archive).

32. Lyon Playfair (1818-1898), Henry Cole (1808-1882), and Richard Redgrave (1804-1888) were fundamental in establishing the South Kensington (now the Victoria and Albert) Museum.

33. Torn from an exercise book, this drawing belonging to Jenny and Michael Clinch was found amongst family papers and shown to Eric Harris, honorary archivist at the Royal Meteorological Society.

34. 'On the Crystals of Snow as Applied to the Purposes of Design' by James Glaisher, The Art Journal (March 1857, pp.73-7, and April 1857, pp.125-128).

35. Ibid, p.128.

36. 'On the Severe Weather at the beginning of the year 1855; and on Snow and Snow-crystals' by James Glaisher in British Meteorological Society 5th Annual Report (British Meteorological Society, 1855, p. 29).

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