Queen Victoria

  • Unbridled optimism, decorative spirit, strong moral and religious beliefs, proper social skills and convictions are what the Victorian era was all about.
  • The extremely popular and long lived Queen Victoria became queen of the United Kingdom (and its holdings) in 1837.
  • This strong willed woman was loved by her subjects.
  • To express the Victorian era, a design style had to follow that was spirited, proper, and pious.
  • “God’s in heaven, all’s right with the world” was a popular Victorian motto.
  • The queen was a popular subject, paintings, statues, coins, tributes – all centered around a very popular queen.
  • For two-thirds of the 19th century, Queen Victoria influenced everything from morality, manners, popular culture, fashion design, architecture, interior design, even advertising.

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria and Price Albert

Architecture and Interior Design

  • The Victorian style was far reaching – British society and manners spread throughout the western world.
  • San Francisco, thousands of miles away from Great Britain is today known for its Victorian architecture, and this particular row of houses are some of the most photographed in the City.
  • But San Francisco’s Victorian approach is rather bawdy compared to the design style’s prim and proper origins.
Haight Ashbury Victorian houses in San Francisco
  • Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (POO-gen) designed the ornamental details of the British House of Parliament.
  • Pugin had a fondness for gothic architecture–and this mixed with elements from other cultures, other styles all bunched together to create a playful expressive whole.
  • Pugin’s philosophy – the first designer of the 19th Century to have one – stated that design is a moral act that achieved the status of art through the designer’s ideals and attitudes.
  • The result of Pugin’s interest in Gothic architecture was a wide mimicking of the style, in architecture, ornament and letterforms.
British Houses of Parliament
  • Home of William Astor – accessorize everything, no major focal point, just make it all look over the top – are the paintings where you’re supposed to look – which painting?? – I’m busy looking at this opulent thing to sit on.
Victorian gallery in the home of Mrs. William Astor Victorian gallery in the home of Mrs. William Astor
  • Victorian Design is characterized by a kind of flamboyant, elaborate borrowing from any and all historical elements in order to create the feeling of being “rich.”
  • You can be rich, or simply look rich. It’s all about how you look.
  • And the more ornate the design, the better –an interest in material possessions became important, and with the industrial revolution in full swing, having more was now possible.
  • Things that were normally handmade could be reproduced on a mass scale – ornate parlor chairs, normally something only a wealthy patron could own, for the first time could be purchased by the masses.
  • Think: going to Sears and furnishing your grand parlor – with elaborate decor that didn’t empty your wallet.
Victorian Interior Victorian Chair

Victorian Ornament

  • How Victorian Graphic design was executed was part of the whole Victorian experience.
  • Here we have medieval letterforms, baroque plant designs, and Celtic interlaces combined into a very dense, symmetrical design.
  • Contradictory, aesthetic confusion – but overall, a very optimistic approach. Like the parlor, very Victorian in style.
  • Remember Henry Fox Talbot? He invented the Calotype photographic process.
The Pencil of Nature title page Henry Talbot
  • English designer, author and color authority Owen Jones travelled to Spain and the Near East cataloging ornamental motifs from several cultures, including “savage” tribes as well as forms that appear in nature.
  • One of his books became THE book to have on Ornaments from all over – The Grammar of Ornament.
17.	Grammar of Ornament
  • Just borrow as you will – don’t worry if you give credit to the culture – these RETRO designs will make that poster you’re working on look fabulous!
  • Think about it – Victorian design, although a whole new aesthetic emerged at the time, it’s all based on what came before.
  • Design history seems to be all about reusing things from the past that we may or may not understand. And in Victorian times, the designer didn’t have to understand, it just had to look good.
Grammar of Ornament

The Crystal Palace

  • The Great Exhibition of 1851 opened – like a State Fair, but on a grander, international scale – this exhibition was established for all INDUSTRIAL nations to have bragging rights to the best and brightest technological advances they had made.
  • Six million visitors reviewed the products of thirteen thousand exhibitors.
crystal palace postcard
  • Built on a property that had a large oak tree that the owner insisted could not be removed.
  • This Victorian exhibition hall – dubbed the Crystal Palace – is considered the first truly modern building.
  • For starters, it was prefabricated – designed by a landscape artist and greenhouse designer, Joseph Paxton. Not an architect.
  • It could be built to house the exhibition, taken apart, moved and put back together – which it was several times … (the Crystal Palace exhibitions proved quite popular)
  • Look like Arden Fair mall? Not a coincidence – the first Crystal Palace-inspired mall was built in Texas; the style is quite popular today for public buildings, including malls and government offices.
crystal palace interior


  • Sentimentality, nostalgia, idealized beauty, sweetness, national pride were all part of the Victorian approach.
  • And this came across in the graphic design of the era.
  • Advertisers found early on that a picture of a baby could sell just about anything.
  • And the way they managed to print their images in color was a new process called chromolithography – an innovation of the Industrial Revolution that led to images in color appearing everywhere.
25.	Victorian Ad with a Baby on it
  • Lithography – which means in Greek, literally, stone printing – was invented by Bavarian author Aloys Senefelder in 1796.
  • Of course, by accident.
  • Senefelder was experimenting with a cheap way to print his works using etched stones and metal reliefs.
  • One day his mother called out a laundry list – items to pick up when he was out.
  • Lacking a piece of paper to write on, Senefelder wrote the list with a grease pencil on a flat printing stone.
  • Suddenly, it dawned on him that the stone could be etched away around the grease pencil and made into a relief printing plate.
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  • Note the patterns – these were printed by stones, so the texture of the stone comes thru.
  • To make a long story short, Senefelder figured out a way to print using oil and water – where the oil (like a grease pencil) appears, the ink sticks. Where the water is, the ink gets washed away. (It’s the same approach we use for offset printing today).
  • Add in a printing press (to transfer the image from the oil-based surface of the stone), and you have lithography.
  • Seen here is a litho print where type and image work together – but also seen here is COLOR.
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  • Senefelder discovered that he could mix images – printed by different litho stones – to create multicolor printing.
  • In the early 1800s, Senefelder predicted that one day this process would be perfected to allow reproduction of paintings.
  • This is a poster for the Cleveland and Hendricks presidential campaign colorful flags frame the colorized candidates.
Poster for the Cleveland and Hendricks presidential campaign
  • In 1837, French printer Godefroy Engelmann patented a process called Chromolithographie.
  • After analyzing the colors contained within the original subject, the printer then separated them into a series of printing plates and printed these component colors, one by one on top of each other.
Poster for the Chicago and Alton Rail Road, cyan + yellow plates
  • Color theory class – primary colors red, yellow, blue + white and black – are too many colors to use for printing.
Poster for the Chicago and Alton Rail Road, cyan + yellow + magenta plates
  • The final color – typically black – established the image after separate plates printed the other colors.
  • Color printing had arrived!
  • Note the transit map that forms the edge of the chair.
Poster for the Chicago and Alton Rail Road, cyan + yellow + magenta + black plate

Package Design

  • Labels and packages became important areas for to litho print on.
  • New processes were developed to transfer the image – stone directly to tin was near impossible to accomplish.
  • But an idea on how to transfer the image worked
victorian package design

Victorian Periodicals

  •  The still-rising tide of literacy, plunging production costs, and the growth of advertising revenues pushed the number of newspapers and magazines published in the United States from 800 to 5,000 between 1830 and 1860.
  • And one of leaders in the field was a printing firm started in 1817 by James and John Harper – who used modest savings to cover their start up costs.
  • With the younger brothers Wesley and Fletcher joining the team, by mid century, Harper and Brothers had become the largest printing and publishing company in the world.
  • During the 1840s, Harper and Brothers launched a monumental project that became the United States finest achievement of graphic design and book production to date: Harper’s Bible.
  • Harper’s Illuminated and new Pictorial Bible was printed on presses specially designed and built for its production.
  • It was published in 54 installments – 28 pages each – and was announced to the public by a carefully orchestrated advertising campaign.
  • Each edition was released on a schedule and once the collection was completed, it could be bound into a complete edition, with a cover of gold gilding on fine morocco leather.
Harper’s Illustrated and New Pictorial Bible
  • The Bible was such a hit, the pictorial magazine came next:
  • The 144-page Harper’s New Monthly Magazine began in 1850 – featuring serialized English fiction and woodcut illustrations developed by Harper’s own art staff.
  • A news magazine followed, Harpers Weekly in 1857.
  • Harper’s Bazar debuted in 1867 – targeted to women readers.
  • And Harper’s Young People addressed the youth of America in 1879.
canine cover harpers young people magazine harpers magazine

Thomas Nast

  •  Harper’s Weekly became known as “A journal of civilization,” and featured the editorial cartoon work of Thomas Nast, famous for his direct and effective political statements – he has been called the father of American Political cartooning.
  • And Nast was also known for his visual development of a certain bearded holiday character we’ve come to know.
thomas nast santa claus
  • Nast’s work didn’t stop there – in his work for Harper’s, Nast also popularized a number of important graphic images, including that of Uncle Sam, the Democratic Donkey, the Republican elephant and Columbia, a symbolic female signifying democracy that became the prototype for the State of Liberty.
thomas nast uncle sam
  • The potential of visual communications was recognized when Nast took on New York political boss William Marcy Tweed.
  • Tweed claimed he did not care what the papers wrote because voters couldn’t read. But, “they could sure seem them damn pictures.”
  • Nast’s relentless political cartoon attacks culminated on Election Day in a double-page cartoon – showing Tweed’s group as a tiger – devouring liberty.
  • Needless to say, Tweed lost the election.
Thomas Nast Tammany

Charles Dana Gibson

  •  Other artists that got their start in Harper’s included Charles Dana Gibson – famous for his Gibson girl drawings that wooed an entire generation.
Charles Dana Gibson girl


Charles Dana Gibson

Howard Pyle

  •  Another prolific magazine artist was Howard Pyle.
  • In his career, Pyle published over 3,000 illustrations and two hundred texts ranging from simple children’s tales to his monumental four-volume legend of King Arthur.
Howard Pyle

Advertising and Ad Agencies

  •  During the 1870s, magazines were used extensively for general advertising.
  • What this meant to the consumer was the additional revenue lowered prices for the readers, which caused massive circulation increases.
  • Closely bound to the growth of magazines was the development of advertising agencies.
  • In 1841, Volney Palmer of Philadelphia opened what is considered to be the first ad agency.
  • He sold space for publishers similar to how a travel agent sells tickets for airlines today; making his cost thru commissions on the sale.
  • 1875 brought N.W. Ayer and Sons – who based his business on giving his clients better rates, then made money off the placement of the ads.
  • Ayer provided additional services – such as copywriting – that the publishers could not offer.
  • By 1900, Ayer was on his way to offering the complete spectrum: copywriting, art direction, production and media selection.
  • Many of the conventions of persuasive selling were developed in the last two decades of the 19th century.

victorian ad corset
victorian ad seesaw
victorian ad rimmels

  • This is the ad that started it all for Ivory Soap – which as a product was a complete accident.
  • In the 19th Century, soap was difficult to make – one would buy it from the grocer, cut from a large slab.
  • If you didn’t have a grocer, you made your own – which involved keeping ashes, heating them and collecting the run off, adding bacon grease and salt – and hoped it would eventually form into the final product: a soft soap.
  • It was an unpredictable recipe and time consuming.
  • So there was a need for something not only cost effective – but something that didn’t melt into nothing when it hit water.
  • William Procter and James Gamble set about starting the world’s first commercial soap company.
  • And by accident, one month in 1879, a machine was left running thru lunch hour – resulting in an extra whipped soap.
  • Within weeks, people started requesting P&G’s “soap that floats,” to which P&G didn’t really know what they were talking about …
  • Pressuring the staff revealed that the previous month, the person in charge of stirring had left the machine running thru lunch – the result was a lighter than water soap that would float to the top when dropping in a tub of dirty bath water.
  • P&G turned this into a positive – as seen in this ad – and Ivory soap’s been with us ever since.
first ivory soap ad omikron


1896-1900: Victorian era footage from around the world [5:55]

For the first time, we were able to capture motion pictures. At first, they were without sound. The accompanying piano music is by Erik Satie—Gymnopédie No.1 (1888). This version is slowed down.

Antique Victorian Advertising Cards [4:59]