Enid Marx
: pioneer of modern pattern in inter-war Britain

  • Lotte Beatrix Crawford

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This thesis develops knowledge of the significant social and aesthetic scope of Enid Marx’s abstract patterns for textiles, which are treated as examples of ‘material modernism’. The main objective is to illuminate the significance of Marx’s contributions to modern art through her creation of block-printed furnishing fabrics and designs for woven patterns (1922-1948). By placing focus on objecthood and the subjectivity of her fabrics through the exploration of their cultural references, symbolism and her process, Marx’s influences and collections are examined as evidence of personal expression and examples of material culture, which reflect her artistic development and the intellectual and theoretical climate of modernism in inter-war Britain.

The second and equally significant aim is to explore how Marx (1902-1998) emerges as a leading modernist figure from within the British historical avant-garde. Through analysis of Marx’s unpublished archival sources, personal collections and textile samples this thesis uncovers the broader networks in which Marx developed as an artist and designer and that she, in turn, stimulated. Examination of Marx’s pioneering status gives new visibility to overlooked artist-craftswomen in the 1920s and ‘30s; a role in which the modern, colonial, and transcultural are intertwined and created new routes for artistic innovation. This research reveals the ways in which Marx and her networks engaged with significant modernist art and design practices of the late Edwardian and inter-war period, to develop new transcultural ideas and approaches to making that would put Marx at the forefront of social design in the 1940s.

By arguing for Marx’s contribution to modern pattern as an innovative artistic practice, her fabrics are examined through post-colonial, feminist and iconological debates in order to place her textiles within wider historical and transnational contexts. Chapter-by-chapter case-studies examine Marx’s familial environment and earliest collections of ‘popular’ art, her connection with the French avant-garde and German Romantic traditions to her student experiments with wood-engraving at the R.C.A and development of interest in ‘primitive’ materials in British colonial displays. The artistry of her motifs and print-processes is explored in relation to the haptic conditions of block-printing through her apprenticeship with Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher and their shared processes are linked to the sensorial conditions of modernism described by Roger Fry. Discussion of the practical display and support of gallery-cultures of the inter-war period then gives visibility to the contribution of Marx and her artistic networks to British modernism and their international exhibitions. Ultimately, Marx’s shift in technical process shows her transition from artist-craftswoman to a designer of pattern for mass-produced textiles for London Underground fabrics and furnishing textiles for the wartime Utility Scheme.

Exploration of intersecting social, cultural and material factors of the inter-war period and their effect on Marx’s patterns is intended to complicate binary myths of modernism and the validity of textiles and the applied arts. Analysis of Marx’s motifs is designed to expand the scope of abstract and modernist pattern in textiles beyond accusations of the ‘merely’ decorative to dismantle hierarchical criticism and reductive readings of applied pattern as ‘ornamental’ and ‘impure’ examples of modernism, and to reveal Marx as a pioneer of pattern within broader systems of knowledge. Her unity of experimental and practice-based approaches is shown as a hybridisation of concurrent sensorial conditions of abstraction with historical visual cultures and traditional print-practices; a modern praxis which she then applied to designs for mass-production to shape the fabric of wartime Britain.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorJuliet Simpson (Supervisor) & Jill Journeaux (Supervisor)

Cite this

'