Owen Jones (1809 – 1874)
Jones and the young French architect Jules Goury travelled to Egypt to study the Islamic architecture of Cairo and the ancient sites, and continued on to Constantinople before finally arriving at Granada in southern Spain where he embarked on a 6 month study of the Islamic decoration at the Alhambra.
The standard of colour printing at that time was not sophisticated enough to do justice to the intricate decoration of the Alhambra, therefore Jones undertook the printing work himself. Collaborating with chemists and printers, Jones took it upon himself to research the new process of chromolithography. He issued this labour of love, ‘Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra’, in twelve parts over a period of almost ten years, from 1836 to 1845. It was the world’s first ever published work of any significance to employ chromolithography.
Jones was employed as one of the Superintendents of Works for the Great Exhibition of 1851.
After the Great Exhibition closed, the “Crystal Palace” was re-erected in Sydenham. Jones was given joint responsibility, with Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820–1877), for the decoration and layout for this new incarnation which opened in 1854. Jones had the opportunity to re-visit his work at the Alhambra by building a luxurious re-creation of the famed palace in the ‘Alhambra Court’.
One of the earliest examples of Jones’s decoration as applied to architecture (and one of the few examples to exist today, albeit restored) was his work on Christ Church, Streatham, built in 1841 by James Wild, which exhibits brick polychromy and architectural details with Byzantine and Islamic influences.
During the early 1860s, Jones was commissioned to design the South Kensington Museum’s (now V&A) Indian Court and Chinese & Japanese Court, collectively known as the Oriental Courts. The V&A also holds design drawings by Jones for a speculative ‘Alhambra’ Court, which presumably would have housed exhibits of Islamic art.
Jones designed the interiors for his country house at Fonthill (1863) and for his London town house at 16 Carlton House Terrace (1867.) In what he described as the great triumph of his life, Jones was also commissioned to design interiors for the palace of the Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, in Cairo (1864.) The work at Carlton House Terrace and the Viceroy’s Palace was noted for Jones’s mastery of Arab and Moorish design principles.