Clarence’s painting and drawing was not limited to his water colours of plants. He sketched landscapes, architectural detail, and other subjects especially when he was walking or travelling. Much of his illustration is enhanced into patterns, such as the repetitive use of the stem of a flower and its blossom to create a frame for a page in one of the visitors’ books or other vellum albums. He decorated the whole of the interior of the Casa Fontanalba in these floral designed and the umbrella pots of the Museo Bicknell (image left). His proverbs in Esperanto are most often illuminated with the same floral surrounds.
One of Clarence's favorite flowers was the dandelion. This repetitive image (right) is from the Book of Visitors to the Casa Fontanalba in Esperanto.
In these ways one can consider Clarence a master of “arts and crafts”. Certainly, the Arts and Crafts movement flourished between 1860 and 1910, the period of Clarence’s greatest output, and he cannot have avoided influence from some of his peers. For example the movement was inspired by the writings of John Ruskin (1819–1900), among others, the same Ruskin who was a friend of Clarence’s father and a frequent guest at the family home in Herne Hill. It is likely that Clarence knew from the world around him that there was value in painted creativity other than just landscapes and portraits on canvas.
Right: "The Triumph of the Dandelion" from one of the vellum-bound albums in the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. All rights reserved.
When one thinks of Arts and Crafts, one thinks of its greatest exponent, the artist and writer William Morris (1834–1896, just 10 years older) who was in his stride in the 1860s when Clarence was going through university. Morris’s use of floral themes to make designs for wallpaper and china might have inspired Clarence to use his brushwork talents to decorate the vellum books and other items round the house. Many of Clarence’s patterns, such as those which dominate the collection in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, are formed in geometric patterns such that they could easily be adopted by today’s design-hungry consumers as table mats, tea cloths and kitchen tiles.
Left: One of Clarence Bicknell's many symmetrical floral patterns, Tulipa preacox ten., covering a page of one of the vellum-bound albums in the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Marcus Bicknell, February 2013 updated 2019
Clarence Bicknell - His Art By Susie Bicknell, 2016