Born in the town of Elgin in the Scottish highlands, the Audsley brothers - William James (1833-1907) and George Ashdown (1838-1925) - ran a successful architectural firm in Liverpool from 1860 to 1883 and later opened branches in London and New York. Their projects ranged from private houses to meeting halls and churches and even, in their later years, a skyscraper. Beyond their professional commitments, they were enthusiastic collectors and patrons of the arts, who organised exhibitions, gave lectures and (especially in George's case) published books to promote their interests. George's passions included medieval illumination, interior decoration and the construction of pipe organs, but he is probably best remembered for his landmark publication opening up the world of Japanese design to European eyes.
Splendidly illustrated (by Audsley himself) with colour plates produced by the premier French chromolithographic firm of Lemercier, The ornamental arts of Japan is divided into two volumes. The first covers drawing, painting, engraving, printing, embroidery and textiles. The second focuses on incrusted-work, metal work, cloisonne enamel and modelling. The work is dedicated to one of the other great Victorian collectors of Japanese artefacts, Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Audsley's accompanying text explains that the fukusa (embroidered covering for a ceremonial gift) shown here belonged to the German-born art dealer Siegfried Bing (1838-1905), who ran an ‘Oriental crafts shop’ in Paris in the 1880s, selling both contemporary and ancient Japanese objects. ‘The design is a favourite one with Japanese artists - a trained falcon on its perch, under a fir tree. The ground of the fukusa is dark blue satin; and the embroidery is executed with the greatest delicacy and accuracy in floss silk and gold thread. The direction of the stitches and the manner in which they are laid, are clearly indicated on the Plate. The bird is most beautifully rendered in white and grey silk, every stitch being laid with marvellous precision. The fir tree, conventional clouds, and the greater portion of the perch, are in fine fold couching; and the scarlet cords and tassels are laid on in relief. This is characteristic work of the early part of the present century. The border round the embroidery is copied from a silk and gold tissue.’
The Library's copy was purchased in 1912. The Library also owns copies of four earlier books produced by the Audsleys: The sermon on the mount (1861, donated by Henry Shaw), Keramic art of Japan (1875, donated by Henry Shaw), Outlines of ornament in the leading styles (1881), Polychromatic decoration as applied to buildings in the mediaeval styles (1882, donated by Thomas Wilson Leys).