Researching Crofton Gane
Crofton Gane's outstanding contribution to Modernism was recognised in 2010 by the celebratory exhibition Marcel Breuer in Bristol, held at the Bristol Architecture Centre.
It was the result of a research project which looked at the work of the great Hungarian architect and designer Marcel Breuer during his time in England, when he was employed by Gane's of Bristol furniture company before he left for the United States and international fame.
Also see the Breuer in Bristol Exhibition at the Architecture Centre.
Crofton and Modernism
When Crofton Gane became chairman of the Gane Furniture company in 1933, the firm was producing high quality furniture designed in a variety of traditional styles. But he had already been exposed to Modernism, the new style developing in Europe, thanks in part to joining the recently formed Design Industry Association.
The DIA took regular excursions across Europe to see the latest exhibitions and shows pertaining to design, and it was here that Crofton first encountered the style and ambition of the Modern movement. He quickly made the decision to introduce this new style to his company back in England, and on taking over from his father set about transforming the showroom into a model modern house.
In 1933 the Bauhaus art and design school in Germany closed under Nazi pressure, and its leading architect and designer Marcel Breuer moved to England, following his close friend Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus's original founder. Both worked in London with Jack Pritchard of Isokon furniture, to whom Gane's supplied furniture. Through this connection Crofton was able to employ Breuer to design two important buildings in Bristol. Both were furnished with Isokon furniture designed by Breuer and bespoke pieces made by Gane's.
Downs Park West
The first project was the renovation in 1936 of Crofton's own house in Downs Park West, Clifton. Few external alterations were made to what was deliberately chosen as an ordinary contemporary house, but inside it was completely transformed into a model modern domestic interior, which was used for the furniture company’s 1936 catalogue. It was a showpiece for the many guests whom Crofton invited to his house to see what modern design could create.
The Bristol Pavilion
The second project was Gane's amazingly avant garde temporary exhibition pavilion for the Royal Agricultural show on Ashton Court in Bristol, created in the same year. A flat roof and curved front wall of thick, heavy local stone contrasted with large flat opening panels of glass. The inside, which was modelled as a show home, was finished in plywood. In a subsequent interview in 1954, Breuer is quoted as listing the Gane pavilion as one of his favourite buildings from his whole career.
Like Gropius, Breuer moved on to America and is now considered one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. Whilst his time in Britain was brief, it was an important opportunity to experiment fully with his own ideas and was hugely influential in shaping the approach to Architecture and Design here.
The exhibition Marcel Breuer in Bristol was supported by the Gane Trust, the Royal West of England Academy Student Bursary, and the RIBA Historical Research Trust, and was organised by Max Gane, great-grandson of Crofton Gane. More information can be found at www.architecturecentre/Exhibitions-Breuer-in-Bristol.
Pictures: top - the Breuer in Bristol exhibition; bottom - Max Gane, exhibition organiser