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Jacqueline Groag A life of Textiles

August 14, 2017

Born Hilde Pick in Prague in 1903 (she changed her name when she met her husband, a fellow Czech named Jacques Groag, at a Viennese masked ball in the 1930s), she grew up in an affluent Jewish family.

Her childhood was marred by ill-health and, as a result, she was largely home-schooled. She was also quite a solitary child who  spent time alone drawing.  Later in life, she said she had a theory that everyone has a particular age that they remain at inside, regardless of their real age; hers, she maintained, was eight. It gave her gave her a unique style that, while naïve and simple, was anything but childish.

Groag studied in Vienna in the 1920s, focusing on textiles and pattern design. She studied textile design in Vienna and flowered under the tutelage of Franz Cizek who then recommended her to Joseph Hoffmann, Head of the Werkstätte and she became one of his students. By 1930 she was already designing textiles for couturiers such as Chanel, Worth and Schiaparelli. Following a first prize for a poster design for the Salzburg Festival in the 1920s Groag won an award for a lace design at the Paris Exposition Coloniale Internationale (1931), a gold medal at the 1933 Milan Trienniale and another gold medal for textiles at the 1937 Paris Expo. It was Cizek who suggested she concentrate on surface design and who encouraged his students to set aside the formal teaching they’d had in favour of a less-structured approach. Her work, which often used a grid, where squares were filled with drawings, figures and motifs, might have been dismissed by some as ‘decorative arts’ but she was unperturbed.

Groag began making designs for the Wiener Werkstatte collective of artist-designers, who came together with the aim of creating strong, credible design across the artistic disciplines. Working at a difficult but exciting time, she sold designs to the Werkstatte while still a student, as well as winning prizes for her work, including one design for a poster to promote the Salzburg Festival. These were prestigious accolades and distinguished her from her classmates and contemporaries. Like Hoffman, she did not agree with the values of the International Modernist movement, which eschewed decoration as frivolous and unnecessary.

She married the modernist architect Jacques Groag in 1939 but with the rising Nazi threat the couple had to leave Vienna. They moved to Britain and Jacqueline soon found work. Her playful designs with strong lines and vivid colours proved to be a welcome change from the stereotyped floral patterns current at the time.

By 1955 Jacqueline was established as a designer for the British textile industry. Her client list is long and varied and ranges from British Rail to Associated American Artists. As well as for David Whitehead & Sons, Groag designed textiles for future RDIs Sir Misha Black at the Design Research Unit and Alistair Morton at Edinburgh Weavers. Her designs were applied to wallpapers, to carpets for Bond-Worth, to interiors for the airline BOAC, greetings cards for Hallmark, for Johnson Matthey ceramic dinnerware and for plastic laminates. A number of her designs were featured in the Britain Can Make It exhibition and her influence was evident at the Festival of Britain 1951, where her designs were also exhibited.

When she was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1984 the RDI Master Dr William Brown reported that they had been trying to arrange for Jacqueline to join the Faculty for many years ‘but illness and other circumstances had served to make her election elusive until now’. He added that throughout her long and busy career the quality of her work had never faltered.

Jacqueline Groag died at the age of 82 on 13 January 1986. Her work instills in me, a strong sense of calm, any thoughts readers ?

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Roxy permalink
    August 14, 2017 3:48 pm

    Such a talent! Love her designs!!

  2. Maria Luiza Newlands permalink
    August 14, 2017 7:01 pm

    Excellent posting of an excellent designer. Thank you!

  3. Jen permalink
    August 14, 2017 8:38 pm

    These are delightful – thanks for the intro to a great talent!

  4. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia permalink
    August 15, 2017 1:09 pm

    I think she is a superb colourist – such vivacity! I just love the way the energy of the shapes dances with the energy of the colours – oh so groovy!

  5. Elaine Wrightson permalink
    August 17, 2017 11:31 am

    There is something about her work I find refreshing. Lovely designs. Would like to see them reproduced today as I think they would do well again. Thanks again for yet another wonderful post.

    • August 18, 2017 8:33 am

      Thanks Elaine, I agree some of her textiles would look great on retro /contemporary sofas and curtains today.

  6. August 18, 2017 5:02 pm

    I see the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s in her work. I thought the book-end print was fun.

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