How did post Darwin developments of theories of evolution, theism and spirituality inform the architect and designer CFA Voysey’s concept of nature in his work and writings?
Kingston University, London
Supervisor: Professor Penny Sparke
C.F.A. Voysey (1857-1941) is regarded as a significant English Arts and Crafts architect and designer. Influenced by Ruskin, Pugin, Morris and Mackmurdo, Voysey believed designers should go to nature for inspiration. Like William Morris, he designed wallpapers and textiles featuring flora and fauna. Unlike Morris, he designed over 100 buildings (in London, Surrey and beyond) for industrialists, intellectuals and a growing middle class who sought homes in the countryside after expansion of the railways. My PhD research will focus on Voysey’s evolving conception of nature, visual and material sources for his designs, representation of flora and fauna in domestic interiors, and his patronage circle in the context of changing attitudes to representation and emerging modernity. Central to the study is the investigation of Voysey’s formative years, an area overlooked in current scholarship. A descendant of Susanna Wesley, C.F.A. Voysey was the eldest son of the renegade preacher Charles Voysey, who founded a Theistic Church in London. His congregation and sympathisers included key intellectuals of the late 19th century who welcomed scientific discoveries, such as Thomas H. Huxley, biologist and advocate of Darwin’s theory of evolution (“Darwin’s Bulldog”). Within this wider intellectual context, I will re-assess the significance of Voysey’s writings about nature and ‘The Creator,’ post Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). Spiritualism, science, Voysey’s northern European interests, and impact of his father’s establishment of a Theistic church will be considered. Key sources for research will be unpublished and published writing by C.F.A. Voysey, Charles Voysey’s sermons and museum and archive collections including the Darwin Archive, Cambridge University Library (Darwin-Voysey letters) and Brandon-Jones’s newly acquired collection at the RIBA Archive.