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Calyx screen-printed furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal's Wholesale & Export, 1951 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation
Calyx screen-printed furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal's Wholesale & Export, 1951 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation
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A New Exhibition Celebrates the Work of Great Post-War Designer Lucienne Day

Picture of Charlotte Luxford
Home & Design Editor
Updated: 28 February 2017
While not many people have heard of textile designer Lucienne Day, she was one of the most influential designers of her heyday, alongside her husband and furniture designer Robin Day. Lucienne Day: A Sense of Growth gives Day the recognition she deserves in an exhibition that charts the designer’s impressive 60-year career, showcasing her most iconic work. Discover more about this incredible pioneer of mid-century design.

Who was Lucienne Day?

Lucienne Day with Foreshore (1952) on roof of Cheyne Walk, 1950s | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation
Lucienne Day with Foreshore on roof of Cheyne Walk, 1952 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation

At the heart of Britain’s ‘Golden Age’, textile designer Lucienne Day and her husband Robin were pioneers of the post-war revival of design, pushing the boundaries of modern creativity. Her best-known work is probably her ‘Calyx’ textile, which was launched at the Festival of Britain in 1951, and she subsequently received the coveted International Design Award of the American Institute of Decorators. She was commissioned by a wide variety of companies to create designs for carpets, wallpapers, tea towels, ceramics and textiles.

Black Leaf tea towel, Lucienne Day, Thomas Somerset, 1959 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation
Black Leaf tea towel, Lucienne Day, Thomas Somerset, 1959 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation

Day was raised in London by an English mother and a Belgian father, attending a convent school before attending Croydon School of Art and then, from 1937 to 1940, at the Royal College of Art. It was there, in her final year, that she first met her life-long partner Robin Day.

What inspired her designs?

While Lucienne Day was very interested in the natural world around her, with plants, flowers and foliage at the heart of many of her designs, she was also very interested in contemporary abstract art. This accounts for her vibrant, quirky interpretations of nature, speaking the visual language of Kandinsky, Joan Miró and Paul Klee combined with a wonderful sense of colour. Some examples of these works include her famous ‘Calyx’ print and also ‘Parkland’.

Calyx screen-printed furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal's Wholesale & Export, 1951| © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation
‘Calyx’ screen-printed furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal’s Wholesale & Export, 1951 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation

It’s no surprise to learn that she was a passionate gardener and very knowledgeable on her species of flora and fauna – she even went on specialist botanical holidays abroad for inspiration. Her love for gardening really came to the fore in the Sixties when she and Robin leased a cottage in West Sussex; it had a shady woodland garden that she planted with predominantly white-bloomed cultivars.

High Noon screen-printed furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal Fabrics, 1965 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation
‘High Noon’ screen-printed furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal Fabrics, 1965 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation

Lucienne Day: A Sense of Growth

The exhibition in Manchester’s Whitworth is a collaboration between the gallery, the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation and GROW. Day donated her entire textile archive to The Whitworth, which has one of the largest Lucienne Day textile collections in the world. Curator Jennifer Harris worked with Lucienne Day back in 1993 on the first ever Lucienne Day retrospective exhibition held at the Whitworth previously, so she is well equipped to be curating this exhibition as well.

Linden furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal's, 1960 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation
‘Linden’ furnishing fabric, Lucienne Day, Heal’s, 1960 | © Robin & Lucienne Day Foundation

The exhibition is also part of a Whitworth engagement project that promotes the benefits of getting involved in horticultural activities to improve mental wellbeing. Participants in GROW sessions have the opportunity to learn a variety of horticultural techniques and engage with aspects of the Whitworth’s collections.

The Whitworth in Manchester | © Alan Williams
The Whitworth in Manchester | © Alan Williams

Lucienne Day: A Sense of Growth runs from April 14 – June 11, 2017. For more information, click here.