Born in London, William Arthur Smith Benson studied classics and philosophy at Oxford University. There he met John Ruskin, whose writing on architecture inspired him to work in the field. He commenced work with an architecture firm in 1877 and from 1878 began designing decorative metalwork and furniture for the British designer William Morris.
In 1880 he established his own workshop for the production of domestic silver and metalware in the Arts and Crafts style popularised by Morris. Benson’s workshop was supplemented by a factory, which he opened in 1883 in Hammersmith, London, to mass-produce his simple, elegant and modern designs for kettles, electric lamps and firescreens in copper and electroplate. He was a founder of the Art Workers’ Guild in 1884 and in 1893 wrote the influential book Elements of handicraft and design.
The simple design of this kettle and stand is typical of Benson’s fluid and elegant style. While drawing from the organic forms that influenced the European Art Nouveau and Jugendstil styles of the late nineteenth century, in its simplicity and functionalism Benson’s design work prefigured the rational design of the early twentieth century.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010