Marie Gudme Leth - Pioneer of print

Designmuseum Danmark

Designmuseum Danmark is displaying a number of Marie Gudme Leth’s textile prints and invites all visitors into a colourful universe with a selection of the beautiful patterns.

Textile printer Marie Gudme Leth (1895–1997)

Marie Gudme Leth was one of the pioneers who revived textile printing as an artisanal craft in Denmark around 1930. She herself created a number of classic textile designs that became immensely popular in their day and still continue to delight a modern audience.

Especially fascinating are her narrative flora-and-fauna patterns from the 1930s and much of the 1940s.

Marie Gudme Leth was born in 1895 in the Jutland town of Aarhus, where she
honed her talent for drawing at the local technical school. She later graduated from the Women’s School of Drawing and Industrial Art in Copenhagen, followed by a couple of semesters at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Around this time she also worked at the Danish Museum of Decorative Art (now Designmuseum Danmark) making drawings and paintings of objects for the museum’s accessioning registers.

The exhibition ran between the period from June 17th to September 25th 2016.

In the beginning

While visiting Java, Marie Gudme Leth became familiar with the wax-resist dyeing and printing technique batik. In the late 1920s she took part in various group exhibitions for applied art in Copenhagen, showing lampshades, knitted clothing and printed fabrics. Interested chiefly in applied-art items, Marie Gudme Leth quickly recognized that there was a market for beautiful, modern, functional printed textiles.

In the late 1920s and over the next 40 to 50 years there was a huge interest in high-quality hand-crafted goods, and the field flourished accordingly. From the very beginning of her professional life, Marie Gudme Leth’s aim was to raise the status of printed textiles to the level enjoyed by other branches of applied art.

While studying in Germany in 1930 at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Decorative Arts) in Frankfurt am Main, Marie Gudme Leth became well-versed in the colours and dyes, techniques and after-treatments involved in textile printing. However, that same year she also received an offer to set up and head the textile-printing class at Copenhagen’s newly established School of Applied Art. She accepted this offer – and returned to the Danish capital. In parallel with her new teaching job she also did independent work, designing and printing her own fabrics.

Artistically, Marie Gudme Leth’s work falls into three periods. The fabrics from her early years are done in the block technique. The motifs, most printed in one or very few colours, stand out as orderly islands arranged on a natural, unbleached ground. Some of these early patterns, for instance Urskov (Jungle), Mexico and Kamæleon (Chameleon), were inspired by her stay in Java.

In the late 1930s, as Marie Gudme Leth replaced woodblock printing with silk-screen
(or frame) printing, some of her patterns would have elements in the rapport (the
repeated components) that would slip near and sometimes over one another, erasing the clear boundaries of the rapport. The new technique could be used to do multi-colour print runs and larger, more complex rapports. A few of her patterns even applied a rapport that spanned the whole width of the fabric. Up through the 1940s her designs and colour schemes
became more sophisticated, and Marie Gudme Leth developed a confident, charming,
and sometimes humorous style teeming with plant and animal motifs

The final part of Marie Gudme Leth’s production, her geometrical designs, were often done in warm, intense colours that covered the
fabric completely, as seen in Mariatti, Beirut
and similar patterns. Study trips to Italy (Ravenna) with its
ancient mosaics, and also to the near Orient – made possible by the Tagea Brandt travel grant Marie Gudme Leth was awarded in 1955 – inspired her to make this radical change of style.

When Marie Gudme Leth embarked on her career as a textile printer, printed fabrics – or “calico prints” as they were called then – were rarely made in Denmark. Textile printing as an artisanal craft had not survived the massive imports of cheaper printed cottons, notably from Germany, France and England.

The design ‘Guinea fowl’, used as the logo for this exhibition, is on display in the museum’s permanent
fashion and textile exhibition, ‘Fashion & Fabric’.

Credits: Story

Exhibition curator: Kirsten Toftegaard
Photo credits: Pernille Klemp

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