William Kilburn (1745-1818) was one of the UK’s leading craftsmen and most celebrated textile artists of the 18th century. He is best known for illustrating William Curtis‘ Flora Londinensis, as well as being a printer of calico. He was also was the chief petitioner in March 1787, requesting Parliament for design copyright protection in the textile industry.
More widely known for his opulent floral designs, the wallpapers Old Oak and Love Leaves were taken from an unusual set of watercolours discovered in a sketchbook by descendent Gabriel Sempill. Marking a departure from the chintz that Kilburn was recognized for, a full reproduction was published by Simon Lawrence’s Fleece Press in 2014. Mr Kilburn’s Calicos: William Kilburn’s Fabric Printing Patterns from the Year 1800 includes an exquisite facsimile of the sketchbook in its entirety and modern takes on Kilburn’s motifs, realised as repeats by textile designer Sholto Drumlanrig.
The V&A holds a vast body of the botanical prints that made Kilburn famous, but the watercolours in Mr Kilburn’s Calicos reveal a change in fashion, moving towards more sophisticated, simpler and sometimes abstract designs that have a distinctively contemporary feel.