Liberty's Orient: taste and trade in the decorative arts in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, 1875-1914

Ashmore, Sonia (2001). Liberty's Orient: taste and trade in the decorative arts in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain, 1875-1914. PhD thesis The Open University.



Liberty's shop in Regent Street, London, opened in 1875. Its immediate success was based on textiles and artefacts imported from the Orient. The ambition of its founder, A. L. Liberty, became the reform of dress and home furnishings. Liberty's commercial achievement and influence are evaluated against the development of the 19th century department store, the smaller, but influential, 'art' shop and the network of London importers.

A.L. Liberty' s ideas and business practice developed in the context of late 19th century debate about the relationship of art, design and commerce and a dramatic expansion of consumer markets. The wider trading world of the East India Company, the British Empire in India, and the opening of Japan to world trade were also fundamental.

Using Liberty's as a case study, the thesis examines 19th century responses to the 'Oriental' trade, and reviews 20th century assessments of the artistic and commercial environment in which the company developed, and its colonial context. The relevance and limitations of Edward Said's Orientalism (1978) as a perspective on Liberty's Oriental trade provide a theoretical framework for the thesis.

The significance of Liberty's Oriental merchandise, or its trade context have not been seriously considered in previous studies of Liberty's. This thesis uses primary sources and material evidence to clarify these issues. Re-examination of archive material has suggested new interpretations of the means by which Oriental artefacts were obtained, and illuminated A.L. Liberty's crucial personal and business relationships.

Liberty and his company are considered as a case study in the complex relationship between taste, trade and ethics in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. The thesis also offers a contribution to the continuing discussion of Orientalism in the decorative arts.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions