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Champions of Design: Winsor & Newton

The art materials brand has been providing the world's artists with tools and inspiration for 180 years.

William Winsor and Henry Newton founded their art supplies business in 1832 to offer a wide choice of permanent colours to painters. Earlier artists had created their own, but by the late 18th century, this skill was becoming the preserve of specialist colour-makers, and quality varied.

The two friends used their backgrounds in art and chemistry to establish a company that delivered what painters wanted – it is now one of the world's leading fine-art supplies brands. As well as paint, it supplies brushes, canvases, easels and accessories.

Newton's home at 38 Rathbone Place, London, was the original base. The area was an artists' quarter where painters, including John Constable, had studios, and other colour-makers worked. The brand's first product used the moisture-retaining properties of glycerine in the creation of watercolour cakes, which soon became popular. With the invention of metal tubes for paint, the business was able to offer even more convenient oils and watercolours

After Winsor's death in 1865, his share of the firm was inherited by his son Benyon. Newton bought this share in 1879. A few months before his own death in 1882, Newton sold the business to the newly incorporated firm of Winsor & Newton Ltd. The company employed successive Newtons until the late 1970s.

During the second half of the 19th century, the firm started to export. In 1893, it gained three awards at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, and the following year, set up an office in New York. The US became the biggest overseas market and in 1915, a subsidiary was incorporated there.

With the advent of the camera, the market for fine art materials came under threat and the firm diversified into craft products, starting with pen painting materials in 1911. A scholastic range was added in 1933.

At the turn of the 20th century, Wealdstone in north-west London became the site for Winsor & Newton's canvas and woodworking factories. Centralisation of activities followed: colour manufacture transferred there in 1938 and the offices in the following year. After World War II, Lowestoft in Suffolk was chosen as the site for a brush-making factory.

In 1976, Winsor & Newton was bought by Reckitt & Colman for £7.32m. The original woodworking site was turned into a new factory to house colour-making activities and store the 33,000 raw materials required.

In 1990, Reckitt & Colman sold the company to German paint-maker A B Wilhelm Becker, which has its own artists' materials division, ColArt.

Winsor & Newton's historic Harrow factory was closed in 2011. However, the brand remains strong as the world leader in artists' colours, and the biggest imported brand in many of its 110 markets. As the art world develops in new media, it retains close links with fine arts through sponsorship and bursary initiatives to inspire the next generation of artists.


BRAND LESSON

Silas Amos, creative strategist, JKRBy Silas Amos, Creative Strategist, JKR

Winsor & Newton's 1973 packaging for drawing inks illustrates several principles that I believe can make a champion of design.

The packaging endures because the little bottles contain a fantastic product, which the design very smartly made the star: a diverse range of artistic talent was employed to advertise the ink's full potential. Each beautiful pack image was drawn in Winsor & Newton inks, accenting the colour in that bottle.

This is a range greater than the sum of its parts. Individually they are nice, but together they are a wonderful collection, the diversity of images and styles harmonised by a strong and simple design layout.

The crisp outer box and the inner jar with its Aztec-temple-style silhouette combine to create a unique physical experience. To open one, to dip a brush, is to experience packaging as ritual.

They transcend fashion. The original range now acts as a snapshot of illustration styles in vogue during the 1970s. Nonetheless, consistency has moved them past cool, through quaint, until they simply "are". The brand deserves a prize for having never tinkered, updated or ruined them ,by trying to improve. This restraint has delivered them a design classic.

As a child I saw these inks in shops and took them for magical play blocks. Seduced by the drawings, I begged for a couple and, once home, learned to draw with them, as my six-year-old now does with me. The great packaging delivered even more than it promised.


TIMELINE

1832: Winsor & Newton was founded at 38 Rathbone Place, London.

1835: The brand launched the world's first moist watercolours.

1841: It was awarded the Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

1842: Winsor & Newton introduced the collapsible, screw-top paint tube.

1882: Became a limited company.

1937: The firm moved its colour works to a site in Wealdstone.

1946: It opened a brush factory in Lowestoft.

1957: Floated on the Stock Exchange.

1976: Bought by Reckitt & Colman. The brand also launched its fast-drying alkyd paint range.

1990: AB Wilhelm Becker bought the company.

2007: The brand celebrated its 175th anniversary.

2011: Colour-making moved to France.

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