Tibor Reich retrospective, Whitworth Gallery, Manchester

17 Febrauary 2016

Travelling to the north of England during the school half term seemed like a great opportunity to visit to the Tibor Reich exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester. Ideally, I would have liked to have gone on my own, but with my 9 year old son being not particularly taken with the exhibits, the visit was shorter than I would have liked. I did, however manage to take some interesting photos and get a flavour of Reich’s work, which was so influential in post-war Britain.

Reich was a Hungarian immigrant who was born in 1916. He was a designer of textiles and ceramics and set up a business (Tibor Ltd) in London, which continued until 1978 (1). Reich was very good at expressing both colour and texture through textiles, which included printed and woven household fabrics and rugs. 

The most valuable part of the exhibtion for me was to understand Reich’s design methods. A breakthrough came for Reich in 1948, when he sought to incorporate textures inspired by nature into a fabric range of woven furniture fabrics. Following on from this, it was in 1956, that he bought his two interests of nature and photography together in a design process. Taking a photograph, making positive and negative prints of part of it, and rearranging the prints in a way which together gave a ‘virtual texture’.

These are two examples which I saw at the exhibition. Firstly, a dried, muddy surface which had shrunk and cracked.

The photographed image was used to create a design for a rug (above). I like the way that Reich has also explored the effects of changing the colours, and making the image negative (colour of cracks are a lighter value than the mud). This makes the cracks appear in the foreground of the design, ‘above’ the black background.

My second example is taken from a photograph of Reich’s family on holiday. This display board from the exhibition explains how Reich designed fabric from the wall textures in the background of the photograph.


You can see the sections which he cut and pasted, some in negative image, some positive. The resulting fabric (“Florida”, 1957, cotton sateen screen print, part of the Fotexur series), appears almost three-dimentional, as if it were pleated.

With regards to colour work, I would like to make particular mention of Reich’s series of woven “Madison colour blankets” (1957). Reich believed colour was energy (5) and cleverly used colour combinations together with innovative weaving techniques to produce amazing textiles.

There were three different colourways of woven blanket exhibited –

This first one is my favourite (photo above). The juxta-positioning of colours and the use of different values makes for some interesting colour interactions and gives the piece depth and energy. 

Although still effective, I don’t feel that the blue and red colourways have the same impact. These are much simpler representations, using a single hue with grey and white/black. The exhibition gave a single year of manufacture for all the blankets. However, I have wondered whether they were a developmental series, and if so whether the more complex blanket with lots of different colour hues was the final piece.

The Madison blankets were supposedly inspired by a photograph which Reich took in Madison Avenue, New York. Unfortunately I have been unable to track the photograph down, but can only assume the blankets to be inspired by the architecture of the high rise buildings.

Reich had a long and distinguished career in textile design (although he also produce pottery and tiles). His firm, Tibor Ltd, rapidly gained international reputation working on comissions for the Festival of Britain, Expo ’58 and Concorde. He bought a new area of colour and texture into British homes in the post-war era. Because there are too many works to mention in this blog and to keep a record of my visit, I have made a Dropbox link  to all my photos of the retrospective, which I have annotated for my future reference. This has also enabled me to share my experience with fellow OCA students, my Facebook textile page followers and friends.


  1. Wilson, M. (2013) Tibor Reich’s grandson relaunches his iconic brand. Startford-upon Avon Herald. 26 September 2013. Available from: http://www.stratford-herald.com/1802-tibor-reichs-grandson-relaunches-his-grandfathers-iconic-brand.html. [Accessed 25 February 2016]
  2. Anon. (2016) What’s on: Tibor Reich Available from: http://www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/currentexhibitions/tibor-reich/ [Accessed 25 February 2016]
  3. Powers, K., Hann, M.A. And Cousens, J.A. Tibor Reich: A life of colour and weave. Arts Textrina no. 39. An accompaniment to the exhibition Tibor:Reich: A life of colour and weave. University of Leeds international textile archive. Leeds. Available from:  http://l8lj4w45xq24rooa1c6upxke.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/files/2014/06/Tibor_Reich.pdf [Accessed 25 February 2016]
  4. Hann, M.A. And Powers, K. (2009) Tibor Reich – a textile designer working in Stratford. Textile History, 40(2), 212-228. November 2009. Available from: http://l8lj4w45xq24rooa1c6upxke.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/files/2014/06/Reich_Article.pdf %5BAccessed 25 February 2016]
  5. Ellis-Peterson, H. (2016) Him indoors: Tibor Reich, the designer who brightened up Britain forever. The Guardian. 1 February 2016. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/01/tibor-reich-the-whitworth-manchester-interiors-britain-designer-bright-colour [Accessed 25 February 2016]
  6. Tibor. Available from: http://www.tibor.co.uk/1960-s–tibor-reich.html [Accessed 25 February 2016]
  7. ULITA – An archive of international textiles. Available from: http://emuseum.leeds.ac.uk/view/objects/asitem/4/87/title-asc?t:state:flow=516570f7-cce0-46d0-b738-b51c2f8015d9 [Accessed 25 February 2016]



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