William Morris Tapestries
William Morris (1834-1896) was a man of many talents; an artist, writer, social activist and textile designer being among them. In 1856 he established the ‘Oxford and Cambridge Magazine’ in which he published his ideas with regards to craftsmanship and the decorative arts. Later, he would become a valued associate of the English Arts and Crafts Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Five years later, in 1861, William Morris established a design firm, later called Morris & Co, along with artists Dante Gabriel Rossini and Edward Burne-Jones. Working at the firm, he created many remarkable textile and wallpaper designs, most of which were based upon his observations of the natural world. Morris & Co had an enormous influence upon decoration in the early twentieth century. However, it was William Morris who had the greatest influence upon the revival of traditional methods within textile production.
William Morris produced some of his first repeat design wallpapers during 1862 and later, in 1868, he created his first specific print design for fabric. Morris always preferred to use more traditional hand crafting methods. Therefore, he virtually dismissed modern roller printing, in favor of wood block printing. William Morris spent a year perfecting traditional vegetable dye methods with wool, silk and cotton, at the Staffordshire Dye Works. His aim was always to produce textiles of the highest calibre in a traditional manner. From 1877 to 1878, Morris engrossed himself in textile production and in particular, with the intricacies of double woven furnishing fabrics. Today, the textile designs of William Morris continue to be highly revered. One of our most popular is the tree of life tapestry.
Morris & Co Tapestries
William Morris always aspired to produce tapestries, believing it to be "the noblest of the weaving arts". On behalf of Morris & Co, Morris began work in textile production he completed his first tapestry. In 1879 he finished ‘The Acanthus and Vine’ which Morris later nicknamed ‘The Cabbage and Vine’. This tapestry took him more than five hundred hours to complete. It was inspired by the Flemish ‘verdure’ tapestries produced during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The tapestry was worked on a vertical loom using a cotton warp using wool and silk yarns. The first attempt of William Morris was slightly distorted due to some uneven tension and other variations within the weave. Unperturbed, he employed John Henry Dearle and established a small tapestry workshop at Queens Square in the Bloomsbury district of London. Later, in 1881, he would move to the larger workshop of Morris & Co at Merton Abbey in Surrey. William Morris would spend three or four days each week at his Merton workshop, which finally closed in 1940.
Morris tapestries examples
Edward Burne-Jones, John Henry Dearle and William Morris designed a series of six tapestries known collectively as the ‘Quest for the Holy Grail’. The tapestries were originally commissioned by William Knox D’Arcy for his home, Stanmore Hall in Middlesex. All these William Morris tapestries were designed and produced at the Merton Abbey workshop, and the whole series was reproduced for George McCulloch, a business partner of William D’Arcy. The reproductions were finished in 1899 and four more tapestries were completed later. The ‘Quest for the Holy Grail’ tapestries are based on a fifteenth century text by Sir Thomas Malory, ‘Le Morte D’Arthur’. They depict the legendary tale of Sir Malory of the quest to find the ‘Holy Grail’, by King Arthur’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’. The first six tapestries are exhibited at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
‘The Adoration of the Magi’ tapestry was produced by William Morris and John Dearle at the Morris & Co Merton workshop toward the end of the nineteenth century. The cartoon they produced for the tapestry was based on a watercolor sketch by William Burne-Jones in 1887. Morris and Dearle changed some aspects of the original work by Burne-Jones, elaborating the background, including British flowers in the foreground, and they also changed the colours. The theme is from the New Testament, and various versions were produced from their original cartoon. This form of applied art was on the decline during the nineteenth century. William Morris stated, “nothing better of the kind has ever been done, old or new.” This tapestry has become one of Morris & Co’s most well known today.