The popularity of William Morris endures to this day with so many homes still displaying his vibrant wallpapers replete with English flora and bird life fashioned into stylised patterns reflective of the principles of honest design that drove the Arts and Crafts movement. Now a new exhibition explores the work of the man who combined being a poet, craftsman and fervent socialist with a talent that made him one of the world’s most successful pattern designers. Exhibition curator Mary Schoeser has worked with Dovecot Studios and the Sanderson Design Group Archive to bring together over 130 original Morris wallpapers - many of which are shown for the first time in the UK - to trace the legacy of the man who advocated living a ‘beautiful life’. Framed original samples sit alongside recreated 19th and 20th-century interiors to place the visitor in the context the papers were made for.
The exhibition also explores the kind of wallpaper design Morris rejected, using examples such as a Zuber scenic paper from 1834, and explains the origins of the Reform Movement, looking at the influence of Christopher Dresser and the impact on Morris’ work of ‘kinkara-kawakami’, the Japanese embossed leather wallpaper made for export.
The displays include some of Morris’ most famous patterns as well as wallpapers by acclaimed 19th and 20th-century designers such as Owen Jones, Pugin and Voysey. Of particular interest to WHS members is the display showing the evolution of Morris’ block-printed ‘Daisy’ (c.1864) through a Patent Hygienic Wallpaper variant by Jeffrey & Co, also named ‘Daisy’ (c.1885) to a similar roller-printed sanitary paper by John Line of c.1918, demonstrating how Morris’ vision was brought into the popular domain.
As Mary Schoeser says: “Looking at William Morris within his milieu reveals influences across time and within a global context. From wallpapers inspired by 15th century Italian silks to Japanese 'leather' papers, this exhibition brings together the diverse elements that, melded together, made Morris and the Arts and Crafts style an international phenomenon by the end of the nineteenth century.” With five-star reviews from The Scotsman and The Times, this is an exhibition not to be missed.