08.04.2015
10:59

William Morris Gallery

Address:

Lloyd Park, Forest Road, Walthamstow, E17 4PP

Phone:

020-8496 4390

Website:

www.wmgallery.org.uk

Opening times:

Wed–Sun 10:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Walthamstow Central

Entry fee:

Free

Additional information:

Wheelchair access to ground floor only. Shop

The William Morris Gallery is dedicated to the great and hugely influential decorative arts pioneer William Morris (1834–96), artist, craftsman, designer and writer as well as typographer and prominent socialist. The museum’s collections illustrate Morris’ life and works, and that of his associates, contemporaries and Arts and Craft followers.

Morris was born in Walthamstow, less than a mile away at Elm Park. After the death of his father, a wealthy City businessman, the family moved to the museum’s building, a substantial Georgian house of the late 1740s, known as The Water House after its ornamental moat in the grounds, where the Morris family would fish, boat and skate. Morris lived here from 1848–56 but today the open fields and countryside which he would have known have been swallowed up by dense terraced housing, a process of suburban development which began in the 1870s with the extension of the railway. In Morris’s words, Walthamstow became ‘terribly cocknified and choked up by the jerry-builders’. The house was purchased by the newspaper proprietor Edward Lloyd, of Lloyd’s Weekly and the Daily Chronicle, who in 1898 donated it to the people of Walthamstow. The nucleus of the present collections was formed by the Walthamstow Antiquarian Society, and important items were purchased after the closure of Morris & Co in 1940. In 1935 the artist Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867–1956) donated a large collection of his own work, and that of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and his late 19th- and 20th-century contemporaries; and another major donation was made by A.H. Mackmurdo, an architect, designer and founder of the Century Guild, who had introduced Brangwyn to Morris.

The house is set in pleasant, spacious grounds (Lloyd Park) but with rather municipal planting. The old moat survives, and a small aviary houses cockatoos and zebra finches.

 

Ground Floor

The ground-floor displays begin to the left of the light and airy Entrance Hall, in the former Drawing and Reception Rooms, set up as a museum rather than a home. Exhibits start with Morris’s early life, with views of his previous Walthamstow homes, his time at Oxford and his friendship with Edward Burne-Jones. The medieval-style helmet and sword was designed by Morris as a costume prop for the Oxford Union murals, with their Arthurian theme.

There are images of Red House, the home of Morris and his wife Jane for five years, completed to designs by Philip Webb in 1859 with interior decoration by Morris, Webb, Rossetti and Burne-Jones. The experience led to the formation in 1861 of the decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company. Items produced by the firm include painted tile panels, for example The Labours of the Months (1862) and Beauty and the Beast (1863), the latter an overmantel designed by Burne-Jones, Morris and Webb for the Surrey home of the artist Myles Birket Foster. Wallpapers include the original ‘Trellis’ design, Morris’ earliest wallpaper; ‘Daisy’, block printed by hand (the plant designs taken from Gerard’s 1590s Herbal), the first to be printed and sold through the company; and the well-known ‘Pomegranate’. In 1875 the company became Morris & Co. A photograph shows the company’s first shop, which opened in 1877 at 449 Oxford Street. 1870s wallpapers, for example ‘Chrysanthemum’, were more elaborate in design, echoed in the textile designs, textile printing blocks for which are on show, as well as woven fabrics and photographs of the workshop premises, which in 1881 moved to Merton Abbey.

The portrait of Morris in his thirties was commissioned by his mother from Charles Fairfax Murray. Furniture includes a music cabinet with painted doors by William de Morgan (c. 1865–70) and an oak settle designed by Webb, with gilt gesso reliefs of putti. The 1885 ‘Woodpecker’ tapestry is the only one Morris designed entirely by himself. Burne-Jones stained glass includes St Cecilia (1897), and cartoons for Samuel and Isaiah (1895) for the Albion Congregational Church, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire.

In 1863 Morris joined the Socialist Democratic Federation, and later founded the Socialist League, which became the Hammersmith Socialist Society. His satchel, used to carry his socialist pamphlets, is on display alongside propagandist texts, the League’s device designed by Walter Crane. In 1890 Morris founded the Kelmscott Press near his house, Kelmscott House, Hammersmith. Its most lavish publication, the magnificent 1896 Works of Chaucer, is on show. Furniture, pottery and other designs of the rising generation of architects, designers and craftsmen of the Arts and Crafts Movement, influenced by Morris, are exhibited, including work by William de Morgan, Ernest Gimson, Sidney Barnsley and C.F.A. Voysey.

 

First Floor

Up the broad, carved oak staircase at the rear of the Hall, with its pleasing full-length window overlooking the grounds, are rooms displaying Pre-Raphaelite and other paintings: Ford Madox Brown’s study for the head of Chaucer for Chaucer at the Court of Edward III; Burne-Jones’s Stella Vespertina (1880); The Loving Cup (1867), a watercolour by Rossetti; Walter Crane’s Love’s Sanctuary (1870); and Arthur Hughes’ Portrait of Mabel and Ruth Orrinsmith, whose mother had been a decorative painter for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company. Works by Brangwyn include Old Houses, Taormina; Red Dahlias (c. 1932); The Swans (c. 1920); and several etchings. A plain, rectilinear glazed cabinet designed by him contains examples of bold 1930s Brangwynware pottery.

On the other side of the staircase landing are furniture designs by Mackmurdo, including an attractive mirrored overmantel with a gilded wooden framework of recessed mirrored niches for the display of small ceramics. Mackmurdo (1851–1942) was the founder of the Century Guild, which aimed to elevate the status of the applied arts. Another member was Herbert Percy Horne, whose work is also displayed.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

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