Important wall paintings found in William Morris’s Red House

Important wall paintings found in William Morris’s Red House


Until about two or three weeks ago there was a cupboard which covered this whole wall, and which probably went in in the early part of the 20th century. It was not a particularly distinguished thing, and through the back of the right-hand side of the cupboard here you could see small fragments of figures. You could see this woman and half of the figure behind me. And then we found that what had happened previously was that people had uncovered sections of it. They’d scraped off paper. They’d scraped off some paint. There were also a lot of areas where paint was flaking away. These tiny little flakes of paint were peeling away, and so it was slowly but inexorably falling off the wall. So you’ve got a swagged drapery, and in each of the individual swags you’ve got one of these tall, thin figures. And over here we’ve got a small scene of Adam and Eve. And then the remains of the serpent in this little area, twisting round with his head coming out towards Eve’s face, and her hand held up against it. And then the fruit of knowledge on the tree. They are all standing on their own individual grassy knoll with what might have been intended to be a text at the bottom. There’s nothing painted on it. And then, if we come across, we’ve got the figure of Noah with his Ark, and you can see these tiny little fish scale tiles on the Ark there. which he’s holding up. And then we’ve got the tall figure of Rachel here with her arm held up like that. And then in the corner we’ve got a figure of Jacob and his ladder. And you can see he’s leaning around the swag of the drapery. And for a long time we worried about these lines. The figures are somewhat fore-shortened. But in fact, what they are, are the swag of the drapery, and the figure is folded behind. It does look like different artists were responsible for different figures. At least that’s a conjecture at this stage, and those that suggest themselves are, of course, Morris himself. Burne-Jones possibly. Madox Brown. There’s a figure that looks very much in Madox Brown’s style. And Elizabeth Siddal, who we know painted a figure on the wall. So we’ve got a group of different artists and it will be interesting to see what further thoughts, further research will be able to tell us about this. But certainly the whole scheme with this fake image of a wall hanging, a tapestry hanging, is really quite sophisticated. It’s not the amateurs throwing paint on the wall just to amuse themselves. It’s really thought through. It was William Morris’s own concept. But it does look as if different artists from
within his social circle worked on the different
figures, and we need to be thinking quite carefully which artists. Which person was painting Noah, Rachel, Adam and Eve, and so on. And try to reconstruct the social context in which this scheme was projected and executed.

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