Tuesday, 16 July 2013

William Morris and his Red House

I suppose breaking a 147 mile journey home at the 17 mile point is a little premature but how much more enticing is the prospect of breakfasting outside the coach house of William Morris's Red House in Bexleyheath than in a cheap hotel in Dagenham?

I'm a bit of a William Morris groupie and I'd already visited Red House twice before we turned off the M25 on the way home from seeing Leonard Cohen at the O2.  It is a special place, however, and as the National Trust are in the process of uncovering more and more art dating from the short time Morris, Janey and their friends spent there, there's always something new to see.  And this time someone congenial to share it with. 

After a wander around the garden, now considerably larger than in Morris' day, we joined the guided tour to see the how the house is looking these days. 


Still enchanting are Red House architect Philip Webb's stained glass birds which look as if they are about to flap off at any moment.  I'd like to have a go at reinterpreting some of them when I get my glass kiln up and running.  

The iconic staircase, forerunner of a million Tudorbethan imitations.
The newly restored blue and gold landing ceiling.



Although he manufactured wallpaper for others to buy, Morris preferred to hang his own walls with tapestries and embroideries. In the absence of any suitable candidates, this papered wall with its door leading into the dining room with its oxblood red dresser looks well enough. 


 What other Pre-Raphaelite works of art lie behind the brown paint job on the hall dresser?


 Always a favourite of mine, the fireplace in the dining room with its Delft tiles ... 




... and the single M for Morris carved into the hearth ... or is it a W for William?











While at Red House, Morris conceived a series of 12 embroidered hangings for the dining room based on women in Chaucer's poem 'The Legend of the Good Women', to be embroidered by his wife, Jane, sister-in-law Bessie, and anyone else in the vicinity who was handy with a needle.   Only seven were ever completed, and this one - of Aphrodite - returned to Red House in 2008 after an absence of 142 years.   The rest, plus two of the planned dozen fruit trees to accompany them, are scattered across the world. 


Morris's motto - here in French - sings from a round upstairs window.  On an early hanging now at Kelmscott Manor, it is also embroidered in English - 'If I can' - harking back to the inscription 'Als Ich Kan' inscribed on the frame of Jan Van Eyck's 'Man in Red Turban'.  


Discovered behind a cupboard in William and Jane's surprisingly small bedroom, this mural is a representation of the Book of Genesis, featuring Adam and Eve on either side of a tree complete with serpent, Noah and Rachel amonst others.  It is designed to look like a tapestry hanging in folds and is believed to have been painted by Lizzie Siddal, who died before it could be completed.  


Another mural has been uncovered in the drawing room, painted by Burne Jones and illustrating the Romance of  Sir Degravaunt, with Morris the model for the knight and Jane his bride, Melydor, seen being married on the far left of this photo, and then forming part of the wedding procession in the adjacent panel.  


    
In this picture, Morris and Jane are seen in the background at the wedding feast. Unlike Sir Degravant and Melydor, their marriage was an unhappy one and within five years of its being built, they had left the Red House, with all its hopes and dreams, behind them.  

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