Saturday, 10 June 2017

1837

Morris's papers were too expensive for most, but by the 1880s their growing appeal had been recognised by other designers and manufacturers who began to produce cheaper papers in the Morris style. The Silver Studio, in particular, was responsible for many wallpapers in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles which show clear evidence of Morris's influence and example. Even by the late 1870s machine-printed papers in the Aesthetic style were available for as little as 7d a roll. His success in creating structured patterns from natural forms, with a sense of organic growth controlled by a subtle geometry, was his most important design legacy.

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In the Dining Room and the Morning Room, Fruit was used, with a blue ground in the latter. The large first-floor Drawing Room was papered in a yellow and white version of Larkspur, a light, unassertive background to a dense hang of pictures. When the house was redecorated by Sambourne's daughter Maud in 1912, the original scheme was preserved as far as possible. Maud wrote:

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In fact, Redgrave and his peers ignored the fact that many machine prints were precisely of the kind that they advocated - simple flat forms printed in two or three colours. Perhaps the very modesty and cheapness of such papers, and the fact that they were unlikely to be advertised or exhibited in the way that the more elaborate and ambitious designs were, led to them being overlooked.

Morris designs seem to have satisfied a widespread desire for pattern in a way which the more formal and didactic designs of the reformers such as Jones and Pugin never did. The next generation of designers were conscious of working with Morris's legacy. For example, Charles Voysey, later described by Essex & Co. in advertisements as 'the Genius of Pattern', produced designs which show clear evidence of Morris's influence in the mastery of flat but complex patterns and in the preference for stylised organic forms and motifs from nature.

'many of the patterns are not such as to make them acceptable for general purposes. Mr. Morris is so palpably the decorator of the palace and "grande ville" that his productions are not subject to the same criticisms as those of ordinary folk. The patterns are palatial in scale, and whilst their colouring is very beautiful and soft, the magnitude of the designs exclude them from ordinary work.'

George Eliot chose Owen Jones to manage the decorating and furnishing when setting up home with G.H. Lewes at the Priory in 1863. An entry in Lewes's journal, dated 13 November, reveals not only the trials of moving house, but also the bespoke design service Jones provided for his clients:

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The Howard family employed the company in their London house, and again at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, and at Naworth Castle, Cumberland, where several Morris papers still survive. Major country houses such as Wightwick, near Wolverhampton, and Standen, Sussex (completed in 1894), built by Morris's architect friend Philip Webb were furnished extensively with Morris papers. At Standen the Billiard Room had Pomegranate, while the Drawing Room had Sunflower in green, as a background for paintings. Each of the 12 bedrooms had Morris paper, mostly the lighter patterns. At Wightwick, where the decorative scheme was not supervised by Morris & Co., the owners chose the papers themselves and the prevailing style and colouring was richer and more typically Victorian than Standen. Morris papers, such as the large-scale Acanthus, were used in conjuction with other contemporary wallpapers, and other wall coverings, such as chintz.

Design reform had of course pre-dated the Great Exhibition; that only served to give added impetus and publicity to the cause. A leading figure in the reform movement was the architect and designer A.W.N. Pugin (1812-52), an ardent campaigner for the Gothic style. He claimed this as the true British style, and promoted it on moral as well as aesthetic grounds. In the design of wallpapers he too deplored the false illusion of depth and the use of trompe l'oeil shadows, and argued instead for flat patterns composed of simple forms which would confirm the wall as a flat surface rather than disguising or contradicting it. Pugin was one of the first to promote the idea of 'honesty' and 'propriety' in ornament and design, thus enlisting ornament as a moral influence in society. He practised what he preached, designing wallpapers with flat, formalised geometric patterns such as fleurs-de-lis, quatrefoils, heraldic motifs, and flower and foliage forms adapted from medieval art, architecture and textiles, printed in the rich colours of a 'medieval' palette. Such papers, each designed specifically for its setting, were used throughout the New Palace of Westminster (Pugin had won the commission for the interior decoration in 1837) and in his domestic projects.
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By the 1880s Morris papers were being recommended in many home decorating guides, including the affordable Art at Home series (1876-8). Pages of each were devoted to a discussion of wallpapers, with advice on how to select the best of the latest styles. Papers by Crane, and by Morris, were regularly commended, either in the illustrations or sometimes by name (Lady Barker, for example, suggested Vine and Jasmine as suitable patterns for the drawing room). Mrs Orrinsmith's book shows three designs by Morris (Jasmine, Rose and Vine), though she does not credit the designer or the manufacturer, which tends to suggest that she was writing for an educated audience already familiar with such designs.

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