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This embroidered hanging was designed by William Morris and probably hung in his first home, Red House in Bexleyheath. It was most likely stitched by a small team that may have included Morris’s wife Jane and her sister Elizabeth Burden. In the early days of their marriage Morris and Jane often worked on embroideries together. They enjoyed unpicking old pieces of embroidery that they admired to learn the different stitching techniques. Morris’s enthusiasm for medieval art is clear in his early embroidery designs, such as this one. The tree, banner and bird motif was inspired by an illustration in a fifteenth-century manuscript that he had been studying in the British Museum. The French inscription, ‘Qui Bien Aime Tard Oublie’, translates as ‘who loves best forgets slowly’ and is taken from Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem ‘Parliament of Fowls’. In simple terms it means ‘one never forgets true love’.

The embroidery was one of a set of identical hangings installed at Penkill Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland by the late 1860s. The castle belonged to Alice Boyd, mistress of the painter William Bell Scott, who was closely connected to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite circle. In a letter to Boyd in 1868, Rossetti referrers to the embroideries as "the Topsaic tapestries" a reference to Morris’s nickname ‘Topsy’. The hangings were likely an early product produced by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co after it was founded in 1861. A very similar pattern can be seen on the hanging in the background of William Morris’s only easel painting, ‘La Belle Iseult’, painted in 1858.

Details

  • Title: 'Qui Bien Aime Tard Oublie' embroidery
  • Creator: William Morris, Jane Morris, Elizabeth Burden
  • Date Created: early 1860s
  • Type: embroidery
  • Rights: © William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest
  • Physical Dimensions: 185.5 x 127.5 cm
  • Object Number: F390i
  • Medium: wool on linen
  • Credit line: Purchased with assistance of the MGC/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the William Morris Gallery, 1997

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