Works in Progress

How does an idea become an object? What is the relationship between mind, hand, page, and product? Most things around us started life on paper, developing from a rough sketch to a finished object. Design drawings chart this process.

Design for 'Tulip' printed cotton (design registered 15 April 1875) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

Works in Progress

Design drawings communicate information between designers, clients and manufacturers. They are functional, collaborative objects which are passed around, amended, used in production processes and often destroyed. Designs have lower commercial value than traditional works of art, but the information they convey is priceless. They reveal an artist’s individual creative process. They show alterations and design developments unseen in the final product. They document the craft skills that transform a 2D drawing into a 3D object. They demonstrate that successful design does not emerge fully-formed but is a constant process of trial and error. William Morris and his fellow Arts and Crafts practitioners believed that functionality was a key ingredient in an object’s beauty. They made no distinction between so-called ‘fine’ art, such as painting, and craft skills. The designs they produced are functional craft objects. Should they be considered works of art? This exhibition is also a collaborative work in progress. The display will change to include objects chosen by members of our community.

Phyllis and Demophoon (c.1870) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

Burne-Jones approached painting with the precision of a designer. Sometimes criticised for a lack of artistic spontaneity, his paintings are the result of the painstaking development of ideas.

Phyllis and Demophoon (c.1870) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

In these studies for a large watercolour depicting the Greek myth of Phyllis and Demophoön, we see the composition taking shape in various media. The painting caused a scandal when it was first exhibited for its depiction of male nudity.

Studies of a Group of Three Women, 'The Hesperides' (c.1865 or c.1880s) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

Many artists use drawing as a means of thinking through ideas. The brain, eye and hand work together to produce form through a process of trial and error on paper.

Burne-Jones’s fluent sketches suggest that drawing was a natural way for him to develop the images of his mind’s eye.

These quickly executed figures likely depict the Hesperides, the nymphs of evening in Greek mythology.

Figure Study of a Woman Bending Forward (c.1870) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

Invenio, the Latin root of the word ‘invention’, means to find or discover, a reference to the Renaissance belief that artists do not create ideas from nowhere, but rather reveal their physical form.

In this rough chalk study, the figure of a woman seems to emerge from the page, gradually brought to life through the artist’s skill.

Burne-Jones made countless studies of human figures and drapery which he translated into paintings, embroidery, stained glass and tapestry.

Man Leading Woman and Child on a Horse (1865-68) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

The Earthly Paradise was a volume of poems by William Morris that retold stories from Norse and Classical mythology.

Burne-Jones and Morris collaborated on a proposed set of 500 illustrations, designed by Burne-Jones and printed from woodblocks cut by Morris.

Figure Riding a Horse through a Wood (1865-68) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

While the project ran into technical difficulties and the finished book did not contain images, these sketches are one example of a collaborative design partnership that spanned almost 40 years.

The Garland Weavers (1867) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

The movement in this pencil sketch shows Burne-Jones’s ability to design clearly and swiftly.

His wife Georgiana remembered that “he made the designs without hesitation… which came out upon the paper so quickly that it seemed as if they must always have been there, and his hand was only removing a veil”.

This design relates to stained glass by Burne-Jones in the V&A’s Green Dining Room.

Study of a Head of a Girl for 'The Rose Bower' (1886) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

This careful study is a preparatory drawing for The Rose Bower, one of four large paintings in the Briar Rose series that told the story of Sleeping Beauty.

The paintings caused a sensation when they were first unveiled in 1890, with thousands of people queuing to see them.

Burne-Jones made numerous studies for all his paintings, working out in pencil every detail that would then be translated into a different medium.

Study for 'Michael Scott's Wooing' (c.1870) by Dante Gabriel RossettiWilliam Morris Gallery

This chalk study depicts the medieval Scottish magician and astronomer Michael Scott placing a ring on the finger of a young girl.

The features of the seated central woman are those of Jane Morris, with whom Rossetti was having an affair.

Rossetti received commissions for both watercolour and oil depictions of this story but neither were completed, meaning that this preliminary design is the most complete version known to exist.

The Lament (1866) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

The artisanal, craft-based style of Burne-Jones’s paintings has always provoked mixed reviews, with criticism of its ‘decorative’ rather than artistic qualities.

This classical design is influenced by the Parthenon friezes which Burne-Jones had sketched in the British Museum.

While watercolour had traditionally been a transparent and fluid medium, Burne-Jones built up thick layers which he then scraped away to create depth and texture.

Design for 'Daffodil' printed cotton (1891) by John Henry Dearle and Morris & Co.William Morris Gallery

Design drawings can help us understand how designers build up motifs to form patterns.

The coloured section of this design by Morris’s former apprentice John Henry Dearle highlights the strong diagonal repeats favoured by Morris to create structure and movement.

This design is for a printed cotton which was to be created using woodblocks. To the right of the image there is an instruction to the blockmaker.

Design for 'Avon' printed cotton (c.1887) by John Henry DearleWilliam Morris Gallery

In reaction to the hyper-realistic three-dimensional designs popular in the nineteenth century, Morris created patterns from multiple layers of flat, abstracted shapes.

Avon may have been one of Dearle’s first designs for printed cotton. He went on to become Morris & Co.’s chief designer.

The green leaves in the foreground of this design rest on large white flowers, which in turn cover a layer of smaller white flowers against a dark blue background.

Design for 'Acanthus' printed velveteen (1876) by William Morris and Morris & CoWilliam Morris Gallery

The vertical symmetry often used in Morris’s patterns is clear in this design where only the right half has been shaded. The manufacturer would have understood how to create the whole design from a single coloured part.

This printed velveteen —a heavy, luxurious textured cotton fabric that became fashionable for furnishing in the 1880s— was produced in red, blue and yellow colourways.

Cartoon for 'Mermaid' woven fabric (c.1880) by William Morris and Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

This is the only repeating pattern designed as a collaboration between Morris and Burne-Jones.

Burne-Jones’s figures were incorporated into Morris's designs of scrolling foliage and flower-heads.

Although the fabric was never woven, both Morris and Burne-Jones made use of the design for other works.
The background pattern became Morris’s Wreath wallpaper and the mermaid figures were adapted by Burne-Jones for both gesso panels and paintings in the 1880s.

Design for 'Kennet' silk damask (1883) by William Morris and Morris & Co.William Morris Gallery

Morris believed that a successful design had to account for manufacturing processes. His designs are specific and not intended to be transferred across media. However, he did occasionally use the same pattern for different products.

The grid supporting this design shows it was intended to be woven on a loom.

A different design for the same pattern in printed cotton is in the collection of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

'Kennet' silk damask (designed 1883) by William Morris and Morris & Co.William Morris Gallery

"Kennet" was first produced as a printed cotton, but here you can see the finished design as a luxurious woven silk damask, in a pink-beige, yellow-green and pale blue colourway.

Design for 'Peacock' embroidery (c.1860s) by Philip Webb and Morris & Co.William Morris Gallery

The scale of design drawings provides a clue to their purpose.

This full-size drawing for an embroidered frieze was created by the architect-designer Philip Webb as a hands-on guide for the embroiderers who would produce the piece.

Patterns were generally transferred to canvas through the prick and pounce method, whereby dark powder was rubbed through small holes.

Morris and his associates relied on skilled craftswomen to execute their embroidery designs.

'Peacock and Vine' embroidery (designed c.1860, made 1875-1880) by Philip Webb and William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

Webb’s peacock design was incorporated into a larger hanging that was displayed at an exhibition of work by the Royal School of Needlework in Philadelphia in 1876.

The display was organised by Bessie Burden, Morris’s sister-in-law and a member of the School.

The hanging was praised by Harper’s Bazaar as “equivalent in conception to many of the best masters of medieval decorative arts”.

Design for 'Powdered' wallpaper (1874) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

Morris often reused design elements to create new patterns.

Powdered is one of several designs featuring willow foliage, a favourite motif that here creates depth and movement as a backdrop to the informal arrangement of meadow flowers.

The deep creases in this drawing show that it has been folded, perhaps when passed between
Morris & Co. and the wallpaper printer.

Design for 'Tulip' printed cotton (design registered 15 April 1875) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

The fluency of Morris’s design drawings is likely a reflection of his working process. He believed that a designer must always see the design in their mind’s eye before committing to paper.

“Don’t begin by slobbering and messing about in the hope that something may come out of it. You must see it before you can draw it, whether the design be of your own invention or of nature’s”

'Tulip' textile printing block (1875) by Morris & Co. and Barrett's of Bethnal Green RoadWilliam Morris Gallery

Morris's original drawing was transferred onto a pearwood surface using tracing paper and carved by Barrett's carvers.

Each block was cut to match a different colour of the design and had to register correctly to ensure the pattern was printed accurately.

Small pins were inserted in the edge of the block which left tiny dots of colour when printed. This allowed the printer to line the blocks up in the right place.

'Tulip' printed cotton (1875-81) by Morris & Co.William Morris Gallery

At Morris’s factory in Merton Abbey the printer pressed the printing block into a dye-pad and then positioned it on the fabric.

The block was then tapped with a mall (a led weighted mallet) to ensure an even impression on the cloth. The printer then lifted the block, applied more colour and repeated the process down the whole length of the fabric.

When the first colour had dried, the second colour was applied.

Design for painted ceiling decoration (2nd January 1886) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

Designers communicate through drawings.

This page has been extensively annotated in another hand — perhaps that of George Wardle, Morris & Co's. business manager.

The pattern is apparently by Morris
himself (whose own annotations are in pencil).

This design is similar to painted panelling at St James's Palace and was probably also intended for a painted ceiling.

Design for Membland Hall tile panel (1876) by William Morris and William De MorganWilliam Morris Gallery

This design is for one of six tile panels commissioned by the banker Edward Baring for his bathroom at Membland Hall, north of Plymouth.

In contrast with Morris's wallpaper designs of the same period, this pattern is less dense, with larger motifs and more free space.

The repeat design at the edges shows that the panels were intended to be set close together so that the pattern could
progress horizontally.

Membland Hall tile panel (1876) by William Morris, William De Morgan, and Architectural Pottery CompanyWilliam Morris Gallery

Morris and De Morgan collaborated closely in the design and manufacture of ceramics. William De Morgan had set up his pottery in Chelsea in 1872.

The Membland Hall commission, with each panel comprising 66 tiles, was the largest scheme he attempted. Morris's design was painted on plain tiles known as ‘blanks’, supplied by the Architectural Pottery Company, Poole, Dorset.

'King Arthur and Sir Lancelot' cartoon for stained glass (1862) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

The thick black lines in Morris’s designs for stained glass reveal the technique he used to capture the formal qualities of medieval glass.

Rather than painting on clear glass, as had been the practice in the 18th century, Morris & Co. used pot glass (coloured all the way through), separated by lead to create deep, jewel-like colours.

Burne-Jones commented: “The leads are part of the beauty of the work, the more of them, the deeper the colour.”

Study for 'The Blessed Damozel' (c.1873-1875) by Dante Gabriel RossettiWilliam Morris Gallery

This study for an oil painting shows the subject of Rossetti’s poem "The Blessed Damozel", a young woman who has died and waits for her lover to join her in heaven.

While Rossetti designed furniture
stained glass for Morris & Co., he is best known as a painter.

As a design for a painting, this study is a functional object, yet many viewers would also consider it an artwork in its own right.

The Heart of the Rose (c.1890) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

Burne-Jones used variations on this design for tapestry, embroidery and an oil painting, which was directly based on this drawing.

This scene is one of a series based on Chaucer's Romaunt of the Rose. In this image, the winged figure of Love leads the Pilgrim to the Rose, personified as a beautiful woman within a rose bush.

Although the sketchy outlines and white chalk are characteristic of a working drawing, they also add to the mysterious, dreamlike quality of the piece.

Design for 'Pelican in her Piety' stained glass (1881) by Edward Burne-JonesWilliam Morris Gallery

Originally a design for the east window of St. Martin's Church, Brampton, Cumbria, Burne-Jones used coloured chalks to transform this design into a highly finished drawing.

It has been lined onto canvas and mounted around a stretcher in a similar way to an oil painting, indicating the further blurring of boundaries between design and artwork.

The stylised tree and sinuous curves of this drawing have been seen as a precursor of Art Nouveau.

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