Design Drawings

By William Morris Gallery

What can design drawings teach us about how objects are created? This exhibit explores design drawings by a variety of nineteenth and early twentieth century artists to examine the complex lifecycle of objects and artworks. Exhibit text by Alisha Dar, Megan Guest, Mahera Hussain, Charlie Jallow, Isabella McDonald, Sarah Mercer and Rachael Odurinde.

Design for 'Daffodil' printed cotton (1891) by John Henry DearleWilliam 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.

Dearle went on to become Morris & Co.'s chief designer.

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.

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.

Avon may have been one of Dearle’s first designs for printed cotton. The finished fabric was produced at Merton Abbey, Morris & Co.'s textile factory.

Design for 'Acanthus' printed velveteen (1876) by William MorrisWilliam 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.

The resulting velveteen was produced by Wardle & Co., Staffordshire. Thomas Wardle was a silk dyeing expert and his wife Elizabeth was an accomplished embroiderer.

Together they founded an Embroidery School in Leek, where the Wardle & Co. textile works were based.

Cartoon for 'Mermaid' woven fabric (c.1880) by William MorrisWilliam 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.

The mermaid figures were adapted by Burne-Jones for both gesso panels and paintings in the 1880s.

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

This 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 woman depicted is not Briar Rose, but one of her slumbering attendants.

Burne-Jones paid careful attention to the braids in her hair and dainty features.

When her image is removed from the larger composition we can view the woman as a Sleeping Beauty in her own right.

Design for 'Peacock' embroidery (c.1860s) by Philip WebbWilliam Morris Gallery

This design for an embroidered frieze was drawn by the architect-designer Philip Webb at the request of William Morris.

Webb’s drawing skills and love of nature made him ideal for collaborations with Morris.

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

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

Peacocks were popular motifs in Persian design, often associated with royalty and wealth.

With Ancient Persian and Greek cultures influencing each other, the bird became a popular symbol of everlasting life in Ancient Greece connected to Christianity.

This was due to the belief that Peacock skin did not decay after death.

Wine also played a significant role in both ancient cultures, perhaps explaining Morris’s use of grape designs in the background.

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

The prominent turquoise in this design projects its complex lantern pattern imitating Persian tilework.

The bright turquoise is further brought out by the stippled background.

The lantern pattern is mirrored in the overlapping green stems, which add subtle layers to the composition.

The simple stylized forms of the flowers are arranged in different directions bringing a sense of lyrical drama to the lantern design.

Design for Membland Hall tile panel (1876) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

Use of colour plays a vital role in this Persian-inspired design.

The monochrome side captures the structure and intricate pattern.

Curving shapes of the leaves give the illusion of movement as they frame the smaller flowers.

The indigo background on the right brings out the forms of the leaves and flowers.

Contrasting white highlights, green leaves and brown branches bring a harmonious balance, giving the design life.

Membland Hall tile panel (1876) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

Designed by Morris and manufactured by the ceramic artist William De Morgan, this tile panel comprises of 66 hand painted tiles.

This was commissioned to decorate the bathroom at Membland Hall by the banker Edward Baring who was the architect and owner of the Hall until 1916.

Prior to the Hall’s demolition in 1928, the set of 6 tile panels were found in a cupboard, supposedly never mounted.

'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 images on clear glass, as had been the practice in the 18th century, Morris & Co. used pot glass, coloured through, separated by lead lines 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.”

Seat covered in rose printed linen (design registered 8 December 1883) by William MorrisWilliam Morris Gallery

When Morris was designing the woodblock for this ‘Rose’ printed linen, he could not have foreseen its eventual use.

This seat came from HMS Valiant, a British nuclear submarine.

Morris's Rose pattern was a popular design for Royal Navy submarines and surface fleet for 32 years.

The pattern was so strongly identified with the navy that officers would sometimes wear a cummerbund made from this fabric.

Morris was a committed pacifist who believed in international cooperation. What do you think he would have felt about this use for his design?

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

This study for a painting shows the subject of Rossetti’s poem The Blessed Damozel, a young woman waiting for her lover to die and join her in heaven.

Rossetti spotted the model Alexa Wilding one night on the Strand in 1865.

In this painting we can see two of Rossetti’s muses combined- the features are of Wilding, his earthly companion, but the eyes are that of his late wife Lizzie Siddal.

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

This is a scene based on Chaucer's translation of Le Roman de la Rose, a 13th century French poem written in two parts by Guillame de Lorris and Jean de Meun.

Initially an idealistic tale of thwarted courtly love, it concludes with an act of deception as the Lover plucks the Rose for himself.

Burne-Jones's reinterpretation reveals his interest in the symbolism of the "briar" rose: a beautiful flower protected by thorns, representing his experience of love as something both alluring and unattainable.

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

This design drawing has been reworked as a highly finished piece.

The Pelican in her Piety is a popular symbol of female self-sacrifice and charity in Christian faith.

It is based on the ancient legend of a pelican mother who, in a time of famine, pierced her own breast and fed her dying young with her blood, thereby sacrificing her own life.

The highly stylised, undulating tree on which she is seated has been seen as a precursor to Art Nouveau.

Drawing Room, Kelmscott House, illustration to Mackail's 'Life of Morris' (1898) by Edmund Hort NewWilliam Morris Gallery

The following images document the complex life cycle of objects. The pieces depicted in these rooms, interiors of Kelmscott House, William Morris’s home in Hammersmith, started life as designs.

They were then produced in 3D form, before being translated back into a 2D design for use as an illustration for Mackail’s ‘Life of William Morris’, produced as a book—a 3-dimensional object.

In these images you can see objects belonging to and designed by William Morris.

His Bird textile design (1878), which Morris’s daughter May described as ‘intimate and friendly . . . the most adaptable to the needs of everyday life’, is prominent on the walls.

On the floor is a mix of Persian carpets and Morris's own Tulip and Lily, designed c.1875.

Above the fireplace a collection of lustre-ware plates designed by William de Morgan are arranged on shelves.

Drawing Room, Kelmscott House, illustration to Mackail's 'Life of Morris' (1898) by Edmund Hort NewWilliam Morris Gallery

The simple, lightweight furniture produced by Morris and Co., such as the round seated Sussex chairs, can also be seen.

A Medieval-style settle (c.1860) designed by Phillip Sackman Webb is also featured, it was originally made for Morris's Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent.

William Morris's Study, Kelmscott House, illustration to Mackail's 'Life of Morris' (1898) by Edmund Hort NewWilliam Morris Gallery

Morris was an avid collector of historic objects. In the Study, examples of his collection of rare manuscripts can be seen.

A print of Botticelli’s Primavera is hung on the right-hand wall.

In the foreground, an illuminated manuscript can be seen resting on an oak table of Webb’s design c.1870.

Drawing for a book illustration (c.1912) by Veronica WhallWilliam Morris Gallery

Veronica Whall is best known as a prominent Arts & Crafts stained glass artist, co-founding the company Whall & Whall with her father in 1922.

However, this delicate work in progress is an illustration, perhaps intended for a storybook, and reveals Whall's process of building an image from a rough sketch to a detailed rendering.

Here we see an introspective young woman gazing straight ahead at a mirror, seated at a desk - perhaps drawing a self-portrait.

Daisy embroidery design (c.1912) by Veronica WhallWilliam Morris Gallery

This delicate design for an embroidery was probably made as an educational tool.

In a note on the reverse, Veronica Whall has described the prick and pounce method, in which a design is transferred onto fabric by dusting charcoal through a piece of perforated paper.

Typed instructions for daisy embroidery design (c.1912) by Veronica WhallWilliam Morris Gallery

This technique has been used for centuries in embroidery, oil painting and engraving, allowing artists and designers to carefully plan their designs before transferring them to a finished surface.

Credits: Story

This exhibit is part of community curation project linked with our Works in Progress exhibition.


Text was written by Alisha Dar, Megan Guest, Mahera Hussain, Charlie Jallow, Isabella McDonald, Sarah Mercer and Rachael Odurinde.


The exhibit was compiled by Megan Guest.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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