Seventy-eight

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The Woodpecker Tapestry

1885 by William Morris
The William Morris Gallery, London

In his Woodpecker Tapestry Morris creates a magical image on one of the oldest forms of wall decoration, a woven tapestry. With a clever hand, Morris manipulates traditionally dark colours – the heaviness of greens and deep dusky blues, together with the warmth of orange and gold – tying his new design to its older ancestors. A wealth of foliage is rife throughout, from the rosebuds and daisies that entwine round each other – all trailing leaves and vines that erupt into bloom in the background – to the magnificent curling honeysuckle that frames the tree. Morris’s characteristic acanthus leaves are enormous in size, curling and contorting they envelop the modest trunk of the tree, the stretching veins of leaves curling about one another. The leaves are so large, they prevent the composition from being generic – just a tree with birds – but instead personify Morris’s distinctive style, appearing to jubilantly curl and grow up the tapestry. Apart from the blue of the leaves, the colours are luxuriously earthy, with gold summoned throughout; from the sheen of the bark to the glow of the apples, the picture exudes warmth.

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