c.1885 by William Morris & Edward Burne-Jones
William Morris: Story, Memory. Myth, Two Temple Place, January 2012
The William Morris exhibition at Two Temple Place is bewitching in more ways than one. The darkly wooded walls of Two Temple Place’s Gothic rooms carry the rich tapestries and the enchantingly entwined designs of Morris’s fabrics. As one makes their way through the exhibition, it is less like a gallery and more like wandering through the home of one of the pre-Raphaelite’s. The works are hung beautifully, as if they were decorations of the room, subtly hidden among the bewitching corners of the building. The landing at the top of the magnificent staircase is flanked by Morris’s designs at every side, illustrating the freedom of discovery in this exhibition. If we are told a way to proceed there is no need to listen; surrounded by Morris’s work, the process of looking becomes a chanced stumbling upon numerous treasures, as both house and art embrace each other in a union of tantalising effect. One of the choice discoveries of this exhibition is Morris’s artistic attention to the stories and myths that inspired his creations. So enraptured are we by his designs for fabric and wallpaper by the remarkable production of Morris & Co, that his illustrations of those magical figures that inspired so many of his designs are forgotten. Like a true pre-Raphaelite, Morris was in awe of the mythological world that provoked such beauty, pairing it with nature to weave the fabric of his designs, translating it to words to enhance the effect. Together with his and Burne-Jones’s tapestry of Pomona, he captures the Goddess of Fruit & Harvest in a poem:
I am the ancient apple-queen,
As once I was so am I now.
For evermore a hope unseen,
Betwixt the blossom and the bough.
Indeed Morris proves her to be “betwixt the blossom and the bough”, as acanthus leaves and flowers swirl about her. She appears supported by a tumult of nature, as the foliage seems to teem with the movement of her life around her. The leaves possess that lively movement of nature that Morris injects into all his designs, so our eyes have no choice but to follow the leaves as they dip and dive; we are caught, and here Morris shows us the power of just one of the figures that he seeks to personify. A source, Morris uses such figures to truly weave enchantment into his depictions of nature.