The art of wallpaper | A William Morris Exhibition

The soaring joy of The Art of Wallpaper Exhibition is revealed at Dovecot Studios

Dovecot Studios, the world-renowned tapestry studios in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, is hosting a blockbuster exhibit of William Morris’s inestimable contribution to British, and world, design. 

Available to visit until June 11th, this major exhibit begins by exploring the creative context into which William Morris was born, grew as a designer, and reached the pinnacle of his powers. Curated by Mary Shoeser, a leading figure in the academic study of interior furnishings, the exhibition lends scholarly rigor to understanding the huge popularity Morris & Co. enjoys today.

The Art of Wallpaper brings together for the very first time the full variety of Morris's wallpaper designs into a coherent narrative. Delving into influences far and wide, from the neo-Gothic Reform Movement of Augustus Pugin and Owen Jones to the little remarked upon Japanese style, the exhibition succeeds in asserting Morris & Co. as a revolutionary effort in design.

The exhibition commences with a broad historical panorama of wallpaper preceding William Morris’s first endeavours. French papers, decadently garlanded with trompe l'oeil florals and rendered with creamy rich colours, architectural details and a striking three-dimensionality abound. For the aspiring designer with a burning resentment for his own 19th century age, this visual pretext is useful in framing what William Morris surely felt he was up against when he established his company in 1861.

Highly commendable in Schoeser’s curation is recognition of the considerable influence of Japan and its unique decorative style on English wallpaper manufacturing and design. The delicate floral trails and botanical motifs ring across the later Morris & Co. portfolio, and plentiful attention is given to Christopher Dresser’s early importation of Japanese wallpapers. As a heritage production, making this connection is a first in Morris & Co. scholarship. 

Equally compelling is the installation of the original wooden printing blocks for the Chrysanthemum design from the Morris & Co. archive at Sanderson Design Group. Eloquently demonstrating the practical means of printing a William Morris pattern, they reveal the careful layering of a feature pattern atop background foliage, and how the designer achieved such great depth in his designs. 

Perhaps the soaring joy of The Art of Wallpaper Exhibition is, quite simply, seeing so many William Morris wallpapers in the same space. Abundantly obvious for all to see is their creator’s uncontained love and fascination for nature, what Morris himself terms ‘the glorious drama of nature’. In his very first wallpaper in 1864, inspired by the rose garden at his Arts & Crafts abode Red House, Trellis’s thorned roses climb with palpable upward motion whilst the Phillip Webb-designed birds take flight in various poses. Another early design, the much-copied Daisy also of 1864, brings forth William Morris’s adoration of medieval manuscript miniatures and the millefleur technique of rendering flowers. Ever-popular Acanthus and Pimpernel convey an almost breath-taking dynamic energy, reminding us all that William Morris’s key skills were conveying depth and vital colour.


Don’t miss the exhibition, concluding 11th June 2022. Get your tickets here.


posted on 01 Apr 2022 in Events

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