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7 / Domestic Life

The Orchard (also called The Seasons)
The Orchard (also called The Seasons)
Artist / Origin William Morris (British, English, 1834–1896) and John Henry Dearle (British, 1860–1932) (designers)
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1890
Material Tapestry woven in wool, silk and mohair on a cotton warp
Dimensions H: 7 ¼ ft. (2.21 m.), W: 15 ½ in. (4.72 m.)
Location Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK
Credit Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Sarah D. CoffinCurator of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Decorative Arts, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Additional Resources

Kaplan, Wendy. Leading the Simple Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain 1880–1910. Miami: Florida International University, 1999.

Latham, David. Writing on the Image: Reading William Morris. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Marsh, Jan. William Morris & Red House: A Collaboration Between Architect and Owner. Swindon: National Trust Books, 2005.

Miele, Chris. From William Morris: Building Conservation and the Arts and Crafts Cult of Authenticity, 1877–1939. London: The Paul Mellon Centre, 2005.

Parry, Linda. William Morris: Art and Kelmscott. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1996.

The Orchard (also called The Seasons)

» William Morris (British, English, 1834–1896) and John Henry Dearle (British, 1860–1932) (designers)

In 1861, the design firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, & Co. was established with the aim of providing beautiful, hand-crafted furniture, wallpaper, textiles, carpets, glass, and other domestic wares to a broad spectrum of society.

In 1875, the firm was reorganized under the name Morris & Co. and in 1881, workshops, structured on the model of medieval craft guilds, were established at Merton Abbey. Several years later, the name “Arts and Crafts movement” was coined to describe the design reform philosophies of William Morris and his partners and collaborators, among whom were architect Philip Webb, designer John Dearle, and Pre-Raphaelite painters Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones.

Unlike the industrial factories that were cropping up across the English landscape, the Merton Abbey workshops were dedicated to production by hand. Wallpaper patterns were printed with stamps and textiles were woven on looms. For the leaders of the Arts and Crafts movement, only humans, not machines, could guarantee artistic integrity. This artistic integrity was, in their view, crucial because it was linked directly to social morality. Good design was equated with moral living. Ultimately, however, the costs associated with their production methods kept their designs (and their utopian ideals) out of reach for the general population.

This tapestry, designed by Morris and Dearle, was created at Merton Abbey. It exemplifies the values of the Arts and Crafts movement. Believed by Morris to be the most worthwhile craft, tapestry revived a form that flourished during the Middle Ages, when it was the most prized, and the most expensive, of pictorial arts in Europe. The heavy, woven textiles served the practical purpose of insulating the drafty rooms of pre-modern homes, while at the same time beautifying those spaces and often providing messages about virtuous living. This tapestry shows four figures, dressed in romanticized medieval garb, holding a scroll inscribed with verses about the seasons. As the text moves from season to season with each figure, the floral and vegetal motifs change to match. The plants, trees, fruits, and flowers in the tapestry have patterns similar those Morris and Dearle used in their wallpaper and textiles, reflecting both truth to nature and clarity of design.

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