Attributed to a Tapestry Weaver trained at Merton Abbey
Allegory of Love
ENGLAND, circa 1920
Width: 113cm (44.5 inches)
Frame Height: 81cm (32 inches)
An Arts and Crafts tapestry lunette panel, depicting a woman with a portative (small pipe organ) and music, flanked by cupid with bow in hand, set within a carved wood and gilt gesso frame.
This tapestry was probably produced a weaver trained at Merton Abbey Mills, which was established by Huguenot silk throwers in the early eighteenth century and was restructured for textile printing in the early nineteenth Century. In June 1881, Merton Abbey Mills was bought by William Morris, and became the home of Morris & Co.’s workshops. By the 1920s, as tapestry commissions for the firm diminished and became scarce due to the economic climate, a number of the Merton Abbey weavers began to produce work independently. Whilst the design suggests that it was not an official production from Merton Abbey, the detail and the ambitious nature of the composition indicate that it was probably woven by one of the leading weavers who had been trained at Merton Abbey, perhaps by William Sleath who undertook private work. Such allegories of love were popular subjects for members of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Throughout his life, William Morris was fascinated by textiles. Designing and making textiles enabled him to create figurative art on a grand scale to furnish and decorate his own and his clients’ homes. Morris set out to revive the traditions of craftsmanship which he felt had been lost during the Industrial Revolution. He advocated handmade objects, which pleasure and satisfaction that workers achieved from their work. Morris believed that good quality furnishings should be available to all and not just the wealthy. However, these two ambitions were at odds with each other as hand crafted goods were often much more expensive than machine made products.
Morris held the technique of tapestry in such high esteem that he felt it needed the finest pictorial subject matter. An extract from William Morris’ Arts and Crafts lecture, ‘Textiles’, in 1888, reads: ‘The noblest of the weaving arts is tapestry: in which there is nothing mechanical: it may be looked upon as a mosaic of pieces of colour made up of dyed threads, and is capable of producing wall ornament of any degree of elaboration… [T]he first thing to be considered in the designing of tapestry is the force, purity and elegance of the silhouette of the object represented, and nothing vague or indeterminate is admissible. But special excellencies can be expected from it. Depth of tone, richness of colour, and exquisite gradation of tints are easily to be obtained in tapestry; and it also demands that crispness and abundance of beautiful detail which was the especial characteristic of fully developed Medieval Art.’ (William Morris, ‘Textiles’, Journal of the Society of Arts, 1888, vol. 36, p. 1133).
Linda Parry (Ed.), ‘William Morris’ (Philip Wilson Publishers in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996).
Linda Parry, ‘William Morris Textiles’ (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1983)
Although the exact subject for this drawing is unknown, it has been suggested that it might have been a design for the painted decoration of a musical instrument, probably a piano, c.1880.