Untitled pair of wall hangings by May Morris

Worked by May Morris herself with her friend and patron Theodosia Middlemore, this pair of hangings follows an 1891 design created for May’s father, William Morris.


Details

Medium:
Embroidery in wool on linen
Dimensions:
191 x 146 cm
Art Fund grant:
£30,000 ( Total: £61,770; Export stopped)
Acquired in:
2014
Vendor:
Private vendor

The design was originally devised for a set of bed curtains to hang in William’s home at Kelmscott Manor – embroidered at Morris & Co under May’s supervision, the original hangings were completed shortly before William Morris’s death in 1896 and remain at Kelmscott Manor today. The pair acquired by National Museums Scotland was unrecorded until its sale at a Christie’s auction in 2013, and is the only other pair known to have been created to the Kelmscott design. May created this second pair for Melsetter, a house owned by the Middlemores on the island of Hoy in Orkney. May Morris visited Melsetter several times, and the pair of hangings she created for the house seem to be an entirely personal project, unrelated to her work as head of the Morris & Co embroidery workshop. There are some clear differences in the needlework between the two examples, suggesting that Theodosia worked parts of the design herself. Unlike the Morris & Co designs, the ground is unbleached, hand-spun and hand-woven in narrow widths, while the wools are naturally dyed. The soft, pastel shades of the Melsetter curtains are a marked contrast with the Kelmscott pair, representing May’s evolving aesthetic. May Morris had a profound influence on the younger generation of Scottish embroiderers, including Jessie Newbery and Ann Macbeth. The hangings will be displayed alongside Melsetter furniture in the National Museum of Scotland’s Design for Living gallery, which will open to the public in 2016.

Provenance

Melsetter House, Orkney; whence removed between 1940 and 1944 by the brother of the late Thomas Middlemore; by descent to the heirs of Evangeline Middlemore by whom sold at Christie's, 2013.

Share this article