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The designer world of William Morris

21 June 2007

William Morris, the most influential British interior designer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is one of the greatest pattern designers of all time.

The Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu will be the only venue in New Zealand to exhibit a major exhibition of world famous Morris & Co designs, textiles and furnishings – the first ever seen in this country – from mid-March 2008.

Gallery Director Jenny Harper says it is a privilege to host this exhibition and pay tribute to the remarkable talent of one man who created such opulently handcrafted pieces of furniture and furnishings.

“Morris’s works are exquisite design treasures. His creative talent and philosophy of handmade quality, with individual workers completing all stages of production, is thoroughly celebrated with the Morris & Co exhibition.”

Morris’s designs, inspired by the Gothic period and medieval art, in which natural forms, flowers and animals are always discernible, came to be regarded as a “true English style”. His patterns have been constantly revived since the 1960s with many designs still available today – in England as well as in New Zealand.

Morris & Co, also the name of William Morris’s London firm which operated in various incarnations from 1861 to 1940, will feature more than 100 pieces, including furniture, carpets, tapestries, wallpapers, embroideries and tiles.

Ms Harper says the exhibition is drawn from the collections of the Art Gallery of South Australia. From 1889 to 1929 the Barr Smith’s furnished seven huge homes – over three generations – almost entirely in Morris designed and handcrafted pieces. They also commissioned many individual pieces. Many of the William Morris works were donated to the galley in 1982 by the Barr Smith family, and Christopher Menz, former curator of decorative arts (and now the director), consciously added to the collections in this area of distinctive strength.  It is by far the best collection outside of England.

William Morris’s company gained recognition at the London International Exhibition in 1862, this success resulting in some significant commissions such as designs for the interior of St James’s Palace in 1866-67 and the beautiful Green Dining Room (now the Morris Room) at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1867.

“His rich, lavish fabrics, carpets and embroideries, intricate wallpaper patterns and beautiful handcrafted furniture will appeal to a broad audience and it is a hugely welcomed exhibition for the Gallery to host early next year,” Ms Harper says.


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