18 August - 6 November 2005
One of the largest collections outside Britain of furnishings by world-famous English designer William Morris (1834-1896) will be shown for the first time in Sydney at the Powerhouse Museum from 18 August. It will be a major exhibition for Sydney Design 05, Sydney’s annual design festival.
The exhibition Morris & Co (the name of William Morris’ London firm which operated in various incarnations from 1861-1940) will feature around 100 pieces including furniture, carpets, tapestries, wallpapers, embroideries and tiles from the hey day of Morris production in the 1880s and 1890s.
William Morris was one of the greatest pattern designers of all time and became the most influential British interior designer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, enjoying an international reputation and clientele.
Morris’ 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.
The Morris philosophy of handmade quality and a return to individual workers completing all stages of production meant that even though William Morris was a socialist, he was often catering purely for the very rich.
The Morris & Co firm gained recognition at the London International Exhibition of 1862 and this success brought substantial commissions including designs for the interiors in St James’ Palace, London, in 1866–67 and the beautiful Green Dining Room (now the Morris Room) at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1867.
The exhibition will also include lavishly produced books by Kelmscott Press, Morris’ private press, for which he designed many of the typefaces and borders, setting new standards for high-quality book production.
The exhibition is drawn from the large collection of William Morris pieces housed at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Many pieces were purchased directly from Morris & Co by Adelaide families in the late 19th century to decorate their homes.
The Barr Smith family, Australia’s richest at the time, became Morris & Co’s biggest customer. From 1884 to 1929 the Barr Smiths furnished seven huge homes (over three generations) almost entirely in Morris-designed and handmade works - they also commissioned many individual pieces.
A public talk, accompanied by afternoon tea in the tradition of a high tea, will be held on Saturday, 20 August with Christopher Menz, Australia’s foremost expert on William Morris, at the Powerhouse Museum from 2pm. The topic, Making the best of it: Morris and interior design, will explore Morris’ fascination with interior design and how this design genius created his famous wallpapers and fabrics as an integrated whole. $35 adult, $30 concession and Powerhouse members
This event has now sold out
An elaborate catalogue published by the Art Gallery of South Australia will complement the exhibition. RRP $59.95.