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  • Object:

    Wallpaper Design

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1874 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Morris, William, born 1834 - died 1896 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    pencil, watercolour and bodycolour on paper

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, room 514a, case R, shelf 3, box L

Object Type
This is an original design made by Morris in the process of working out the repeat and the colouring for the 'Acanthus' wallpaper which was produced in 1875. It is a working drawing, on the same scale as the finished wallpaper, but it does not show the whole pattern. It was intended as a guide for the printer to use when matching the colours. Pencil notes with instructions and questions about the colours have been added to the drawing by the printer.

Designs & Designing
In the mid-1870s Morris moved away from his earlier style of small-scale patterns. 'Acanthus' was the first wallpaper in a group of large-scale heavy patterns printed in darker colours. These designs were more sophisticated than the earlier papers, and Morris successfully disguised the underlying geometric structure of the repeat. Some of the features of the drawing, such as the white highlights on the scrolling leaf at the top, were left out of the printed version of the pattern.

Materials & Making
The outlines were drawn in pencil and then filled in with watercolours. Morris then used an opaque white pigment to paint in the highlights. The stylised scrolling acanthus leaves were some of Morris's favourite motifs and occur regularly in his work, including his tapestries and his illuminated manuscripts.

Physical description

Design for 'Acanthus' wallpaper, a pattern of acanthus scrolls; Largely worked in watercolour.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1874 (made)


Morris, William, born 1834 - died 1896 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

pencil, watercolour and bodycolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed in pencil with colour notes and 'get Mr Morris to paint in front leaves'; inscribed on the back 'The property of Mr Morris 15/12/74'


Height: 81.5 cm unframed, Width: 65.2 cm unframed

Object history note

Parry (see references) notes that: 'Acanthus was the first of a group of large-scale, heavily patterned and deep coloured papers: the others were Pimpernel (1876), Wreath (1876), Rose (1877) and Chrysanthemum (1877). The large size of this design requires thirty blocks to complete the pattern, making it an expensive paper costing 16s. a roll.'

Descriptive line

Design for 'Acanthus' wallpaper, a pattern of acanthus scrolls; Largely worked in watercolour; By William Morris; England; 1874.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Parry, Linda, ed. William Morris London : Philip Wilson in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. Published to coincide with an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 9 May-1 Sept. 1996, pp.212, 213, ill.
Joanne Parker & Corinna Wagner, Art & soul : Victorians and the gothic, Bristol : Sansom & Co., 2014. ISBN: 9781908326652.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Morris first achieved his mastery of repeating patterns with wallpapers. This bold, clear watercolour drawing suggests, but does not include, all parts of the design. It also demonstrates his natural ability to draw patterns that repeat, a considerable skill. The pencil notes were made by the printer prior to producing the paper. [27/03/2003]


Paper; Watercolour; Bodycolour


Drawing; Painting

Subjects depicted

Acanthus; Scrolling foliage; Foliation (pattern)


Designs; Wall coverings

Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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