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Willow Bough

  • Object:

    Wallpaper

  • Place of origin:

    London (printed)

  • Date:

    1887 (made)
    1887 (published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Morris, William, born 1834 - died 1896 (designer)
    Morris & Co. (publisher)
    Jeffrey & Co. (printer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    block-printed in distemper colours, on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Morris & Co.

  • Museum number:

    E.558-1919

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case DW, shelf 5, box 2

Object Type
In Britain, paper printed with patterns has been used for decorating walls since the 16th century. By the late 19th century wallpapers were widely used by all classes, in homes and also in public buildings. William Morris designed a number of wallpapers, all with repeating patterns based on natural forms.

Design & Designing
Many of Morris's wallpaper designs were based on plant forms which he studied at first hand. Some of his patterns, such as 'Trellis' and 'Garden Tulip' were drawn from plants in his own gardens. Others - such as 'Willow Bough' - were inspired by wild flowers and trees which he had seen on country walks. In 1881 he gave a lecture entitled 'Some Hints on Pattern Designing' in which he argued that the ideal pattern should have 'unmistakable suggestions of gardens and fields.' Morris also found ideas for his designs in the simple woodcut illustrations in 16th-century herbals (books describing plants and their various uses in medicine and cookery). He owned several books of this kind, including a copy of Gerard's Herball (published 1597) in which a willow branch is illustrated.

Subjects Depicted
The willow was one of Morris's favourite motifs and he used it in several of his designs for wallpaper and for textiles. Sometimes he used a small-scale pattern of simplified willow leaves as a background to other motifs, as in 'Lily' (1873) and 'Powdered' (1874). Also in 1874 he designed 'Willow', a simple stylised representation of willow branches on a dark ground. 'Willow Bough' is a more naturalistic version of this earlier pattern.

Physical description

Specimen of 'Willow Bough' wallpaper, a foliate pattern of intertwined willow leaves, green on pale-blue ground; Block-printed in distemper colours, on paper; Inscribed on the back in ink with title, number and price.
Part of 'Volume 2', a pattern book containing 27 Morris & Co. patterns from 1862-81 (E.530-608-1919).

Place of Origin

London (printed)

Date

1887 (made)
1887 (published)

Artist/maker

Morris, William, born 1834 - died 1896 (designer)
Morris & Co. (publisher)
Jeffrey & Co. (printer)

Materials and Techniques

block-printed in distemper colours, on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Willow Bough 229 / 6/-
Inscribed in ink on the back

Dimensions

Height: 68.6 cm unframed, Width: 53 cm unframed

Object history note

Printed in London by Jeffrey & Co. for Morris & Co.
The willow branch motif is basd on direct observation from nature. May Morris describes a walk with her father that inspired this design (see V&A Morris Catalogue, L.24).

Descriptive line

Specimen of 'Willow Bough' wallpaper, a foliate pattern of intertwined willow leaves, green on pale-blue ground; Block-printed in distemper colours, on paper; Designed by William Morris; Printed by Jeffrey & Co. for Morris & Co.; Part of 'Volume 2', a pattern book containing 27 Morris & Co. patterns from 1882-96 (E.530-608-1919); England; First issued 1887.

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.
Oman, Charles C., and Hamilton, Jean. Wallpapers: a history and illustrated catalogue of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Sotheby Publications, in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1982.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design & Department of Paintings, Accessions 1919, London: Printed Under the Authority of His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1921

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This late design shows Morris's favourite natural theme, willows. His daughter May Morris wrote 'We were walking one day by our little stream that runs into the Thames, and my Father pointed out details and variety in the leaf forms and soon afterwards this paper was done, a keenly observed rendering of our willows'. It became the firm's most popular wallpaper. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

Within pattern book Volume 2 (1882-96).

Materials

Paper; Distemper

Techniques

Block printing

Subjects depicted

Foliate; All-over pattern; Leaves (plant materials); Willow leaves

Categories

Wall coverings

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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