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St George Cabinet

  • Object:

    Cabinet

  • Place of origin:

    London, England (made)

  • Date:

    1861-1862 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Webb, Philip Speakman, born 1831 - died 1915 (designer)
    William Morris, born 1834 - died 1896 (painter (artist))
    Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted and gilded mahogany, pine and oak, with copper mounts

  • Museum number:

    341:1 to 8-1906

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, room 125f, case 2

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Object Type
This cabinet is a rare example of Morris's painted work and typical of the large pieces of furniture, Medieval in inspiration and crude in construction, associated with Morris and his circle from 1858.

People
Family friends such as Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) posed as models for the painted figures. Morris's wife Jane is depicted as the Princess.

Design & Designing
This cabinet demonstrates a lack of co-ordination between physical structure and painted decoration; the five scenes of St George are unequally divided over the three doors. Contemporary criticism of the design commented on this immature, idealistic rendition of Medieval painted furniture. The interior's decoration indicates Morris's early interest in pattern design, a skill he was to develop with great expertise in his wallpapers and textiles. The decorative motifs and the copper handles derive from a combination of Oriental and Medieval sources.

Materials & Making
The technique used for the interior decoration (layers of tinted varnish on a ground of silver leaf) was a Medieval method revived by William Burges, seen on the cabinet commissioned by H.G. Yatman of 1858 (museum no. Circ.217-1961).

Related Museum Objects
Some of Morris's designs for the painted panels are held in the Prints, Drawings and Paintings Department of the Museum (museum nos. E.2787-1927, E.2788-1927, E.2789-1927, E.2790-1927).

Physical description

The cabinet is formed of a rectangular cupboard on a stand; the cupboard has three doors, each with a copper handle and lock plate, painted with five scenes from the Legend of St. George, divided unevenly with two scenes on the left hand and central door, and one on the right hand door; the scenes separated by vertical wavy lines and spots or by daisy heads; the rest of the cupboard is painted black with coloured patterns of shells and spots up the sides of the doors and round the top; the cupboard has a flat top and framed and panel ends, each corner finished with a square-section, tapering finial; the stand, painted red, has four columnar legs with castellated bases, joined at each end by rectangular feet on castors and by a square sections stretcher with curving rails which join a horizontal rail with moulded ends between which sits the cupboard.
[Cabinet] Cabinet of mahogany and pine, painted green and enriched with gilding, the front painted with scenes from the Legend of St George. The cabinet is divided into three cupboards closed by doors at the front. The left door is painted with two scenes: the King seated on his throne with with a herald blowing a trumpet and the departure of the Princess guarded by men in armour. The middle door is painted with two scenes in a forest: the Princess tied to a stake and St George raising her from the ground. The right hand door shows the triumphal return of St George and the Princess followed by men bearing the dragon's head. The panels are surrounded by borders of floral and conventional ornament. On top of the cabinet there is a gallery with a pinnacle at each corner.
[Stand] The stand is of turned oak and pine wood, with castors.
[Drawer] Central cupboard, left hand drawer
[Drawer] Central cupboard, right hand drawer
[Drawer] Right hand cupboard, top drawer
[Drawer] Right hand cupboard, second drawer down
[Drawer] Right hand cupboard, third drawer down
[Drawer] Right hand cupboard, fourth drawer down

Place of Origin

London, England (made)

Date

1861-1862 (made)

Artist/maker

Webb, Philip Speakman, born 1831 - died 1915 (designer)
William Morris, born 1834 - died 1896 (painter (artist))
Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Painted and gilded mahogany, pine and oak, with copper mounts

Dimensions

Height: 111 cm maximum, including finials, Width: 178 cm, Depth: 43 cm
[Cabinet] Height: 59.5 cm including finials, Width: 178 cm, Depth: 43 cm
[Stand] Height: 53 cm including castors, Width: 173 cm, Depth: 41.5 cm
[Drawer] Height: 7.5 cm, Width: 23 cm, Depth: 28.5 cm
[Drawer] Height: 7.25 cm, Width: 23 cm, Depth: 28 cm
[Drawer] Height: 6 cm, Width: 8 cm, Depth: 28.5 cm
[Drawer] Height: 6 cm, Width: 8 cm, Depth: 28.5 cm
[Drawer] Height: 6 cm, Width: 8 cm, Depth: 28.25 cm
[Drawer] Height: 6 cm, Width: 8 cm, Depth: 28.5 cm

Object history note

The cabinet was designed by Philip Webb for the stand of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. at the London International Exhibition of 1862. Webb charged the firm £1 10s (£1 50p) for the design and William Morris produced four preliminary sketches for the narrative panels (E.2787-1927, E.2788-1927, E.2789-1927, E.2790-1927). One of the partners in the firm, D.G. Rossetti described the preparation of the cabinet for display in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, 9 January 1862, 'I wish you could see a painted cabinet, with the history of St. George, and other furniture of great beauty which we have in hand. We have bespoke space at the Great Exhibition...' Letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti,edited by Oswald Doughty and John Robert Walsh, Vol. II, Oxford 1965, page 436.

Priced at £50 at the 1862 Exhibition, the cabinet did not sell and was still recorded in the firm's stock in 1864. Its subsequent history is unclear until the sale of Laurence Hodson's collection in 1906. Hodson (1864-1933) inherited Compton Hall, near Wolverhampton, from his father in 1890 and may have acquired the cabinet when he commissioned Morris & Co. to decorate the Hall, 1895-6. Morris's last wallpaper, Compton was designed for this commission. Hodson also owned three of the Holy Grail tapestries designed by Edward Burne-Jones (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) as well as two other pieces of furniture by Morris & Co.

The cabinet was purchased by the Museum from Hodson's sale (Christies, 6 July 1906, Lot 96), on the recommendation of Charles Fairfax Murray (who had owned Morris's sketches for the narrative panels). The firm of Durlacher Brothers, 142, New Bond Street, bid on behalf of the Museum and the purchase price of £66 3s included their commission of £3 3s. The cabinet was sent to Bethnal Green Museum on 24th July 1906, where many pieces of furniture were on display in order to educate the local furniture-making trades. It was returned to the Department of Woodwork in 1931 and exhibited in the William Morris Centenary Exhibition in 1934.

The interior of the cabinet is fitted with shelves and drawers with copper handles. The drawer fronts are decorated with layers of tinted varnishes on silver leaf, a medieval technique described in Theophilus's De diversis artibus, published in 1847 by John Murray as An Essay upon Various Arts. Morris may have known of William Burges's use of this technique on his Yatman cabinet of 1858.

When the cabinet was acquired in 1906, a polished mahogany board had been fixed on top of the stand and the upper cupboard section was placed on this board. This arrangement is recorded in a black and white photograph, Neg. No. 32498. Examination of the cabinet in preparation for the Morris Exhibition in 1996 indicated that the board was a later addition. The removal of the board enabled the upper cupboard section to be positioned on the stand between the mouldings at either end of the horizontal rail. This follows medieval prototypes and may be a more likely interpretation of the original intentions of Morris and Webb.

Historical significance: The cabinet is a rare example of Morris's painted work and is typical of the large pieces of furniture, medieval in form and crude in construction, associated with Morris and his circle from 1858.The theme of the cabinet epitomises Morris's youthful enthusiasm for mediaeval romance and literature. Morris's wife, Jane, was the model for the princess.

Both the cabinet and another early painted piece on which Morris, Webb and Burne-Jones collaborated, The Prioress's Wardrobe (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) shows the same lack of co-ordination between structure and painted decoration. In this cabinet the five scenes of the story of St. George's rescue of the princess from the dragon are unequally divided between the three doors.

The decoration of the interior is, however, a startling reminder of Morris's early interest in pattern design. The decorative motifs, particularly the flowers, and the abstract form of the copper handles, derive from a variety of sources, possibly a combination of oriental and mediaeval.

Descriptive line

Cabinet on stand, the doors painted with scenes from the legend of St George. English (London), 1861-1862. Designed by Philip Webb and painted by William Morris. Exhibited by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. at the International Exhibition of 1862.

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

Wilk, Chrisopher ed. Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day in the Victoria & Albert Museum. London: Philip Wilson in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. pp158-9. ISBN: 1856674435
[Archer, Michael. Pre-Raphaelite Painted Furniture. Country Life. April 1965.]
[Aslin, Elizabeth. Nineteenth Century English Furniture. London: Faber and Faber, 1962. Plate B.]
Jonathan Meyer, 'The Nineteenth Century. Empire and Eclecticism', in 'The Layman's Book of British Furniture 1600-2000'. London, The Intelligent Layman Publisher Ltd, 2005, pp. 104-185, ill. pp. 109 and 205

Exhibition History

Edward Burne-Jones - The Earthly Paradise (Kunstmuseum, Bern 01/03/2003-25/07/2010)
Edward Burne-Jones - The Earthly Paradise (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart 24/10/2009-07/02/2010)
Centenary of William Morris (Victoria and Albert Museum 01/01/1934-31/12/1934)
Victorian and Edwardian Decorative Arts (Victoria and Albert Museum 01/01/1952-31/12/1952)
Morris & Co. 1861-1940 (Victoria and Albert Museum 01/01/1961-31/12/1961)
William Morris (Victoria and Albert Museum 01/01/1996-31/12/1996)

Labels and date

"ST GEORGE CABINET"
ENGLISH: 1861
Designed by Philip Webb (1831-1915)
Painted by William Morris (1834-1896)
Maker unknown
Mahogany, pine and oak painted and gilt with copper mounts

Morris was involved in the manufacture of a number of painted pieces at this date, inspired by those designed several years earlier by his friend William Burges, examples of whose work are displayed nearby. The curved braces on the base were copied by Webb from furniture designed by Pugin in the late 1840s. The painted scenes are from the legend of St George and the Dragon and include Morris and his wife amongst the characters depicted. It was shown as the St George Cabinet in the London International Exhibition of 1862 where it was criticised for poor craftsmanship and second rate painting. [1993]
British Galleries:
Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. produced a number of pieces of painted furniture in their first years. This example, designed by Philip Webb, was painted by William Morris especially for the International Exhibition of 1862. It shows the legend of St George and the Dragon. William and Jane Morris are among the figures portrayed. [27/03/2003]

Associated Events

London International Exhibition, 1862

Production Note

The maker of the St. George cabinet, and other furniture exhibited by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1862, has not yet been identified. It is possible that the cabinet was made in the workshop of Tommy Baker, a cabinet maker of Christopher Street, Hatton Garden, London. One of his employees, Henry Price, described making furniture in medieval style, probably for the rooms shared by Morris and Edward Burne-Jones at Red Lion Square, London, in 1856. For a discussion of Price's furniture, see Pat Kirkham, 'William Morris's Early Furniture, The William Morris Society Journal, Vol. IV, No. 3, Spring 1987, pp. 25-28.

Materials

Copper; Oak; Mahogany; Pine

Techniques

Painting (image-making); Gilding

Subjects depicted

Dragon; Princess; George (Saint); Morris, Jane; William Morris

Categories

Furniture; British Galleries

Collection code

FWK

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