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Acanthus

  • Object:

    Wallpaper

  • Place of origin:

    London (printed)

  • Date:

    1875 (published)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Materials and Techniques:

    block-printed in distemper colours, on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Morris & Co.

  • Museum number:

    E.496-1919

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case DW, shelf 57, box B

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.

Materials & Making
This wallpaper was printed for Morris's company by the London firm Jeffrey & Co., who specialised in high quality 'Art' wallpapers. It required thirty wood blocks to print the full repeat, and used fifteen subtly different colours (more than any previous design by Morris). 'Acanthus' was issued in two colour combinations - one in shades of green and the other in predominantly reddish-brown tones.

Ownership & Use
'Acanthus' is a large-scale repeat which would appear to be most appropriate for large rooms. However Morris believed that a large pattern actually worked well in a small room. He explained that if it was well designed, a large pattern was more restful to look at than a small one. By the 1880s Morris wallpapers had become fashionable. When the wealthy Mander family furnished their newly built house, Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton, they used Morris wallpapers in 13 of the rooms. 'Acanthus' was hung in one of the bedrooms.

Physical description

Specimen of 'Acanthus' wallpaper, foliate pattern of intertwined acanthus leaves in shades of green; Block-printed in distemper colours, on paper; Inscribed on the back in ink with title, number and price.
Part of 'Volume 1', a pattern book containing 25 Morris & Co. patterns from 1862-81 (E.441-529-1919)

Place of Origin

London (printed)

Date

1875 (published)

Artist/maker

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

Materials and Techniques

block-printed in distemper colours, on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed on the back in ink with title, number and price.

Dimensions

Height: 68 cm unmounted, Width: 52.3 cm unmounted

Object history note

The 'Acanthus' design requires thirty separate woodblocks to complete the pattern.
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

Specimen of 'Acanthus' wallpaper, foliate pattern of intertwined acanthus leaves in shades of green and brown; Block-printed in distemper colours, on paper; William Morris; Part of 'Volume 1', a pattern book containing 25 Morris & Co. patterns from 1862-81 (E.441-529-1919); England; 1875.

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

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.
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.
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 is an example of the finished wallpaper taken from the design on the left. It is printed with distemper colour and took thirty separate wood blocks to print the pattern. Consequently, it was expensive to buy, at 16s (80p) a roll. This large scale, dense, darkly coloured design is characteristic of patterns drawn by Morris in the mid-1870s. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

Part of 'Volume 1', a pattern book containing 25 Morris & Co. patterns from 1862-81 (E.441-529-1919).

Materials

Paper; Distemper

Techniques

Colour woodblock print; Block printing

Subjects depicted

Foliation (pattern); Acanthus; Leaves (plant materials)

Categories

Wall coverings; Prints

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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