National Museums Scotland is delighted to announce that a pair of rare embroidered hangings by the Arts and Crafts designer, May Morris has been saved for the nation.
These cultural treasures had an export bar placed on them and their acquisition ensures that they will remain in the United Kingdom for display in Edinburgh. The acquisition has been made possible with generous funding from the Art Fund and the NMS Charitable Trust.
The hangings were worked around 1900 by May Morris, the daughter of the designer, William Morris, the father of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Stephen Jackson, Senior Curator, Art and Design, National Museums Scotland commented,
“These incredibly rare textiles are a significant addition to our outstanding collections of European art and design. We are delighted that they will be displayed in our new galleries of Art and Design, currently under development and opening to visitors in 2016.”
The hangings were subject to a temporary export bar, placed on them to provide time for a buyer to come forward and raise money to save them for the nation, after they had been sold at auction. The deferral followed a recommendation from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by the Arts Council of England. National Museums Scotland acquired the embroideries for the national collections in June 2014.
Both hangings are of the same design worked in different soft pastel colours and stitches, with a central tree between rosebushes and floral trails and birds against a square trellis background. The foreground of each panel includes a robin and rabbit. The embroideries are one of only two known examples of this design, the other also by May Morris dating from 1891 for a set of bed curtains for her father’s bed at Kelmscott Manor.
Chairman of the RCEWA, Sir Hayden Phillips said,
‘It is a great achievement of National Museums Scotland to have raised the necessary funds for these rare hangings following the export deferral that was placed on them. Now these significant pieces by May Morris, a leading light of the Arts and Crafts movement, will be secured for the nation and available for the general public to see.’
Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund, said,
"Given their significance to the Arts & Crafts Movement in Scotland, we are delighted to support National Museums Scotland in acquiring these works. Their inventive designs will beautifully animate the new permanent gallery spaces."
The embroideries were created for Theodosia Mackay for her home, Melsetter House in Orkney. She and her husband were important patrons within the Arts and Crafts movement and Melsetter was built by the leading Arts and Crafts architect W. R. Lethaby. The house was one of the most important commissions of its day and was furnished with a combination of furniture designed by the architect and purchased from Morris & Company.
Theodosia was a close friend of May Morris and the hangings, designed by May, were worked jointly by May and Theodosia. Textiles actually worked by May Morris are extremely rare. Worked in natural dyed crewel wool on hand-spun and hand-woven linen, the wools are thought to be Orcadian as May and Theodosia are known to have spun and dyed local wool at Melsetter.
The hangings have only recently become known outside the family, having been passed down the generations until now.
Ten exciting new galleries of Science and Technology and Art and Design will open at the National Museum of Scotland in 2016. May Morris’ embroideries will feature in one of the Art and Design galleries which will explore the development of design between 1850 and 1950. The embroideries will assist us in exploring links between English and Scottish arts and crafts movements.
For further information and images please contact Susan Gray, Bruce Blacklaw or Louise McKenzie, Press Office, National Museums Scotland, tel 0131 247 4088 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo © Neil Hannah Photography.