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In 1909, Phoebe Anna Traquair decorated a grand piano that had been commissioned for The Great Hall at Lympe Castle in Kent. Her painted design for the piano reflects some of the literary and visual sources which inspired her work.

The decoration design for this piano was inspired by three sources, united by the themes of music and love: the Willowwood sonnets, written by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, are a mystical meditation on the joys and sorrows of Love; Song of Solomon from the Old Testament expresses love for the Divine, and the Greek god Pan, playing his pipes, symbolizes a beguiling eroticism. 

Willowwood Piano fact file


1909 - 1910

Made by

Piano by Steinway, case designed by Robert Lorimer, woodcarving by Scott Morton & Co 1909, decorated by Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1910

Museum reference


On display

Design for Living, Level 5, National Museum of Scotland

The Song of Songs

The Song of Songs, from the Christian Old Testament is also known as the Song of Soloman.

It presents the voices of a bridegroom and a bride, praising each other and longing for each other. Jewish tradition interprets the work as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel.

In Christianity, in addition to its literal meaning of a romantic song between man and woman, the poem has been read as an allegory of Christ (the bridegroom) and his Church ( the bride). 

Detail from Traquair's painted decoration for piano, 'By night on my bed'

Pan and Syrinx

The story of Pan and Syrinx is another recurring theme in Traqauir’s work, and is shown here in one of the painted panels for the Willowood Piano. 

In classical Greek myth, Syrinx was a chaste nymph who was pursued by the amorous god Pan. River nymphs helped Syrinx to escape his advances by transforming her into hollow water reeds. Pan cut the reeds to create the first Pan pipes, which are also known as syrinx

Depiction of Pan and Syrinx on the panel of the piano. 

The Willowwood sonnets by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Originally written in 1868, the Willowwood sonnets are part of a larger work by Dante Gabriel  Rossetti, The House of Life. The sonnets explore the author’s longing for lost love.

Phoebe Traquair ‘s first treatment of the sonnets was in an illuminated volume of Rosetti’s poems in 1883 or 1884, and in 1890, in four illuminated manuscripts. Traquair’s designs reflect Rossetti’s own painting style, itself heavily influenced by medieval illuminated manuscripts.

In 1909, her painted design for the grand piano for Lympe Castle incorporated a scene from the sonnets on the panel above the keyboard.

The painted panel above the keyboard on the Willowwood piano. 

Willowwood I, page from an illuminated manuscript of the first Willowwood sonnet by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of four pages illustrating the four sonnets by Phoebe Anna Traquair, 1890

Further artwork on the piano

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