William Morris's 'Hammersmith' carpets
William Morris's earliest experiments in making hand-knotted rugs date from 1878, when he set up looms at Morris & Co.'s premises at 26 Queen Square, Bloomsbury. Within a year, he had equipped the former coach house at his Hammersmith home, Kelmscott House, with somewhat larger looms and was employing a team of six women to hand-weave rugs. Following Morris & Co.'s move to Merton Abbey, Surrey, in 1881, it became possible to manufacture much larger rugs and carpets - for which the firm retained the original descriptive term 'Hammersmith' (to distinguish them from its machine-woven products).
Morris's designs for rugs and carpets demonstrate his remarkable ability to absorb forms and techniques from various historical traditions and to re-create them in a distinctively personal way. Turkish, Indian and Chinese carpets influenced his designs but, above all, Persia was for him 'a holy land' where the carpet-weaver's 'art was perfected'. Nevertheless, Morris determined to avoid direct imitation of these Eastern idioms, so that his designs would 'show themselves obviously to be the outcome of modern and western ideas', guided by the principles 'that underlie all architectural art'. Symmetry and well-defined structure are therefore characteristic of Morris's carpet patterns, alongside the fluent inter-weaving of floral and foliate motifs found in his wallpapers and his printed and woven fabrics. As Linda Parry points out (William Morris Textiles, London, 1983, p.89), the bold outlines of Morris's designs are ideally suited to the Turkish (Ghiordes) knot technique, which he adopted for his Hammersmith carpets in preference to the more delicate Persian (Senneh) method.
A number of stylistic developments have been noted in Morris's carpet designs of the 1880s but two elements in particular, a central 'medallion' and a broad outer border, are found in many of the most successful examples, such as the square Swan House (1881) and the Holland Park (1883). By about 1890, Morris was less actively involved in Morris & Co.'s production of carpets and, thereafter, new designs were largely the work of his assistant John Henry Dearle. There was, however, a 'transitional' period when both designers collaborated on projects in several media, especially for major commissions.
Stanmore Hall and Morris & Company
Stanmore Hall at Stanmore, Middlesex, was built by John Macduff Derick (c.1805-1859) in 1847 in the fashionable Victorian 'Tudor-Gothic' style. In 1888 it was bought by the millionaire William Knox D'Arcy (1849-1917), a mining engineer who had made his fortune in the Australian Goldrush. D'Arcy employed the architect Brightwen Binyon (1846-1905) whose clients included the Queen and the Empress of Russia, to undertake substantial alterations and additions, while Morris & Company were asked to furnish and decorate the house. William Morris himself was consulted about the planned decorative scheme. Although he expressed some distaste for the house (and for Knox D'Arcy's architect), Morris & Co.'s work at Stanmore Hall was to be one of the firm's most important and extensive commissions. In due course it encompassed not only textiles, wallpapers, carpets, furniture and mosaic flooring but also the famous Holy Grail Tapestries (1890-95) designed by Edward Burne-Jones, Morris and J. H. Dearle, (sold in these Rooms 9 June, 2004, lot 40), and the Stanmore Hall Piano (1891-94) with its elaborate decoration by Kate Faulkner, Philip Webb and Morris.
The Stanmore Hall Vestibule and its Carpet
In September 1893, the recently-founded Studio magazine published an article by the architect J. S. Gibson on 'Artistic Houses', featuring photographs by Bedford Lemere of interiors at Stanmore Hall. The view of 'A Vestibule' (page 221) shows the octagonal room at the rear (south side) of the house with its ensemble of Morris & Co. decoration. Three of its doors led into other rooms while the fourth gave access to the spacious grounds. The eight-panelled ceiling and the frieze were elaborately decorated with moulded plaster in a scrolling rose pattern by J. H. Dearle; the walls were covered in the Golden Bough woven silk fabric designed by Morris (perhaps with Dearle); specially-shaped seats along four of the walls were upholstered in Morris's Flower Garden woven silk. Lemere's photograph shows an elegant Morris & Co. table (designed by George Jack) in the centre of the room, with the octagonal carpet extending almost to the edges of the polished wood floor on all sides.
The Golden Bough silk dates from 1888 and so may well have been designed specifically for use in the Vestibule at Stanmore Hall. If so, this would indicate that the room was one of the earliest to be decorated and furnished by Morris & Co. and the octagonal carpet would therefore have been made at around the same time, c.1889/90. Other Morris & Co. carpets in the house are known to have been adaptations of existing designs rather than entirely new patterns.
Because of its unusual shape, the design of the Vestibule carpet is even more pronounced in its architectural qualities than others by Morris & Company. All the principal motifs are symmetrically repeated in groups of four or eight, and the cusped central medallion functions almost like the focal point of a Gothic rose window. Observant visitors to the Vestibule cannot have failed to see the relationship between the carpet's form and pattern and the other decorative components of the room, notably the ceiling panels.
The ambiance created by the Vestibule's carpet, plasterwork, wall-coverings and upholstery might well be characterised as 'Anglo-Persian' in its skilful blending of Eastern and quasi-Gothic patterns, an effect enhanced by the untypical shape of the room. This seems curiously prophetic of the later career of Stanmore Hall's owner, who in the 1900s was a founder of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later to become British Petroleum).
This unique carpet (no other versions of the pattern are known) is of particular significance as it appears to be one of very few that can definitely be identified as coming from Stanmore Hall, the Morris firm's most important decorating commission of the late 1880s and early 1890s.
We would like to thank Peter Cormack, Former Keeper of the William Morris Gallery, London for his help in the preparation of this catalogue note