Cf: Richard & Hilary Myers, William Morris Tiles, London, 1996, pp. 31-32, 46, 54
Jan Reynolds, Birket Foster, 1984, pp. 96-97
The 1862 Exhibition at South Kensington established the year-old Morris firm and as a result they obtained several commissions including (according to Georgiana Burne-Jones) 'one for coloured tiles which proved a welcome outlet for [her husband's] abounding humour and in this form the stories of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella took at his hands as quaint a shape as they wear in the pages of the brothers Grimm of blessed memory'. This commission, which included other tiles, stained glass and furniture, was for the decoration of The Hill at Witley, Surrey, being built for the watercolourist Myles Birket Foster. Burne-Jones was to design three sets of narrative tile-panels for the house, telling the stories of 'Sleeping Beauty' as well as of 'Cinderella' and 'Beauty and the Beast'.
'Cinderella' was the first, and originally consisted of ten designs for which Burne-Jones received a total of 7.10s in September 1862. These were six horizontal pairs of tiles (essentially the same as the first six in the present set) arranged among 'Swan' tiles to form an overmantel. Flanking the grate were tiled jambs inset with the four vertical panels.
The seventh horizontal panel, the wedding scene, is here borrowed from the 'Sleeping Beauty' series for which Burne-Jones received 30s per design in January 1864 (a 100 increase on his fee for 'Cinderella'). Clients when ordering tiles could omit or add to the number of scenes as they wished, and on another occasion the wedding scene was used to provide a neat happy ending to an overmantel of 'Beauty and the Beast' for Tromode House on the Isle of Man.
For the designs Burne-Jones acknowledged the influence of the German wood-engravers Alfred Rethel, and in particular, Ludwig Richter of whom he was to write, 'The Richter you ask about is a veritable angel. there are many books of his, and he made heavenly little pictures always, drawing everything that makes happy and never anything vile.
All six scenes in the original overmantel from The Hill (now in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) were painted by Lucy Faulkner, a sister of Morris' partner Charles Faulkner, who together with another sister Kate, produced many of the firm's best quality tiles. Of the present set scenes 4 and 7, together with 'Cinderella Sweeping' and 'Love', bear Lucy Faulkner's monogram, while at least some of the other panels were decorated by less-skilled employees. This is particularly apparent in the execution of the facial features in scenes 1, 3 and 6. Differences in the glaze and enamelling techniques suggest that the panels were painted at different dates between the early/mid-1860s and the mid-1870s, the earliest being those signed by Lucy Faulkner. Morris & Co. retained drawings and watercolours of the fairytale tiles until the demise of the firm in 1938, and the most likely explanation for the differing periods is that the earlier examples held in stock were augmented with newly decorated panels when an order was placed.
Only two complete panels of the original six horizontal scenes have been recorded - that from The Hill and another in the Sanford & Helen Berger collection in California. Neither retain their complementary vertical tile-pictures. A number of individual scenes, both horizontal and vertical are also known, but these in the present Lot are the first recorded complete pairs of tiles depicting 'Fate' and 'Love', the only other examples being later versions each lacking the bottom tile (in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery).
The 'Swan' was one of the most popular tile-patterns issued by the Morris firm. It is now accepted as having been designed by Morris himself rather than Philip Webb. 'Swan' remained in production from circa 1862 until after 1903 and possibly as late as the 1930s, in addition to a sanctioned production as true 'delftware' tiles in Holland from the 1870s onwards. It went through many variations over this period.
The inscription is a slightly shortened version of that on the overmantel from The Hill.
We are grateful to Richard and Hilary Myers for their assistance in compiling this catalogue entry.