In 1889 William Morris (1834 - 1896), reputedly, created his final carpet design for his firm Morris & Co. The following year John Henry Dearle (1860 - 1932) succeeded as principal designer for all carpets manufactured in Hammersmith and Merton Abbey. Dearle was designer of embroideries with May Morris from 1885 and had also been William’s design assistant, however by his appointment in 1890 he had clearly developed his own style. He recognised the importance of maintaining the link between the company’s founder and its future success, the same had been true in the previous years when May had undertaken the management and design of the embroideries. Yet Dearle was progressive and prepared the company for the shift in the market at the turn of the century; in which the Morris-led Arts and Crafts approach was being overshadowed by the desire for the exotic.
In keeping with Morris’s ideals Dearle’s designs incorporated many of the original, quintessentially British, flora and fauna motifs. He combined the importance of finesse in textile draftmanship and an understanding, no doubt under Morris’s influence, of the Persian designs of the 16th and 17th centuries, in particular the ‘vase’ design from the Safavid era. These two disciplines allowed more extravagant and complicated patterns which prepared the company for the oncoming 20th century market. This can certainly be seen in the present lot when compared to the William Morris designed carpet made for the Wyndham family in circa 1887. However a certain stylistic symmetry is maintained, perhaps due to his training with embroideries and working with the talented May.
Morris’s impact on Dearle is clearly visible when considering the Wyndham’s ‘Clouds’ carpet with the present lot. Although smaller in size the ‘Hammersmith’ adopts the Morris school of design which can be seen through the use of the chequered tulips, scrolling acanthus, stylised roses, open palmette bulbs and scrolling vinery motifs and the use of colouring. It is the extravagance in the overall design which makes the present lot stand out as a work of Dearle’s and marks an important change in the trajectory for designs produced by the company.
This fantastic carpet, previously owned by the Barr-Smith family, is likely to have been commissioned by Robert and Joanna Barr-Smith for their house Auchendarroch in Adelaide, South Australia. Previously from Scotland, Robert was the co-owner of a mercantile company of huge success and in 1915 his estate was one of the largest in Australia, sworn for probate to the sum of £1,799,500. The wealthy couple owned seven large houses in the area, all largely furnished by Morris & Co. Joanna, in particular, was an indulgent shopper and regular patron of the company.
A friend of May Morris’s, Joanna is recorded purchasing regularly between 1892-1896. It is possible the Barr-Smiths may have met John Henry Dearle through May. It also is conceivable that the present carpet would have been commissioned between these years. Or indeed there is reference made to the Barr-Smith’s ordering carpets from the Morris firm around the time of the completion of the ‘Bullerswood’ carpet in circa 1889, see Parry, Linda, William Morris Textiles, London, 1983, p. 97. The photograph of Joanna shows her in Auchendarroch surrounded by Morris furnishings, including two carpets depicting similar motifs and borders. A similar carpet of larger scale is in the collection of Standen House NT, Sussex, in the drawing room, and it is illustrated in several published works.
The beautiful carpet offered is a wonderful showcase of the change in demand and progression in 19th and 20th century tastes and an exemplary illustration of the Morris & Co aesthetic.
For notable comparable works in auction see:
A Hammersmith carpet commissioned by Robert Barr Smith from Morris & Co, circa 1895, which was a variant of the similar design and colouring of an indigo ground and russet border, with a vine leaf scroll without the fruit, see The Eclectic Eye: Five Centuries of Art from the Galerie Yves Mikaeloff, Christie’s, New York, 21st May 1997, lot 428 (previously sold at Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 21st May 1996, lot 122).
Another recent auction comparable see The Best of British: Design from the 19th and 20th centuries (A Sotheby’s event in collaboration with the specialist dealer Paul Reeves), Auction, Sotheby’s, London, 20 March 2008, lot 96, for a Hammersmith Carpet, William Morris (1834 – 1896) and John Dearle (1860 – 1932), late 1880’s, (approximately 390 by 282cm; 12ft. 9in., 9ft. 3in.). The chequered flowers and barbed floral motifs, present in this cited comparable and the present example were motifs identified by Linda Parry as being typical of Dearle and hence indicating his likely collaboration in the design.
For a further comparable work see Sotheby’s, New York, 1 June 2006, lot 191, in which the example is to the design of John Henry Dearle and of very similar dimensions; approximately 630 by 381cm; 20ft. 8in, 12ft. 6in. This carpet also adopts the classic Dearle repeat ascending design and has a very similar border with stylised oak and birch leaves.
For discussion of John Henry Dearle and William Morris carpets, see the following publications:
Haslam, Malcolm, Arts and Crafts Carpets, David Black, London, 1991, Chp.2. The Master, pp.38-85, for discussion of Morris and Hammersmith, and pp.80-84., for reference to John Henry Dearle (1860-1932), and his involvement and influence on designs, also Dearle’s designs for Auchendarroch.
Parry, Linda, William Morris Textiles, London, 1983, for discussion on May Morris, John Henry Dearle as assistant and earl transactions from the patrons pp. 29 – 35. For comprehensive discussion and attributions of Morris Carpets and for details regarding the patrons, pp.96, 97 &145.
Great Carpets of the World, Ed. Alcouffe, Daniel, Chp. IX, The Carpet in Great Britain, Clothilde Galea-Blanc, pp.277-311, for discussion of William Morris, his associates and the English Arts and Crafts movement, pp.299-303.
Sherrill, Sarah, Carpets and Rugs of Europe and America, New York, 1996, Chp.8. Progressive Design, Mid-19th Century to Present, pp. 291-395, for discussion on William Morris, John Henry Dearle, the Morris & Co firm and the legacy. pp. 293-297 and pp. 304, 315, 317, 341 & 350.
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