Sunday, 5 November 2017

Review: May Morris, Art and Life

The sound you can hear is my cheering. At last, May Morris has her own exhibition and has moved out of her father's shadow and is now seen as a person in her own right!  When I heard that the William Morris Gallery at Walthamstow was holding a May exhibition I was delighted.  I contributed to the crowd-funding, which is a new and exciting way of helping a gallery get an exhibition off the ground.  Never underestimate how much peril our non-national museums face in times of austerity and so anything we can do to help them get money, we should.  Anyway, I got the most beautiful tote bag for my efforts! To the exhibition!

I was very excited to get to see the exhibition, so when I was in London at the end of October I saw both this and The Pre-Raphaelites and Van Eyke at the National.  Now, the National exhibition was all very nice but it was the May Morris that really caught my attention so I would rather send you up to Walthamstow...

May Morris, 1909
Jan Marsh (in whom we trust) has done amazing work over the years championing May Morris' work, and I have her 1986 biographer of May and Jane Morris, which informed much of my research into Miss Lobb.  There was also a May Morris exhibition in 1989 (which I also have the slender catalogue for, by Helen Sloan) but May has hardly been given the prominence that some of her male counterparts have, and her work is normally mentioned within the context of her father.  How wonderful therefore that May gets a high profile exhibition and her achievements can be seen both in the context of her father's work, but also beyond.

Maids of Honour, c.1890s
First of all, can I mention the exhibition is FREE. That's right, FREE.  I think we asked the nice man on the desk twice if he was serious.  After having the pennies shaken from our pockets at the National Gallery for the Van Eyke exhibition, Miss Holman and I could not quite comprehend how we were not charged to see May Morris, which is so majestic it is spread over two floors.  For those that know the gallery, it fills the temporary gallery next to the cafe and then two packed rooms on the first floor.

Embroidered Cloak, 1897
The exhibition covers May's work from wallpaper to jewellery, embroidery and clothing.  Her 'seasons' panels are apparently the most expensive ever commissioned by Morris and Co in that period, and are breathtakingly beautiful. Her work is present in huge pieces down to tiny drawings, and if I have a complaint it was that we needed more room to view it all as it was quite busy the day we went and it is such a beautiful collection we ended up doing the 'exhibition shuffle'.  Mind you, that happens to us in so many wonderful exhibitions and should be a mark of just how wonderful it is.

May and Lobb

I was delighted to see Miss Lobb there in all her glory, as May's personal life is covered.  Her valentine to George Bernard Shaw is both lovely and sad, her marriage to Henry Halliday Sparling is a bit unfortunate and finally to Lobb, with whom she had some jolly jaunts and generally far more fun than with the other two.  Unlike her Mum, May's personal life doesn't overshadow her professional accomplishment but acts as a bit of background, which is fair enough.  I feel the words 'mystic betrothal' should be a lesson to us all.
Majestic catalogue...
The catalogue is an absolute joy, by the way. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be suggesting things that you might want to get for yourself for Christmas, and this is one of them.  The National Gallery's slim catalogue for their exhibition is nice, but the May Morris catalogue is massive and brilliant and you need it in your life.  I'm afraid I bought mine from Amazon about a month before I saw the exhibition because I couldn't wait and it is around the same price as the National one.  Bargain.

Spring and Summer panel, 1895-1900

I can't recommend this exhibition enough because May Morris has been sidelined for long enough and its about time we pay her the respect we give to William Morris, because her achievements are remarkable.  And her visit to Iceland was far more jolly.

The exhibition is on until the end of January and has its own website.  And it's FREE.


  1. Thanks for the post! Lovely to see May Morris getting her just due. So wish I lived in England. I will at least order the catalogue.

  2. Argh, this makes me really wish I was heading over to England this winter! I'll have to settle for your lovely description and springing for the catalogue.

  3. It is a wonderful exhibition,I went with my friend Wendy who also loves all things Arts and Crafts. Loved the littlemittens!


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx