A trip to the William Morris gallery

posted in: Inspiration | 9


Last Thursday I wrote about Aesthetic dress, including this photograph (left, below) of William Morris. Later that day I went on a trip with the Mary Ward Centre to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

Do go if you can. It is quite wonderful. And “my” photograph was on display!

This photograph is of the Morris and Burne-Jones family. Far left is Burne-Jones father Richard, next to his grand children Margaret and Philip, with their parents next to them. William stands next to his daughter May, while Jane his wife and older daughter Jenny sit at the front. It was taken in the summer of 1874 by Frederick Hollyer. A caption on the photograph at the museum suggests it may have been the start of a new school year, with Philip going away to boarding school for the first time and the three girls starting at Notting Hill High School. 

The family photograph was part of a small but marvellous exhibition by Turner prize finalist Yinka Shonibare MBE. The second photograph is posed by local Walthamstow residents who “auditioned” to appear in the photographs. I think it is a lovely piece of work, not least the inclusion of Victorian style dresses in African (or rather Dutch/Indonesian wax) fabrics.

And here are the two dresses. What do you think the motifs are on the green dress?

A further photograph of William Morris’s deaconess sister is also reinterpreted. The sitters sit on chairs covered in William Morris fabric.

William Morris gallery
Yinka Shonebare photograph

Here is the dress and cape outfit she is wearing, on the stand.

Caped Victorian outfit, in African fabrics


I found the implied commentary on imperialism, culture, art and dress quite interesting. African fabrics are the last thing you would expect to see Victorian clothes made up in, I suppose. Most modern fabrics, polyesters and such like would pass. But then I suppose if we had a Victorian dress or man’s suit made in scuba, lurex, metallics or digital prints they would look quite surprising too. In their length and width (bustle, leg of mutton sleeves, frills and petticoats) the dresses look quite comfortably African. But it is interesting that Shonibare did not make Aesthetic dresses for his models, but full on 1880s bustle dresses, which look less African than the originals, in my view. The designer made up what I interpreted last week as primitive looking beads by wrapping them in African fabrics to match the trimmings on the dress. I really like them and they bring out the deep, purpley tones in the models skin.

And something else I noticed. The jacket that RIchard Burne-Jones is wearing seems to be printed with windows, something like the windows in the house. And the trousers? I might be mistaken but I think the textile could be Mr Freedom, the line created by Tommy Roberts in the 1970s.

Window at William Morris gallery
Window at William Morris gallery


9 Responses

  1. Jenny

    Those reproduction photos are lovely. I especially like the caped outfit. You are so lucky living in such a vibrant, interesting place.

  2. Ceci

    are the green dress motifs perfume atomizers and bottles? Wonderful colors, and I think of the Victorians as loving those intense brights?


  3. mrsmole

    Perfume bottles on the green dress and the rest just so divine! What a hoot to see that latest photo with real modern people and different fabrics…love it! You are so lucky to have great exhibits on your doorstep! Thank you for sharing the photos so the rest of us who live too far away can have some real eye candy!

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