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The settle, designed by William Morris and Philip Webb

William Morris (Walthamstow 1834 - Hammersmith 1896)

Category

Furniture

Date

circa 1856 - circa 1865

Materials

Pine, iron, brass, paint

Measurements

255.5 x 357 x 101 cm

Place of origin

England

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Collection

Red House, Kent

NT 60136

Summary

A white-painted settle with gallery, English, designed by William Morris, possibly constructed by Henry Price, circa 1856, adapted for installation in Red House by Philip Speakman Webb, circa 1860-65. The canopy with twelve grained wood panels stenciled with tilting helmets and shields in gold paint, with enclosed panelled sides to form a 'minstrel's gallery', the gallery was added when the settle was installed at Red House, accessed by a ten rung ladder (detachable), the ladder and gallery providing access to a door leading into the roof space, three open sections below the gallery, the open sections fitted with shelves, below are another three sections, the two side sections with cupboard doors, made of vertical planks with long decorative black-painted iron hinges, the central open section with a single shelf, underneath is a long seat with a radiator below, the seat has a later yellow fabric squab cushion. The whole settle is fixed to the wall.

Full description

A white-painted settle with gallery, English, designed by William Morris, possibly constructed by Henry Price, circa 1856, adapted for installation in Red House by Philip Speakman Webb, circa 1860-65. The canopy with twelve grained wood panels stenciled with tilting helmets and shields in gold paint, with enclosed panelled sides to form a 'minstrel's gallery', the gallery was added when the settle was installed at Red House, accessed by a ten rung ladder (detachable), the ladder and gallery providing access to a door leading into the roof space, three open sections below the gallery, the open sections fitted with shelves, below are another three sections, the two side sections with cupboard doors, made of vertical planks with long decorative black-painted iron hinges, the central open section with a single shelf, underneath is a long seat with a radiator below, the seat has a later yellow fabric squab cushion. The whole settle is fixed to the wall. The settle is thought to have been designed by William Morris for his rooms in Red Lion Square, London and then adapted by Philip Webb for the installation at Red House with the addition of the minstrels gallery and ladder. Described at Red Lion Square in J.W. Mackail's 'The life of William Morris, Volume I', New Edition, 1901, p. 113, 'a large settle was designed, with a long seat below, and above, three cupboards with great swing doors', there appears to be something of a difference to the current piece. The supposed maker of the settle Henry Price described the piece that he made for Morris in his diary: 'Oak, Walnut, Pitch, Pine, Lime Tree and Mahogany all went into the job. A large Cabinet about 7ft high and as long, a seat forming a bunk, with arms each end Carv to represent Fishes. Three Cupboards The Doors with fantastic ironwork hinges, representing Birds, fishes and Flowers Bolted on, and gilt coloured.' Again there are notable differences between the piece described and the settle at Red House. This may suggest that there were greater adaptions to the piece on its installation at Red House than has been traditionally believed. Thought to originally have had three cupboard doors with mahogany panels painted by Rossetti. Mackail refers to Rossetti seeing the settle when first installed in the Red Lion Square rooms, p. 113-114, 'he at once made designs for oil paintings to be executed on the panels of the cupboard doors and the sides of the settle.' There appears to be some confusion as to whether the doors painted by Rossetti were originally positioned in the upper or the lower section. The current plank doors can be seen in a c.1911 photograph installed in the upper sections but by c.1945 they have been moved to the lower sections. However, while the doors are no longer still with the settle we are aware of what they depicted. Mackail describes the scenes painted on the panels p. 114, 'The design for the central panel, Love between the Sun and Moon' and the two flanking doors 'the Meeting of Dante and Beatrice in Florence, and their Meeting in Paradise.' Beatrice Portinari was the subject for all three panels, for whom the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) possessed an enduring but unrequited love, as recounted in the 'Vita Nuova'. The central panel, presented to Tate Britain by F. Treharne James in 1920 (N03532), depicts 'Dantis Amor' symbolizing Beatrice's death, which occurred between the event depicted in the two flanking panels. These two panels, purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in 1957 (no. 6750.1-3), depict 'The Salutation of Beatrice in Florence' and 'The Salutation in the Garden of Eden'. It is thought that Rossetti presented the two Saluation panels to Morris as a wedding present, the earthly Beatrice in the first panel being modeled on Jane Morris. When William Morris and his family decided to leave Red House in 1865 they took the painted panels with them. Mackail writes, p. 165, ' Among the treasures abandoned...both the great painted cupboards; but the painted panels in one of these last were taken out and replaced by plain panels.' Photographs of the settle show that at some point between c.1911 and c.1945 it was painted white. Recent paint analysis shows that the original layer of paint is a blue-green with subsequent layers of orange-red and then brown. This may suggest that it was originally painted blue-green when at Red Lion Square but painted orange-red at Red House which would correspond with the hall settle (NT 60108) which is also originally thought to have been painted this colour.

Provenance

The settle was installed at Red House while William Morris and his family were resident, circa 1860-65, and has remained in situ ever since. The National Trust purchased Red House in 2003 to ensure its permanent preservation. The settle was acquired with the house as part of this purchase.

Makers and roles

William Morris (Walthamstow 1834 - Hammersmith 1896), designer Philip Speakman Webb (Oxford 1831 - West Sussex 1915), designer

References

'William Morris's Early Furniture', The Journal of the William Morris Society 4:26 Mackail, J. W. The Life of William Morris 1901

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