02 October 2012

Important William Morris stained glass in Adelaide, 1901

The famous British design company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. of London was a firm that grew from a partnership founded in 1861 by artist and writer William Morris, the man credited with inspiring the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1880s and 1890s. There was nothing Morris and Co couldn't design for private homes: wallpaper, tapestries, carpets, furniture, textiles, carvings and stained-glass windows. Nor, apparently, for public spaces. But what are the chances of a number of totally unconnected William Morris Co. stained glass windows ending up in Australia?

In Sydney Morris & Co's work may be seen at All Saints' Anglican church at Hunters Hill, which is the proud owner of two stained glass windows made to designs by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98). The window Sydneysiders love most is the portrayal of Christ at the Transfiguration. The Sydney version of the The Transfiguration is very similar to the 1910 Transfiguration that William Morris & Co made for the Egremont Prebyterian Church in Wallasey. Only more pastel and gentle.

Transfiguration window, All Saints Hunters Hill, Sydney

But it is in Adelaide that most of the treasures can be found. The former Adelaide Stock Exchange in Exchange Place Adelaide has a very special, 6-panel stained-glass window; it was commissioned by philanthropist and trustee of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, George Brookman, for the Stock Exchange. The timing was perfect because the grand, red brick building was itself completed in the year that Australia federated as an independent nation (1901). And as Federation was arguably the most important single event in Australian history, the celebrations were momentous.

Federation window, Morris & Co., owned by the South Australian Art Gallery, 301 x 210 cm

The Federation window was designed in 1900 by John Henry Dearle, a man who trained with William Morris and became the company’s chief designer. The three lower panels depict the British Empire, with life-sized figures representing Australia, India Africa and Canada on either side. The three upper panels represent morning, sun and evening, based on designs of the British painter, Edward Burne-Jones; note the central figure representing Britannia holds a wreath framing the word Federation.

By 1902 the window was installed in the Adelaide building, lighting the main staircase. Insured for a million dollars, the Federation window has now been donated to the South Australian Art Gallery by a Spanish businessman who sold the building to the State Government in 2007.

In total there were 10 Morris & Co stained glass windows created for, and shipped to Adelaide, but this is the only one that related to a contemporary and important event in Australia's history. It will remain where it is at the top of the main staircase of the old Stock Exchange, unless the building is sold.

Today the building houses the Science Exchange of the Royal Institution of Australia, so the window can best be viewed during the Royal Institute's business hours.

14 comments:

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Helen:
What a splendid connection between William Morris and Australia. We love such instances as they serve to make one believe that one is only ever a few steps away of being connected to everyone and everything worldwide!

The Burne-Jones inspired stained glass windows are truly lovely. The Pre-Raphaelite painters are amongst our favourite artists and these are magnificent exemplars of the style and work. Of course, they must be even more wonderful when seen in situ with light streaming through them.

We are very fond of Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton which is a Victorian house with Morris interiors. The Mander family [a paint firm] owned the house before the National Trust and we can just remember being shown around by Lady Mander.....

Andrew said...

I wish I had known about the window before we visited Adelaide last year. In so many ways, Adelaide punches well above its weight.

Hels said...

Jane and Lance

couldn't agree more! William Morris and Co's creations of Burne-Jones' designs made for blissful stained glass windows. That some of them should end up in remote Adelaide is even more blissful.

Interesting that the Mander family, who you suggest made their vast money from paint, chose to fill their home with Morris interiors. In Adelaide that exact role was taken by Robert Barr Smith (d1915) and his wife Joanna (d1919) who were shipping merchants. Their homes were decorated largely by William and Co.

Hels said...

Andrew

Adelaide must have had some very cultivated, VERY wealthy families who did their shopping in London. Robert and Joanna Barr Smith were one of Morris & Co’s major clients. If you believe the story (and I do), Adelaide claims to own the biggest collection of Morris work outside of Britain.

Trustee of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, George Brookman, was clearly responsible for bringing the first Morris stained glass window to Adelaide. Soon thereafter, Morris & Co supplied stained glass windows for eight South Australian churches!!

diane b said...

Thanks for educating me on William Morris. The widows are beautiful.

Dr. F said...

Is there an inscription or document that identifies the window as a "Transfiguration"? It looks more to me like an "Ascension" especially with the stars in the background.

Frank

Hels said...

diane

you are not the only one! I went on a William Morris Discovery Tour last time I was in Adelaide and was surprised to find all sorts of Morris designs in the city's private and public collections.

Hels said...

Dr F

I checked back with Beverley Sherry, Australia's Historic Stained Glass (published Sydney, 1991) and found I didn't make a mistake copying the name of the window.

There have been other (occasional) stained glass windows depicting the Transfiguration where Jesus is standing alone, but mostly you would expect three other figures who would witness the metamorphosis. So I agree with you... this is strange.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, The Federation window is magnificent, another item to add to my Australia wish-list.

The connection between Australia and William Morris makes sense; an analogous situation in America would be the far-flung commissions of L.C. Tiffany. Though much of his work centered in the wealthy and trend-setting North-east, one of Tiffany's most beautiful and accessible interiors is in the Mid-west, in the Wade Chapel of Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.
--Road to Parnassus

Hels said...

Parnassus

Yes!! There is something about living in a city remote from the nation's cultural heart and soul that makes the locals very keen to have their own beautiful things. Far flung commissions - exactly so.

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Hels said...

Martin

thank you. Although I don't approve of advertising, you made a good point: the art of many cultures tends to be distorted by privileging the fine arts above the decorative arts. Stained glass windows may be an interesting exception, since they look like jewelled paintings.

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Hels said...

Thank you Atta
but I don't approve of advertising.