Friday, 18 February 2011

Daffodil by John Henry Dearle

Illustration: John Henry Dearle. Daffodil wallpaper design, 1891.

John Henry Dearle is an often marginalised character within the generalised William Morris world and the more specific one of Morris & Co. His work was often erroneously designated as having been designed by Morris himself and he was thought by many, right up until the end of the twentieth century to be a pastiche rather than a creator.  In recent years however his name and reputation have begun to be disentangled from that of Morris, with Dearle's pattern work being re-designated as unique to him rather than as they were originally designated under the name of Morris & Co. Despite this Dearle's work is still often designated as being that of William Morris.

Dearle was employed at Morris & Co in 1878 when he was just eighteen years old. That he stayed with the company his entire working life, in fact he died in 1932 still managing the company's work at Merton Abbey, shows both his loyalty to Morris, but perhaps more importantly, Morris own faith in him. Morris largely depended on the ability of his staff and if Dearle had been found limiting he would certainly not have survived within the company and would not have become as indispensable to Morris so as to eventually become Artistic Director after Morris death in 1896.

Dearle produced a range of work over his career including stained glass, printed and woven textiles, carpets, tapestries, embroidery and wallpaper. As far as wallpaper is concerned, he was to produce a series of designs from the late 1880s onwards, including Cherwell, Trent, Persian Brocatel, Daffodil, Compton, Tulip and Artichoke. It is the 1891 design Daffodil that this article is concerned with.

Daffodil was a pattern that was both intended for printed textile and wallpaper. In some respects, it is perhaps slightly more formal than some of the typical examples produced by Morris himself. However, it does have flowing floral motifs and lines and is still within the English tradition of native flora and fauna that had been so much a part of Morris & Co from the very beginning of the company in the mid-nineteenth century. However, it is interesting to note the use of Islamic styled decoration, particularly within the overlaid meandering vertical lines with their large and twisted floral work. Although this was certainly not an exclusively universal design concept that dominated  Dearle's creative career, Islamic styled pattern work was to factor within Morris & Co's later output. A less defined observational character to pattern work was to be found in a high percentage of the company's later work and this reflected Dearle's own interest in the non-English decorative arts. The example of a printed textile design Brent produced in about 1917, more than twenty years after Morris death, clearly shows Dearle's same interest in Islamic styled decoration. However, Brent shows a marked progression, which is a testament to Dearle's innate ability and understanding of pattern work. It has a much lighter touch than can be found in the more traditional fair of Morris himself and although Islamic in styling Brent has much more in common with the specifically lighter and more fluid Turkish and Persian interpretation of the larger Islamic decorative arts.

Illustration: John Henry Dearle. Brent printed textile design, c1917.

Although Dearle's creativity had a different emphasis than that of Morris, the two men produced work that complemented the remit of both the English Arts & Crafts movement as well as that of Morris & Co, and more specifically the tastes and requirements of their customers. Dearle moved slowly towards a more relaxed and less observational creative phase that was in keeping with the movement towards a less formal approach to the decorative arts in general and surface pattern specifically. Although Dearle was by no means anywhere near the more strident and confident ideas of the Modernist movement, he was able through his own personal ability to interpret pattern work that emphasised the strengths of pattern for its own sake. If Brent shows the maturity of Dearle as an independent designer within Morris & Co then perhaps Daffodil shows, if not the beginnings of this confidence, then at least the ideas and formulas of a unique creative output working within the fixed framework set out by Morris.

Dearle deserves to be seen as an integral element of Morris & Co and through that within the career of Morris himself. However, Dearle also deserves to be seen as an independent designer with his own creative career. The work he produced for Morris & Co for over half a century is a testament to his own ability and his own uniquely creative journey.

Reference links:
Vine - John Henry Dearle: Counted Cross Stitch Chart (Large size symbols)
Garden of Delight - John Henry Dearle: Counted Cross Stitch Chart (Regular size symbols)
"Daffodil Chintz," 1875 (Printed Cotton) Giclee Poster Print by John Henry Dearle, 18x24
John Henry Dearle, Greenery 24x30
William Morris: Patterns & Designs (International Design Library)
William Morris Full-Color Patterns and Designs (Pictorial Archives)
William Morris Textiles
William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Home
Designs of William Morris (Phaidon Miniature Editions)
William Morris Decor and Design
The Flowers of William Morris
William Morris (Big Series Art)
V&A Pattern: William Morris: (Hardcover with CD)
William Morris (Temporis)

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