Pre-Raphaelite discovery at Red House

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Wall painting in the bedroom at Red House © National Trust / James Breslin

Wall painting in the bedroom at Red House

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Latest update 13.09.2013 16:04

A remarkable wall painting has been discovered at Red House, which is the former home of William Morris.

For years, two figures painted on a wall and concealed behind a cupboard at Red House were believed to have been the work of a single artist.

Now, major conservation work has uncovered an entire wall painting, which experts believe is by William Morris and friends, all of whom were important Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Red House was the home of Morris between 1860 and 1865. Regular visitors were Pre-Raphaelite artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown.

At different times, Morris's friends helped decorate walls, ceilings and items of furniture at the house with colourful wall paintings and decorative patterns inspired by their love of the medieval past.

After Morris left Red House, until we acquired it in 2003, it remained in private ownership. As tastes changed, much of his original decoration was covered over with panelling, wallpaper or paint.

Hidden for years behind a wardrobe

The bedroom wall painting had been hidden for years behind a fitted wardrobe and covered with wallpaper and until this year only two indistinct figures were visible.

Following generous funding, we've been able to undertake conservation that has uncovered the complete painting, measuring 6ft by 8ft.

The painting, designed for what had been Morris and his wife Jane’s bedroom, depicts Biblical characters: the figures of Adam and Eve (with the serpent), Noah (holding a miniature ark), Rachel and Jacob (with a ladder) and is designed to resemble a hanging tapestry with the illusion of folds.

We don't know for certain which artist painted which figure, and further research and analysis will be undertaken. Experts have based their initial thoughts on the styles of each artist along with other details known about their connections to Morris.

Jan Marsh, author and President of the William Morris Society, said: 'The concept of the overall design was almost certainly by Morris. Our initial thoughts are that the figure of Jacob was by Morris, Rachel possibly by Elizabeth Siddal, Noah by Madox Brown. But who painted Adam and Eve? Maybe Rossetti or Burne-Jones?'

Lines of faded and incomplete text were also uncovered at the bottom of the painting. For help in identifying the words, Red House staff put out an image on Twitter and Facebook. Within a day, the text had been identified as lines from Genesis 30:6.

James Breslin, our House Manager at Red House said: 'The early years at Red House were a flowering of ideas and creativity for Morris. To uncover such a remarkable example of this early decoration has been so exciting.'

The conservation of the bedroom wall painting was undertaken over a period of two months by a team of specialist wall painting conservators led by Tobit Curteis.

Funding for the conservation was received from Wolfson Foundation, a private donor and our funds, which have brought these layers of Red House, and its exciting decoration, back to life.

For opening times, events and other information, visit the Red House homepage or telephone 020 8304 9878.