Seminar in the History of Collecting: ‘Reconstructing the art collection of May Morris’

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First-hand study of historical artworks was a cornerstone of the designing, making and scholarly practices of a leading light of the Arts and Crafts movement, May Morris (1862-1938). Her drawings, lectures, publications, and surviving photographic library provide rich evidence of the range of material she studied in public collections, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum in London, and the Musée de Cluny in Paris. In her artistic and scholarly practices, Morris also drew from artworks from her own personal collection. However, knowledge of the constituents and parameters of this personal collection is much less clear. Its contents are partially documented through disparate archival and published sources and a handful of photographic reproductions. Understanding of its contents is further complicated through the entanglement of Morris’s personal collection with that of her father, William Morris, which she inherited in the 20th century. Both collections were housed together in Kelmscott Manor, but then broken up and dispersed in the 1930s.

In this talk, Thomas Cooper will attempt to reconstruct May Morris’s art collection and, through doing so, seek to consider what its contents tell us about her collecting interests and practices, and how we might better understand the range of artworks the Morris family members owned and managed. In particular, he will draw attention to the tensions in Morris’s interests and practices as a collector with respect to issues of looting, participation in exploitative markets, and fraught values of classification. This talk will be the first presentation of a survey of Morris’s personal collection. The speaker will bring together a variety of primary sources such as letters, lecture slides, photographic reproductions, museum holdings, museum accession registers, the inventory report and estate sale catalogue of Kelmscott Manor, and articles on historical textiles.

About the Speaker: Thomas Cooper is a third-year PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. His doctoral research examines the career and work of May Morris, a leading figure of the Arts and Crafts movement, and focuses on her textiles, designs, making practices and writings. He completed his BA (Hons) and MA degrees at The Courtauld Institute of Art, graduating with the Director’s Prize for Outstanding MA History of Art Dissertation. His doctoral research is funded by the University of Cambridge Pigott Studentship, and his research has been supported by Kettle’s Yard, the Paul Mellon Centre, and the William Morris Society in the United States.

Image Credit: Detail of an 18th-century Turkish bedcover, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Photo: Birmingham Museums Trust

Additional Details

Institution or Organization name - The Wallace Collection

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Date And Time

2023-03-27 @ 05:30 PM (GMT) to
2023-03-27 @ 07:00 PM (GMT)


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