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A house that I love with a reasonable love I think: for though my words may give you no idea of any special charm about it, yet I assure you that the charm is there; so much has the old house grown up out of the soil and the lives of those that lived on it: some thin thread of tradition, a half-anxious sense of the delight of meadow and acre and wood and river; a certain amount (not too much let us hope) of common sense, a liking for making material serve one's turn, and perhaps at bottom some little grain of sentiment... ~William Morris
De Morgan was a lifelong friend of William Morris. He began working with Morris at Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. in 1863, initially overseeing the manufacture of stained glass but moved on to tile by reason of both interest and talent. Early tiles at the 'The Firm' could have be designed and painted by several of the principals and staff, Morris, Webb, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, De Morgan, Kate and Lucy Faulkner, and were rarely signed. For this reason, it is difficult to say definitively whose hand we see in the tiles.
Four tiles line the Green Room fireplace at Kelmscott Manor. Three of these are early tiles: Artichoke, a Morris design believed to have been executed by William De Morgan, a variation of Kelmscott swans, and what is knows as the Morris Sunflower. I discuss these in more detail below.
The Sunflower tile installed in the Green Room fireplace is a Morris design, but was made by the Dutch firm, Ravensteijn. Sunflower was sold by Morris & Co. but no Morris Sunflower tiles remain.
I have two versions of the Morris Sunflower: One is based on the Green Drawing Room Morris Sunflower and the second is based on the more De Morgan-looking artichoke tile in the same fireplace. They are show here as a repeat. [Far left: De Morgan. Second left: Morris ]
Swans were installed as field tiles in the Fairy Tale overmantels at The Hill, in the Queens College murals, and were offered by Morris & Co. well into the 20th century.
Designed by William Morris, this version of the original pattern was Dutch made, probably by Ravesteijn Tileworks in the 1880s, and sold through Morris & Co.. Later variants of the Kelmscott Swans feature scrolled foliage. See other Morris & Co. swans.
The Kelmscott artichoke was probably designed by William Morris and made by William De Morgan for Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. After De Morgan left to start his old tileworks, Artichoke was produced by De Morgan and sold through Morris & Co.
Morris very much liked the artichoke tiles, which also lined the fireplace in his Kelmscott Press workroom at Kelmscott House in London:
The artichoke was a popular theme. At Merton Abbey, William Morris produced an embroidered artichoke panel and John Henry Dearle designed an artichoke wallpaper for Morris and Co.
See more William Morris textile designs
The artichoke theme is consistent with Morris's love of things medieval and the lusty undercurrents of his wife's relationship with Rossetti. The artichoke has a history in folklore as an aphrodisiac. In the middle ages, only men were permitted to eat artichokes because of their power as an aphrodisiac. By the 16th century, Catherine de Medici rebelled against that tradition, bringing artichokes with her from Italy to France in celebration of her marriage to King Henry II.
The reality of well-educated Victorians overlay a backdrop of mythic symbolism that few 21st people share: While visiting his brother Poseidon on a small Aegean island, Zeus came upon a stunningly beautiful young woman named Cynara. Falling head over heels, as he often did, he transformed Cynara into a goddess and brought her to Olympus, that they might cavort when his wife Hera was away. Cynara soon found life tedious as an Olympian mistress. She missed her mother and one night, she stole away in hopes of visiting her mother. Upon her return, Zeus discovered Cynara's absence and flew into a rage. Flinging Cynara from the heavens, she was transformed once again, no longer a goddess but now an artichoke, a beautiful but thorny and inaccessible thistle.
It is always allowable to ask for artichoke jelly with your boiled venison; however there are houses where this is not supplied. ~Lewis Carroll
The fourth tile at the rear inside also most likely a Ravensteijn tile, Tulips and Carnations, a traditional pattern made in the Netherlands since the seventeenth century.
Left: Close-up of Tulips and Carnations tiles in Kelmscott Manor dining room fireplace inset.
Below: The Kelmscott Manor dining room fireplace before the 1964 restoration. The fireplace insert is Thomas Jeckyll cast iron bordered by 5 inch Tulips and Carnations tiles.
Title: Green Room Fireplace Tiles
Size: 4.25 inches and 6 inches
4.25 inch square tiles: $44 each
6 inch square tiles: $55 each
If the traditional swans don't quite work for you, complementary tiles for Sunflower and Artichoke could include: De Morgan Blue and White Fantastic Birds and Beasts
Blue and White Tile Overview
De Morgan Birds and Beasts
May Morris Flower Pot
Morris Woodblock Daisy
Blue and White Strawberry Thief
Evolution of Daisies
Aesop's Fables Nursery Tiles
Blue and White Ships
Red House Birds
Floral Blue Tiles
Victorian Blue and White Dragons
Kelmscott Chaucer Tiles
William Morris Swans