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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Situated in the municipality of Bexleyheath in Southeast London is the Red House, a significant Arts and Crafts building. Premeditated in 1859 by the designer William Morris and the architect Philip Webb, the house was to function as a family home for William. Construction of the Red House was finalized in 1860.

It is renowned as one of the most significant examples of nineteenth-century British structural designs still in existence. After graduating at the University of Oxford, Morris decided to build a rustic home for his household within a close distance to central London. Morris bought a piece of land in what at the time was the township of Upton in Kent. He then employed Phillip to assist him in scheme and build the house. The project was financed by money inherited from his affluent family. William became swayed by Medieval-inspired Neo-Gothic styles and Medievalism. These designs were greatly mirrored all the way through the building's scheme. It was built using Morris' artisan talents and ethos on craftsmanship, hence replicating an early illustration of what came to be recognized as the Arts and Crafts Association.

A clear pointer to the designers' fixation on medieval ideals is depicted on the aesthetic styling of the house. Its prominent funnels, cross gables, and steeply pitched tiles mark the house as an illustration of a basic Tudor Gothic scheme. The house’s L-shaped footmark allows it to be partly wrapped round a garden, concurrently producing an irregularity classic of benighted buildings built and reconditioned incrementally over time. Having immerged in Western Europe, it was also perceived as more suitable for an English location than the Greco-Roman stimuli of Classicist design.

Most stylish cabins of this age were completed in stucco. However, Morris’ new house was made of bare brick that inspired its name Red House. A barbican stands at the apex of the L, comprising the staircase; protruding out from this peak are the two annexes of the home. The front annex comprises the main rooms, including the reception rooms, dining room, drawing room, studio, main bedroom, and a garden porch. The back wing comprises the more secluded rudiments, such as the servant quarters, lesser bedrooms, larders, kitchens, scullery, and back stairs. The lawn is sheltered in the south-eastern section of the building, whereas the main entrance is at the north, in front of the street. The gallant depiction of the house's physical materials, along with its concrete and straightforward design, suggest at an unexpectedly Functionalist approach masked in historicist symbols.

Even though Red House is an artistic masterwork, some of its features reveal the comparative ingenuousness of its designers. The alignment of the house is such that the main housings all face north, leaving them unpleasantly cold even in summer. Due to poor emissions of smoke, the chimneys had to be amplified. Meanwhile, the kitchen was situated such that it took in the afternoon sun. This caused the kitchen to heat up just as house staff was preparing for dinner and afternoon tea. The cupboards, being located contiguous to the kitchen, were also predisposed to overheating. This was clearly a design flaw for food storage. These defects, though having failed to reduce Red House's status in the architectural standard, festered Philip Webb later in the future to the point that he professed his yearning to never see the building again. To some, this was an overreaction considering the time they made the building. Such mistakes were forgivable.

Because of financial complications, Morris was forced to sell Red House in 1865. This was only five years after his family had relocated into it. The house remained as a private residence over the next 14 decades. In 2003, that the property was attained by the UK’s National Trust. The trust was responsible for certifying its conservation and inaugural the house to the public as a museum. With the exclusion of new wallpapers and some misplaced furniture advanced by Morris after reloctaed, Red House remains much as it did in 1865. This provides present-day visitors with a preview of the innovative owner’s vision for an idyllic life. Now surrounded by a condensed suburban neighbourhood, Red House stands out as a work of devoted craftsmanship. Its Gothic aesthetic silently protests the truths of an agrarian world.

Famous Works by William Morris

The Angel of the Resurrection - Besides the textiles and wallpaper that Morris generated for his corporation, he was also expansively involved in creating tainted glass windows. He created about 130 designs. The Angel of the Resurrection depicts a cherub sedentary on the void tomb after Christ's resurrection. It is a portion of a scheme completed for a window at All Angel's, Brighton and St Michael. The church was built in 1862 to a strategy by G.F.Bodley, and was amongst the initial building ventures carried out by Morris, Marshall and Faulkner.

Iseult and Guinevere - In 1862, the Bradford merchant Walter Dunlop Company ordered a sequence of stained glass windows from Marshall and Morris. Dunlop's home was installed with a set of thirteen windows illustrated in the story of Iseult and Tristram. This is one of the four topics that Morris prepared for the commission. Two of the designs Burne-Jones contributed are encompassed in the exhibition. The other artists involved were Rossetti, Madox Brown, Val Prinsep and Arthur Hughes. The thirteen tainted glass windows can now be found in Bradford City Art Gallery.

La Belle Iseult - Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur was the inspiration for this art piece. Guinevere's extramarital love for Sir Lancelot is one of the dominant themes in the art piece. Jane Burden is the model who became Morris's wife in 1859. She also appears in Rossetti's Proserpine shown nearby. When working together on the Oxford Union murals, Morris and Rossetti discovered her. The painting is fundamentally a portrait of her in a benighted dress. It is a splendid expression of the concentrated benighted style prevailing in Rossetti's circle in the late 1850s, with its stress on historical detail and pattern. This is the only oil painting completed by Morris.