Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Morris & Co window by John H. Dearle, Gloucester



The contribution of John Henry Dearle (1860-1932) to the artistic development of Morris & Co has long been a matter of debate. Throughout most of the twentieth century a majority of art historians and critics considered that his work was more often than not a mere "pastiche" of the firm's two leading figures: William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. In their view, Dearle, who rose to the position of Artistic Director and was responsible for the design of many of the firm's wallpapers, tapestries, woven and printed textiles, and following the death of Edward Burne-Jones in 1898 of its stained glass, barely went beyond reusing designs created by Morris and Burne-Jones. Such opinions were undoubtedly unfair to Dearle and over the past thirty years his work has been reassessed, with many seeing him as a key figure behind the success of Morris & Co.
Some of the harshest critics were levelled at his stained glass windows. These may have been excessive, as Dearle contributed to the design of many windows when Morris and Burne-Jones were still alive, many of which are held in high regard. Additionally reusing particular designs had been going on at Morris & Co since 1862. Yet it is true that people's faces on Dearle's windows are less vibrant and clear than those drawn by Burne-Jones. It is as if they were largely emotionless, contrary to the characters created by his predecessor. As for the foreground and background, they are less complex, often consisting of simple, but at the same time more realistic, floral elements. What one cannot deny though is Dearle's ability to use colours to the best effect, and in particular the deep green, blue and red that make Morris & Co windows so easily recognizable and attractive.
Dearle may not have reached the standards of Morris and Burne-Jones but that does not mean that his work on textiles and wallpapers was not excellent. And even his windows are very fine pieces, as the Wilton window designed in 1924 for the cloister of Gloucester Cathedral illustrates.

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