Perpetuating the memory of one of the greatest men of the Victorian age


Posted on March 1, 2020

Design for Sunflower wallpaper, designed by William Morris, 1877-78

Executed in pen and watercolour, William Morris’s original design for Sunflower is a relatively simple, single colour pattern. Sunflower was block printed by Jeffrey & Company in distemper colours. It utilises the turnover structure, or mirror image repeat, without any attempt to disguise the symmetrical appearance of the pattern. Featuring stylised grapevines, flowers and leaves, the design was registered on 7 January 1879 and sold extremely well.

Reasons for popularity of the design could relate to the fact that it was one of Morris and Co’s least expensive wallpapers, selling at 5 shillings a roll for the single colour version. However, the sunflower motif itself was fashionable; the design was created at the height of the Aesthetic Movement and the simplicity and beauty of the sunflower saw it become an iconic symbol of the time. This may have encouraged Morris to create a more elaborate version when he printed the pattern in oil colour on a crape-embossed, foiled and lacquered gold background, which sold for 30 shillings a roll. The Society has examples of this lavish wallpaper in both red and green/black colourways as well as several single-colour versions. Each sample is inscribed on the reverse with the title, number and price.