Friday, 14 February 2014

The Seasons at Red Lion Square and/or Red House

The William Morris Network had an interesting visit to the V&A reserve collection, where we saw the four heavy wood panels painted by Rossetti with medieval ladies representing the Seasons.
And we spent an age inspecting and conjecturing and trying mentally to fit them on to the great settle at Red House, supposedly dismantled and reassembled from Morris’s earlier lodging in Red Lion Square.  Their dimensions do fit the sides of the Red House settle, but the massive bevelling does not.

On two panels the bevels are painted red, on two they are greeny-black with paler patterning. Two figures face left, two right, but neither the poses nor the colours accord with any linear arrangement of spring-summer-autumn-winter.   
Top left here Summer shows the girl eating cherries on the branch. Top right Spring the woman bends over a nest of chicks, amid blossoms. Lower left Autumn the figure catches apples as they fall into her skirt. Lower right, presumably  Winter,  she drinks from a fountain while wrapped in a cloak, with evergreen foliage behind. 
Each figure is 'too tall' for the picture-space, bent heads and feet touching the top and bottom edges in an awkward quasi-medieval manner. 
According to J.W.Mackail, presumably following information from Burne-Jones, as soon as the great settle arrived at Red Lion Square in early 1857, Rossetti 'at once made designs for oil paintings to be executed on the panels of the cupboard doors [a Salutation of Beatrice triptych] and the sides of the settle', which sound like the present pieces.
Two of the panels ( Spring and Winter ) were later owned by H.C.Marillier, who became managing director of Morris & Co in 1905 and who in 1910 sent photos to Jane Morris asking about their origin.   Jane replied on 8 August:  
'The left hand lady I think is certainly by Rossetti, the other I can't say - from what you say of the Indian red background with the diaper I can see in the photograph, I think it is possible they were the inside of the panels  of the bookcase at Red House - which were very thick and may have been divided after they left our hands.' 
Inferentially,  Marillier's 'left hand' photo was of the Winter panel, the other with diaper was Spring.  But what was the 'bookcase' at Red House?  was that Jane's term for the drawing-room settle, which certainly has more shelves and cupboards than seat?   But if  these heavy panels, 3.2cm thick, were 'inside', the bookcase doors would surely have been too heavy to be practical. And there are 3 not 4 vertical divisions on the settle.  It all remains rather a puzzle. 
If the panels were in fact painted for the sides of the original settle, it seems likely that the two facing left (Winter and Spring) were on the right side, the figures facing towards the room, with Summer and Autumn on the left side, though this arrangement makes no more logical sense than any other.

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