Tuesday, November 27, 2012

John Henry Dearle: The Morris Apprentice

Seaweed by J.H. Dearle
from the Morris Apprentice collection from Moda
The Morris Apprentice is a new reproduction William Morris collection that celebrates the master's apprentice John Henry Dearle.

In the late 1870s the 18-year-old art student was hired as a showroom assistant. Twenty years later he was Head Designer putting his own stamp on Morris style.
The prints reflect Dearle's new directions. He added color and line from art nouveau in designs like "Artichoke."
And devised pattern repeat with eastern influence in the more formal "Eden." Dearle became Art Director in 1896 after Morris's death, guiding Morris and Company into the twentieth century.

Pictures of Dearle are rare.
 Here is a digitally enhanced photo.
The original I believe is in the Huntington Library collection.
Morris and Company designed a wide range of arts and crafts, including hand-knotted carpets, woven tapestries, wallpapers, printed fabrics, embroideries and stained glass windows. Henry Dearle (1859-1932) was instrumental in many of these designs.
William Morris has often been credited with the design for Seaweed,
even though it dates to five years after his death.
This 2012 British stamp celebrating the firm's anniversary
gives Dearle the proper credit.
Dearle was always secondary to Morris in the public eye. Although he did much of the design work for Morris and Company, he's received less credit than he deserved---or perhaps wanted. His designs were often attributed to Morris, even after Morris's death.
His modesty makes a biography beyond the bare bones difficult. John Henry Dearle was apparently born in London to William Dearle (1832-?) and Louisa Dearle on August 22, 1860, baptized in St. Pancras Church on the Euston Road.
St. Pancras Church looks much the
 same today as it did in 1860.
Dearle's father was listed as an artist, a mechanical draughtsman, in the 1881 British census. Henry, the second son, studied at the West London School of Art and began working at Morris & Company, first in the glass painting department and then as a tapestry weaver.

Dearle worked in the weaving workshop at Merton Abbey
John William Mackail's The Life of William Morris in the 1911 edition contained an addendum  (presumably written by Dearle) stating that
"Mr. J. H. Dearle entered the service of the firm very young from a post in an insurance office for the sake of more congenial work. He was employed for several years in the glass-painting shop, and was picked out by Morris to help him in rediscovering the lost art of high warp tapestry, and restoring it to practice. Later he was the chief designer (under Morris) and manager of the Merton Abbey works, and became a partner in the firm in 1894."
At 27 he began designing tapestries. In the 1880s William Morris's interest lay in politics and printing books so the young man took over more and more of the designing. Morris died in 1896 and Dearle became Art Director.
The Tate Britain in London has an exhibit
with two of the Holy Grail series of tapestries that
were collaborations between Dearle,
William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.
In 1908 International Studio, a design magazine, explained the shared work on the woven tapestries that Morris and Company is famous for. Edward Burne-Jones drew the figures; "the accessories being arranged, at first by Morris himself, subsequently by his gifted pupil. Mr. J. H. Dearle." An example given: an 1885 Floral panel for which Morris did the human figures. "For the present scheme of colouring and background of flowering plants Mr. Dearle is responsible."
Detail of the flowers in the Holy Grail, Dearle's design,
the "accessories"
In the 1908 issue of  International Studio
the Angeli Ministrantes tapestry from 1894 is captioned
"Designed by J.H. Dearle. Figures by E Burne-Jones"
Another version.
Burne-Jones often gets full credit today.
Edward Burne-Jones & William Morris 1890
After their deaths in the late 1890s
Morris and Company continued for almost fifty years.
Dearle married, possibly to Kezia E. Dearle in 1883, and there is a record of one son, Duncan William Dearle, born February 21, 1893 in Upper Tooting, Graveney, Wandsworth, Surrey. Henry and Duncan collaborated on stained glass windows in the early twentieth century, carrying on the tradition of Edward Burne-Jones, the major glass designer at Morris from 1861 to his death in 1898.
The theme of the Winnicott Memorial Window is literature.
Notice the characteristic florals in the side borders

One Dearle window recently restored is the Lady Winnicott Memorial Window at Plymouth Central Library which was dedicated in 1927 at Plymouth in Devon. During World War II the library was destroyed by German bombers but the stained glass had been removed and stored. The library was rebuilt; the windows reinstalled in 1955.

See the Morris Workshop's tapestries in the Tate Britain exhibit Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, which will be up until January 13, 2013.
Read John Henry Dearle's Contribution to Morris & Co. by Lesley Baker by clicking here:www.morrissociety.org/publications/JWMS/W02.15.1.Baker.pdf
Read in this Google Preview of Art, Enterprise and Ethics: The Life and Work of William Morris, a memoir of the Morris Company by George Wardle:
Dearle replied to that memoir with a one-paragraph autobiography: "Mr. Wardle, writing many years afterwards, has fallen into a good deal of confusion from imperfect memory...." See it as almost a footnote on page 47 of the 1911 edition of Mackail's The Life of William Morris, Volume 2.

Tulip from the Morris Apprentice collection 
echoes the tapestry "accessories".


  1. A very interesting piece of history. Thanks for the posts.

  2. It is fun to learn the history behind the prints, they are beautiful.


  3. Barbara, enjoyed the wonderful post!
    You reminded me of a paper I did on Morris, WAY back in college days... I remember learning about Dearle but found little on him also.

    I have a wonderful trunk from my maternal grandmother, lined in what I think must be a Morris print. I need to research it !

  4. Ohhh.. we are so waiting for the fabric to arrive.

    We ordered the whole range for the shop but as we have our quilt shop in the Netherlands we will be getting the fabric somewhat later then all of you in America.

    Well, it also gives us a bit more time to design with this glorious line!


  5. can you tell me please, how many fabrics are in the new "morris apprentice" collection?

  6. There are 40 skus---which means 40 different bolts

  7. Hi Barbara,

    First of all, an excellent blog full of interesting stuff. Some dates for you to expand the information of John Henry Dearle. William Dearle married Sarah Louise Palmer in 1855. He was born in 1832 and died in 1908. John Henry was born 1859 but baptised in 1860. He was the second son out of a family of 5 sisters and 5 brothers. William's sister married my maternal Great Grandfather and , as I have been researching the family tree, I have the information at hand.

    All the best,

    Colin Dearle Coke

  8. Hello Barbara,
    A fascinating history of John Henry Dearle's relationship with and influence by.William Morrisi. At the moment I am working on a stitched panel to celebrate the Magna Carta with some ladies in my village, as we have one of the 25 rebel barons! I have a piece of Dearle's 'seaweed' design in red & mustard, unfortunately not big enough! I need craft weight cotton. Any ideas for where I might purchase some more please?