Morris & Co. stained glass in Canterbury

By Ken Hall, assistant curator at Christchurch Art Gallery

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and its successor Morris & Co. are recognised as having produced some of the finest stained glass design of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A vital aspect of their artistic and commercial output, stained glass also provided some of their most spectacular results. Exquisite windows by Morris & Co. may be found throughout New Zealand (mostly in Canterbury), and so a vivid appreciation of this aspect of their production for local audiences is easily possible.

The earliest, and also arguably the greatest, of these is a pair of windows representing the Annunciation at St Mary’s Anglican Church in Merivale, dated c. 1910.(1) Designed by Henry Dearle, and based on earlier designs by Edward Burne-Jones, the windows depict the archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary: elongated forms in flowing robes in the characteristic Burne-Jones mould. Carefully harmonised colour schemes carry a predominance of greens and jewel-like Byzantine blues, with figures swathed in gold and ivory; in contrast, Gabriel’s wings and Mary’s halo glow like rubies. The windows easily stand up to William Morris’s 1890 dictum for stained glass: ‘The qualities needed in the design are beauty and character of outline; exquisite, clear, precise drawing of incident, such especially as the folds of drapery … Whatever key of colour may be chosen the colour should always be clear, bright, and emphatic.’(2)

Dearle (sometimes described as Morris’s disciple) became responsible for Morris & Co.’s stained glass department following the deaths of Morris in 1896 and Burne-Jones in 1898. Reuse and reconfiguration of existing figures and designs from the company’s archive had been an established practice; in this instance Dearle adapted Gabriel from a design produced for Burne-Jones’s own parish church at Rottingdean, Sussex in 1892, and Mary from a design produced for the Albion Congregational Church at Ashton-Under-Lyne, Lancashire in 1895.(3) Adding his own particular touch, Dearle adjusted colours to make a warmer, more radiant scheme, and created panels with repeating plant forms above and beneath the figures that had not been in the originals. The plant designs, a specialty of Dearle’s, are reminiscent of Morris & Co. fabric and wallpapers (superb examples of which can be seen in the exhibition).

(1) These were gifted in memory of Christchurch barrister (and MHR for St Albans) Francis Garrick and his wife Elizabeth. Other Morris & Co. windows are found at Knox College, Dunedin (1922 and 1934); St John the Evangelist Anglican Church, Cheviot (1922 and 1928); and St Augustine’s Anglican Church, Waimate (1925 and 1930).

(2) Morris, ‘Glass, Painted or Stained’ (1890), reprinted in The Beauty of Life: William Morris & the Art of Design, ed. Diane Waggoner, Thames & Hudson, London, 2003, p. 65

(3) Burne-Jones’s original cartoon for Gabriel is in the collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Liverpool.