When restoration workers were asked to restore a blurry image at William Morris’ former home in a London suburb, they didn’t expect to uncover a pre-Raphaelite mural.
For years, the mural was hidden behind a large built-in wardrobe and covered in wallpaper. It was only when two indistinct figures began to show did the area undergo conservation work and the 6-foot by 8-foot painting come into view, The Guardian reports.
"In the morning we had one and a half murky figures, in the evening we had an entire wall covered in a pre-Raphaelite painting of international importance," James Breslin, property manager at the Red House, said.
The painting, which was in Morris and his wife Jane’s bedroom depicts biblical scenes with figures of Adam and Eve (with the serpent), Noah holding a miniature ark, Rachel and Jacob with a ladder. The mural was designed to look like a hanging tapestry, artlyst.com reports.
"It does look like different artists were responsible for different figures, at least that's a conjecture at this stage,” Jan Marsh, president of the William Morris society, told The Independent. Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Ford Madox Brown and Morris himself are believed to be the artists behind the masterpiece.
“The concept of the overall design was almost certainly by Morris. Our initial thoughts are that the figure of Jacob was by Morris, Rachel possibly by Elizabeth Siddal, Noah by Madox Brown. But who painted Adam and Eve? Maybe Rossetti or Burne-Jones?” Marsh said in a statement.
While the images seem like simple depictions of biblical scenes, they may hold deeper meaning. Scholars believe the imagery might relate to pre-Raphaelite Arthurian legend of Sir Degrevaunt who married his mortal enemy's daughter.
Incomplete text was uncovered at the bottom of the painting. Red House staff took to Twitter and Facebook to decipher them. Within a day, someone identified the words as lines from Genesis 30:6.
The mural was painted while Morris was living in the house, sometime between 1860 and 1865. Private owners that bought the house since Morris’ death painted over many of the details and it has lost almost all of its original furnishings. In 2003, the National Trust acquired the house.
James Breslin, property manager at the Red House, says Morris was young when he lived in the home. Unlike the "the tub-thumping grey bearded socialist" of later years, the Red House was most likely used for parties, games of hide and seek, practical jokes and food fights.
Morris, who was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. A year after he married his wife, Jane Burden, he commissioned his friend and architect Philip Webb to build a modern home with a “‘very medieval in spirit” in Bexleyheath, Kent – now a London suburb. The couple spent two years furnishing the house. Morris and his artist friends did most of the work which later inspired them to start their own company. Morris later became an important figure in the socialist movement in England, becoming deeply involved in political activism.
The latest discovery may be one of many. Breslin says since the National Trust acquired the home in 2003, nearly every room has uncovered a hidden gem.
“Basically every white surface in the house is suspect,” he told Blouin ArtInfo.