Imagine the excitement of the National Trust conservation team when, after removing a fitted wardrobe and peeling back some wallpaper at Red House in Bexleyheath, they found a hidden pre-Raphaelite painting. Where previously just two figures were visible, now a whole wall of Biblical characters believed to be the work of artist William Morris and friends has been uncovered.
The painting, which is six by eight feet, is in the style of a medieval tapestry wall-hanging. Adam, Eve (pictured below) and the serpent share wall space with Rachel and Jacob, whilst Noah is depicted holding a miniature ark. It is not yet clear which artists painted which figures, but experts believe that Morris was responsible for the work’s design, whilst regular visitors to the house Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown may have played their part in the creation of the mural.
Social media also played a part in the restauration process. Within a day of putting out an image of faded and incomplete text on the mural on Twitter and Facebook, users had identified it as lines from Genesis 30:6.
Artist William Morris commissioned Red House to be built in 1859 among the Kent orchards, now suburban Bexleyheath. The house was an experimental artistic project and includes many unusual features, such as stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones and the exterior red turrets. Red House’s decoration and furnishing has been said to illustrate the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement – in the words of Morris himself, ‘have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’.
To visit Red House call for opening times on 020 8304 9878 or check out their nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house. Want more cultural outings? Have an art day trip out of London or take a pilgrimage to the Red House.