Saturday - 23 August 2014

Philip Webb cartoons for William Morris tapestry – the pride of Hodson collection

05 March 2013Written by Roland Arkell

It was during negotiations to secure the future of the Kelmscott Press after the death of William Morris in 1896 that Laurence William Hodson (1863-1933) acquired four watercolour and pencil designs by Philip Webb (1831-1915).

Hodson was an important patron of Morris & Co, who had inherited his father's estate, Compton Hall, near Wolverhampton.

Created in 1886-7, these naturalistic studies of a fox, a hare, a raven and a lion were used in the making of The Forest, a tapestry designed by William Morris, Webb and Dearle and woven in 1887 at Merton Abbey, which now hangs in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The four watercolours were shown in 1902 at the Wolverhampton Art & Industrial exhibition (where Hodson was chairman of the Fine Art Committee) and again in 1934 (a year after Hodson's death) at the V&A's Centenary of William Morris exhibition.

At the time, when the director of the V&A Eric Maclagan wrote to the family in the hope they would loan the drawings for the exhibition he noted: "Perhaps I might also add that the Webb drawings are of particular interest to us here as we acquired the tapestry itself for our collection not many years ago. If therefore any question of their ultimate sale arises, I hope we may be given the opportunity of considering their purchase, although our means are at present exceedingly restricted owing to the cutting off of our purchase grant."

Choice Works

The four oak-framed Webb studies were finally sold by the Hodson family - but not until 80 years later in 2013 and at Dreweatts of Donnington Priory.

They proved the choice elements in a 145-lot assemblage offered on February 27 that included Powell Whitefriars glass and a large selection of printed and woven Morris & Co textiles with an unbroken and unparalleled provenance.

One trade buyer bidding on the phone tried hard to keep the four modestly-estimated pictures together.

Measuring 2ft 11in by 23in (89 x 58cm) and estimated at £4000-6000 each, drawings of The Fox (dated Michaelmas Day 1886 to the top left) and The Hare (a drawing once on the office wall of Sydney Carlyle Cockerell) took £25,000 and £32,000 respectively. The same buyer bought the following lot, The Raven, measuring a smaller 2ft 2in x 19in (66 x 49cm), at £7500.

However, the final element of the quartet, The Lion, measuring 23in by 2ft 4in (58 x 72cm), was subject to far greater competition. This time the determined phone bidder had to give way but not until a trade rival (this time bidding through Dreweatts' Decorative Arts specialist David Rees) had bid £56,000, more than ten times the published estimate.

More items from the Laurence William Hodson family, including a group of Gaskin jewellery, will be offered in future Dreweatts and Bloomsbury Auctions sales.

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