May Morris: Art & Life is the most comprehensive survey of May Morris’s work to date, bringing together over 80 works from collections around the UK, many of which have never been on public display.

The exhibition reveals the breadth of May's creative pursuits, featuring wallpaper and embroidery alongside jewellery, dresses and book designs, as well as sketches and watercolours. It focuses on May’s development of art embroidery – elevating needlework from a domestic craft to a serious art form – and highlights the extent of her influence in the UK and abroad, particularly the US.

A number of rarely seen works from public and private collections are featured in the exhibition, including a pair of expansive silk hangings, which May designed and embroidered in 1895 under the auspices of Morris & Co. The Spring and Summer, and Autumn and Winter panels are thought to have been commissioned for £150 making them most expensive entry in the Morris & Co. order book for that period, and a highlight of the exhibition.

Also on display for the first time is a hand painted Valentine card made by May for George Bernard Shaw in 1886, which was recently discovered among an uncatalogued album of cards sent to Shaw in the British Library's collection. May and Shaw were in love though he maintained he was too poor to marry her. He would later insist that  a "Mystic Betrothal" had existed between them, yet this did not prevent him from establishing close relationships with other women at the same time. Despite being emotionally rebuffed, May recovered and the pair remained good friends.

May Morris: Art & Life has been funded through an Art Happens crowdfunding campaign supported by Art Fund. Thank you to all those who donated to our campaign for making the exhibition possible.

Key works

Valentine card to George Bernard Shaw

1886
Pen and ink, watercolour and body colour on board 26.6 x 18.6 cm

© British Library Board (Add. 50563, f.6r)

‘Spring and Summer’ panel

Designed and probably embroidered by May Morris c.1895–1900
Coloured silks on silk damask, 130.8 x 71.9cm

© William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest

'Maids of Honour'

Designed and worked by May Morris c. 1890s

© William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest

Portrait of May Morris

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1871
Pastel

© Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor)

The Homestead and the Forest cot quilt

Designed by May Morris, embroidered by Jane Morris, 1890

Charles Birchmore Photography © Society of Antiquaries of London (Kelmscott Manor)