Anarchy & Beauty is an exhibition about William Morris and his ideas. In particular it is about his idea of ‘art for the people’ and his belief that beauty should be available to all. It is told through the stories of Morris himself and his followers over a period of a hundred years that take us from Morris to his present-day admirers, such as Sir Terence Conran.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Morris was at the centre of London’s socialist revolutionary activity and sought to bring art into the social protest movement. Walter Crane, the talented professional graphic designer, was a friend of Morris who gave his work free of change to the socialist cause in a spirit of friendship and comradeship. Crane designed the membership card for the Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League and perhaps, most strikingly in the setting of this exhibition, he designed a whole series of wonderful banners for use by trade unions in processions and campaigns.
One of the star exhibits in this exhibition is one of these banners designed by Walter Crane. This spectacular banner, designed in 1893 for the Bristol No. 1 Branch of the The National Union of Gasworkers, has been lent by Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.
The banner shows two gasworkers clasping hands in fellowship while one of Crane’s trademark angels of triumph encourages them onwards from above. Morris understood the importance of visual imagery in the campaign for social change and banners of this type still feature in demonstrations today.
The exhibition also includes examples of Sylvia Pankhurst’s powerful visual identity, in the spirit of Crane and Morris, designed for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Her colour scheme adopted by the Suffragettes for banners, rosettes, sashes and even a design motif for a tea service, is still instantly recognisable today with white for purity, purple for dignity and green for hope.
Images: banner being unrolled for installation; banner in-situ in finished exhibition © National Portrait Gallery, London