Esther Fitzgerald
Rare Textiles

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William Burges
Cotton-twill bed-cover with crewel embroidery depicting poppies and a verse by Keats written in a gothic script - professionally made in Arts and Crafts style, in England, circa 1880. Measurement: 8ft square.
"O soothest sleep,
thy poppy throw
around thy bed
with lulling charities".
The above verse is adapted from a poem by John Keats, entitled "To Sleep".
Keats was a hero of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, encapsulating in verse their ideals.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know": the last two lines of "Ode to a Grecian Urn" by John Keats.
"A thing of Beauty is a joy forever.: the opening line of "Endymion" by John Keats.
Oscar Wilde’s tour of America in 1882 included a lecture entitled "The English Renaissance", in which he outlines Keats’ influence on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood .
The abstracted form of the poem, emphasising opium’s beneficial properties, is a bold subject for an embroidered bed-cover in the 19th century.

Despite opium’s not being outlawed until 1914, the mid- to late-Victorians had discovered its ‘darker side’, its use for recreational purposes was very much frowned upon. Groups of Bohemian artists nevertheless had no qualms in using it, like Keats, in their quest for ‘enlightenment’. Few within such a group, however, would have had the courage to commission a poem to be embroidered on a bed-cover extolling its ‘lulling charities’.

To determine the bed-cover’s original owner, one would have to isolate someone within this specific Bohemian group, who had no particular complex about using opium and had sufficient wit and attitude to go to the extent of displaying such traits in the permanent, and, for its time, stylish bed-cover.

I asked both my colleagues specialising in the Arts and Crafts domain and dealers in Pre-Raphaelite paintings if they had encountered anyone fitting such a profile. The only person mentioned was William Burges.