Esther Fitzgerald
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A Rare Irish Arts and Crafts Embroidered Textile

Silk on warp faced cotton
Attributed to Lily Yeats c.1895
Adapted from May Morris’s design .
Measurements 62cms x 63cms

The design of this embroidery closely resembles the Kelmscott Manor hangings that Lily Yeats certainly worked on with May Morris. The ground cloth used is identical to the fabric used by Morris & Co, as are the silks. Yet there is much to suggest that this is one of Lily’s earliest pieces as an independent embroiderer, made shortly after she parted company with Morris and Co in 1894. As such, it is a very rare example of an Irish Arts and Crafts textile.

The small scale of the piece suggests that it was intended as a sample, perfectly suited for exhibition at the Arts and Crafts Society in Dublin in 1895. As to the design, Linda Parry points out that though the lattice motif is broadly similar to a piece at Hammersmith Terrace, it is markedly more Celtic - and therefore much more in tune with Irish taste. Similarly, the moss-green she chose for the ground would have been equally appealing and is further evidence that Lily modified existing designs for the Irish market.

At this transitional stage in her career, it is no surprise that she should have continued to use the same materials as were used at Morris and Co. She was familiar with them - and, since she would have had access to Morris’s sources, she would have had no difficulty in obtaining supplies. During her seven year period with Morris and co , she observed the market for arts and crafts, therefore would have been confident of this design being commercial. Despite her art training she lacked confidence as a designer and Ireland was her first venture alone.

Provenance: From the collection of an English woman who immigrated to Australia in the early 20th century..
Also in the collection was an important embroidery by Catherine Holiday.

Similar pieces:

Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire: bed hanging (known to have been worked on by Lily Yeats): see Parry, Textiles of the Arts and Crafts Movement, London 1997, Plate 81.

May Morris, cover for 8.Hammersmith Terrace .cat no 73 . Photo copy available
Emery Walker Trust Collection, 7 Hammersmith Terrace, London:


Linda Parry :William Morris Textiles,,Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 1983
Nicola Gordon Bowe and Elizabeth Cumming, The Arts and crafts movements in Dublin and Edinburgh, Irish academic press. 1998
May Morris 1862-1938 (catalogue of William Morris Gallery)
Joan Hardwick, The Yeats Sisters, Harper Collins 1996
Hilary Pyle, Red Headed Rebel: Susan Mitchell, Poet and Mystic of the Irish Renaissance.
Gifford Lewis ,The Yeats Sisters and the Cuala
Gifford Lewis, ‘Rediscovered Embroidery by Lily Yeats‘, Irish Arts Review, 1998 Vol.14.
Jan Marsh, Jane and May Morris, Pandora Press 1986
Experts consulted:

Linda Parry, Nicola Gordon Bowe, (appraisals available

Lily Yeats.
The elder daughter of John Butler Yeats, sister of Elizabeth Yeats, William Butler Yeats and Jack Butler Yeats.
Born 25th August 1866.
Educated : 1879 Notting Hill High School .London.
1885 .Metropolitan School of Art .Dublin.

Work :1888 -1894
William Morris embroidery studio.
1895 Exhibited in the first exhibition Arts and Crafts society in Dublin
1902 Established Dun Emer
1909 Established Cuala

Lily Yeats and May Morris
In 1888 May and Lily met during French classes in the coach house of Kelmscott House. May Morris had sympathies with the Irish situation and became close friends with the Yeats family.

In 1885 May had taken over responsibility for the embroidery department of Morris and Co, under her direction the company had grown and she began to take pupils and to train apprentices.
In Lily and her sister Loly ,she saw young women who were congenial company, whom she could train; with their artistic background they were likely to be good embroiderers. Although women from middle classes families did not earn money, working for Morris and company had a certain cachet, this made it acceptable to John Butler Yeats.

When Morris first set up his company he believed in medieval values of craftsmanship. He wanted his workers to make objects from start to finish rather than a small part of the process. The embroiderers should participate in the design of the work, the choice of colours and the material.
In the reality the sheer volume that the company produced in the 1880s and 1890s effectively prevented this ideal being put into action. In the six years that Lily worked with May Morris she did not design a single piece. During this time Lily did develop a taste and eye for material and colour , she also enjoyed the people she was having the opportunity to meet. Morris did keep to his principle in the aspect of community and his workers were made to feel like extended family. Lily loved the community and although the work was sometimes repetitive she was very happy with the Morris and Co to begin with.

The working atmosphere changed in the early part of 1890 when May , according to Lily , became rather bad tempered with her workers. Lily’s interpretation for this behavior was May ‘s planned marriage to Henry Sparling , on the rebound from her real love, George Bernard Shaw.

In 1891 the embroidery section of William Morris moved to May’s marital home at 8 Hammersmith Terrace . Once May was married, George Bernard Shaw rekindled his interest in May. Lily found the atmosphere in the house with May, Sparling and George Bernard Shaw very uncomfortable. However Lily and May were forced into each others company whilst working on the bed hangings for Kelmscott Manor. This was a huge project In one panel three embroiders earned a total of £23 .0s 6d. Lily earned £3.7s 6d for two and a half weeks work, Maude Deacon £12.5s0d for fourteen weeks work and Ellen Wright £7.8s0d for eight weeks work.

Around this time Lily developed a real hostility towards May Morris. Whether this was disapproval of Mays relationship with George Bernard Shaw or something else- she had little regard for her old friend. The emotional turmoil in Hammersmith Terrace was intolerable. While May was away Lily wrote a letter of resignation giving ill health as her excuse. May was not happy to lose a very experienced member of staff and responded , according to Lily; with a rude and insulting letter claiming she should have dismissed her long ago. The friendship between May and Lily was over they never met again.

Lily ‘s career as an embroiderer was not over. Her first step towards independence from the Morris firm was to send her work to the First Exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society in Dublin.

I believe this textile was made as Linda Parry suggests at the end of Lily ‘s stint with the Morris & Co , or on her first venture with The Arts and Crafts Society in Dublin. The trellis is more Celtic in design than the Hammersmith Terrace cover and the green moss colour could well appeal to the Irish market. It is also of sample size, from which one could take commissions. Lily would have access to all the fabric and thread sources which Morris and co used.

Experts Consulted Linda Parry: appraisal available

William Morris Textiles. By Linda Parry published Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London 1983
The Arts and crafts movements in Dublin &Edinburgh Nicola Gordon Bowe &Elizabeth Cumming
Published by Irish academic press. 1998
May Morris 1862-1938 catalogue of William Morris Gallery.
The Yeats Sisters by Joan Hardwick published by Harper Collins 1996


Research on:

God and Beer A Domestic Furnishing Fabric
Block printed on cotton in the last quarter of the 18th century in Alsace.
Measurements: 76x43in./193cms x111cm.

These graphic pictorial prints were an essential requirement for the upwardly mobile of late 18th century France. They had come to replace brocade as a furnishing fabric of choice. These rural scenes displayed an awareness of the philosophy of Rousseau.
The mystery is: why does it depict a Star of David over what appears to be a public house? This symbol was not exclusively Jewish. It had roots in sacred geometry.

Its power having been realized in India, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece and by the Jews, Christians and Moslems also, Freemason and Alchemist, but in this rural, context it was likely to be Jewish for several very practical reasons:
1.Three quarters of the Jewish population of France lived in Rural Alsace
2.One of the few professions that Jews were permitted to practice was inn keeping.
3.Contemporary to the textile, major changes in the Jewish way of life in Alsace were in progress
In France as in the rest of Western Europe the Enlightenment was fostering respect for the individual and asserting basic equality of all human beings. Thus the stage was set for Jews to be finally admitted as equals into the societies of Europe. In Alsace, where the majority of French Jews lived, several prominent, wealthy Jews r gained favour in society. Thanks to these privileges, there sprang into existence a class of rich Jews who were open minded, subtle, refined and intellectual. These privileges had been granted to Cerf Berr, who enlisted the help of the influential philosopher Moses Mendelssohn to write a report addressing the political reform of the Jews in Alsace. {Since the Middle Ages, Jews had been subjected to a compulsory body tax and they were forced to live in Shtetles, forbidden to own land and restricted to certain professions.}

My subjective view is that the textile was commissioned in what turned out to be a brief moment of optimism, by a wealthy charismatic Jew, hoping that in the new world emergent in France attitudes were certain to change. Adding a Star of David to a Rousseauesque design would be an expression of growing confidence and a willingness to become part of the wider secular culture amongst Jews. - Not as has been suggested a satirical look at Jewish life. Such parodies did appear in print in periodicals, but one would hardly embellish a textile, which hung in a home with such a sentiment. Also at this time the six-pointed star had not developed as a recognizable Jewish symbol. It's universal significance would have been known to an educated Jew.
Subsequent Research
In June we had sold the textile to a noble soul who planned to give it to a Jewish Museum, subject to the research proving correct.

In July a letter arrived from a scholar explaining that a six-pointed star was a sign in Alsace for quality beer. Therefore the textile was of no Jewish interest.

My first reaction was that this couldn't be right. Why would a brewer use a sacred symbol to sell beer ?. In the very same area, Jews were being liberated and the six -pointed star was consciously being adopted as a sign to represent the Jewish faith, in the same manner that the Cross represented Christianity.

I next contacted Molou Schneider at The Strasburg Museum. She confirmed to me;
that the six-pointed star hung from taverns in Alsace up until the Nazi occupation.
I asked her whether there was an explanation for this and also when had it first been introduced?
A few weeks later I received information that the six-pointed star had been a medieval guild sign for brewing, rather like a present day trading standard. It was speculated that the sign had been borrowed from alchemy where it represents the point of transmutation.

During the Inquisition at the end of the 12th century both Jews and alchemists were either killed or expelled from Strasburg. The symbol of the six-pointed star was outlawed. There is no evidence of it reappearing until the end of 18*n century.

It appears that the six-pointed star had its renaissance at the end of 18th century in two highly diverse guises. This could have been very innocent, both being the result of the Enlightenment.

What is surprising is that throughout the 19th century these separate guises co- existed. The Star of David developed very successfully as a symbol of Jewish faith. - As France had been the first country to liberate Jews they defined the guidelines for the rest of Europe. The Jews of Alsace had been highly influential in this process. If the six pointed star had such a high profile as a trading standard for beer why did the Jews chose to develop it into sign to represent their faith? Far from having no Jewish interest this textile is a catalyst for Jewish interest.
Anti -Semitism its history and causes by Bernard Lazare1897
Judaism as revealed legislation by Moses Mendelssohn 1767
Editdu Roi published in Colmar, at Decker January 17th 1784
Stag Berr: representative of a Jewish nation of Alsace 1726-1793. by Chief Rabbi Warschawski
The Alsatian Jews - Should They Be Granted Equal Rights?" published in 1790.
A History of the Jews, Sachar, Abram Leon, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 193

Identical piece but with bearded figures:
Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Acquisition number: 1954-14 8-1, catalogued as Alsace, 18th Century
Similar textiles published in this rural theme but without a Star of David:
Western European printed textiles 16th-18th century State Hermitage Collection t4059
Les delice des quarter saisons designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet c 1785 Jouy, Musee Oberkampf 9831512. Published in Toiles de Jouy by Josette Bredif page 89
Le Fete Flammande
circa 1797, designed by Jean-Baptiste Huet. Jouy Oberkampf Musee 97812b published as above page 13.