William Morris wallpapers are quite extraordinary on several counts. Morris designs are all quite striking, even the patterns printed in a single color. Morris started designing wallpapers in the 1860s and most of these patterns are still being produced today. That says a lot about the appeal of his designs.
Cooper Hewitt collection contains most, if not all, of the William Morris wallpaper designs including a few early printings and a sample book produced during Morris’ lifetime. The museum received a large group of Morris pattern reprints (later printings of the designs using the original woodblocks) in 1941 and another large gift of reprints in 1977. The papers in the 1977 gift are an interesting lot as many of them were recolored to reflect contemporary color trends. Think bright orange on an apple green ground.
Trellis is the first wallpaper Morris designed, but the second one produced. The trellis motif is a traditional element and can be found in designs from all periods. But Morris took that motif and made it his own. He simplified the trellis into perfect squares, sketched in some lines simulating woodgrain without suggesting depth, added some climbing roses and bluebirds, and created a classic.
Trellis is shown in four colorways in the Cooper Hewitt’s Morris sample book which dates to ca. 1887 and has the design printed on different ground colors including blue, dark gray, taupe, and the off-white seen in this piece. For each of the different background colors the birds and roses were also recolored. A quick look at the company’s website shows this pattern is still available in four colorways though I don’t know if they are the same as the original four.