The first in a series of
eight tapestry panels "The Merry Wives of Windsor",
which, with No.1 "Queen
made a total of nine, gold medal winning, exhibits at The Paris
Exhibition of 1878.
Artist: T. W. Hay
Subject: Act III, scene III; a room in Ford's
house in Windsor. The time: just before the love-sick Falstaff
escapes in the laundry basket. Mistress Page and Mistress Ford
stand smiling nervously by a basket of dirty linen; behind them
Falstaff attempts to keep out of sight behind an ornate curtain.
On the right, the country gentlemen, Mr. Page and the suspicious
Mr. Ford enter to search for Falstaff. They are followed by Sir
Hugh Evans, the Welsh Parson, and the tall bearded figure of
Dr. Caius, the French physician. In the garden a small fountain
plays, and (top right) the tiled conical roof of a tower in the
outer wall of Windsor Castle rises above a philadelphus tree
in flower. Mistress Ford's servants Robert and John stand waiting
(left, by a pillar of honeysuckle) ready to carry the laundry
basket to Datchet Mead, by the River Thames. A peacock with its
long tail trailing faces Mr. Ford, whose dog jumps to greet him
across a bed of lilies. A bush bearing oranges grows in a large
decorated pot in the centre foreground, with a square carved
wood post behind, which has a thrush perched at the top.
Cartoon: Not known
Size: 6 ft. 3.5 in. high by 12 ft. 6
in. (Inside border: 4 ft. 10.5 in. by 11 ft.)
Warps: 16 per inch
Colours: Described in the Furniture Gazette,
26 January 1878, as "soft and pleasant", these are
cheerful and bright with the flowers and colours of the gowns
and clothing. Many of the flowers to be found in Elizabethan
gardens are to be seen in the tapestry, the Eglantine or Sweetbriar,
Lilium candidum or Madonna Lily, carnations, tulips, cyclamen,
daisies, cowslips and primroses, as well as daffodils and other
narcissi. Fruits including grapes, peaches, blackberries and
raspberries, lemons and oranges all complete with their leaves
and in full colour in the picture or borders. The figures all
have period dress, Robert a brown and blue tunic and a brown
hat on his fair hair. All that can be seen of John is a red hat
above his light brown hair, and the top of his red cape.
Mistress Ford has a dark blue cap with a gold net over, she has
fair hair. She wears a white muslin "fraisette" or
small ruff. Her bodice is edged gold, and she has a gold necklace.
Her sleeves are puffed and light blue and grey striped, the lower
sleeve being bright crimson at the top, and white underneath,
banded and lined with gold strips. Her skirt is gathered and
light blue. Mistress Page has a white edged soft bonnet with
a gold band and black back, a white gathered muslin neck to her
gown with its blue embroidered gold shoulder straps and her square
necked bodice with light blue sleeve tops and crimson arms above
the crimson brocade skirt with its bottom border of contrasting
brown embroidery. She stands behind the open laundry basket of
soiled linen, and behind her is a carved table leg and tasseled
edge of an embroidered brown table cloth, also the half drawn
red embroidered curtain which Falstaff holds half concealing
his fat body. His brown cap has an ostrich feather trimming;
he wears a brown jerkin with red trimming to the bottom. His
sleeves are light blue at the top, and crimson lower down. A
long striped sword sheath, brown and blue striped pantaloons,
and blue stockings above his great top-boots. The pot containing
the orange plant has a blue pattern, and beside it the vivid
colours of the peacock's tail contrast with the sober speckled
breast of the thrush on the post top, and the sunlit garden beyond,
across which approach Mr. Ford with his red cap, grey-brown hair
and moustache, light coloured shirt collar and red striped doublet,
which has red facings and sleeves. On his finger is a ring, and
in his hand a stout stick.
Mr. Page has a blue striped cap on his brown hair, his gown is
edged with reddish fur, and his lower sleeves are light blue.
Behind him is Dr. Caius with his dark hair and beard, light red
cap and blue gown with brown and white striped sleeves, and a
dark belt. Sir Hugh Evans has a light brown hat on his greyish
hair, a saffron brown gown with red lower sleeves, a prominent
brown pouch on a belt, and a long staff over his shoulder. The
glossy Italian whippet bounds towards Ford past a row of lilies.
Whether all the details would have been found in Windsor in the 1590s, let alone the
15th century of Henry IV, Falstaff's period, is doubtful.
Border: Separately woven, and the strips,
82 in. wide-sewn on. The series comprises continuous chains of
panels of flowers and some fruits outlined by strips of shades
of brown to give the effect of bevelling. The top and bottom
of "The Merry Wives" each have six square sections
of border, with between them alternately longer sections containing
branches of flowers and/or fruits, whereas the squares contain
sprays of flowers. The latter include daisies, sweet peas, cowslips,
kingcups, honeysuckle and roses, the fruits including peaches,
lemons, grapes and blackberries, all on a blue ground. The ribbon
"Ye Merrie Wives" in the centre of the lower border
has dark reddish purple letters on a light ground with bands
of gold, on a blue background.
Marks: T. W. Hay (bottom right, half hidden
by border. This is due to the border being sewn on the selvedge
of the tapestry scene). Bottom left of the scene in deep red
is the Windsor mark of a stylised crown above
_l l_ Windsor Tapestry
1877 No. 2 (top line), H. Henry, M. Brignolas (second line).
Exhibited: Paris Exhibition 1878, Gold Medal,
with No. 1 of the set of nine the tapestry portrait of Queen
Victoria. (See No. 1). Windsor Guildhall, December 1878.
Ownership: Commissioned by Gillow & Co.,
of Oxford Street, London. Bought complete with the entire decor
of the Prince of Wales' dining room in the British Pavilion at
the Paris Exhibition 1878 by Sir Albert Sassoon for the dining
room of his mansion at 25 Kensington Gore.
References: Furniture Gazette, 26 January and
7 September, 1878
WE, 7 December, 1878
The Windsor Express, 9 November, 1878, reported: "OLD WINDSOR
TAPESTRY WINS GOLD MEDAL... the award has given tremendous satisfaction
to Her Majesty who has now commanded that all the tapestries
at the Palace of Holyrood shall be sent to Old Windsor for renovation.
Many... are in a bad state of repair, some even falling to pieces."
Art Journal, 1879, p.64
Addendum: It was thought that apart from
the tapestry portrait of Queen Victoria none of this series had
survived, but seven of the missing eight were collected by Messrs.
Christies (Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd., St. James's, London)
in preparation for auction later in the autumn of 1978. This
only became known in September 1978 when the text of this volume
had already gone to press. Previously little information and
only shadowy vague outlines could be gleaned from the above accounts
and from rare engravings showing the Prince of Wales's dining
room at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, and the Exhibition at the
Town Hall, Windsor, in December 1878.
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