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William Morris, The Woodpecker, 1885, Wool and silk on cotton, © William Morris Gallery

The 2013 Allen R. Hite Lecture: Caroline Arscott presents “Colour as Lure and Provocation: William Morris’s Tapestry, The Woodpecker, 1885”


The University of Louisville Hite Art Institute is pleased to announce the 2013 Allen R. Hite Lecture presented by Caroline Arscott in the Chao Auditorium in Ekstrom Library Monday, February 11 from 6:00 to 7:00p.m. Arscott is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and the author of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones: Interlacings (Yale, 2008). Her lecture is entitled “Colour as Lure and Provocation: William Morris’s Tapestry, The Woodpecker, 1885.” In conjunction with this lecture, Arscott and Jongwoo Jeremy Kim, Assistant Professor of Modern Art at the Hite Art Institute, will hold a public conversation on modern art, Victorian science, and the body in the Chao Auditorium Monday, February 11 at 10:00 a.m. Arscott’s “Colour as Lure and Provocation” discusses William Morris’s adoption of tapestry in the 1880s in terms of its allegorisation of the losses and gains of both historical and biological processes. Colour and its role in the natural world, as discussed in evolutionary theory, provides a focus. The processes of tapestry itself, the movement of the shuttle and positioning of the weft and the gradual building up of the image are considered in relation to the prophetic mode deployed by Morris in the verses written on his tapestries published in his Poems By the Way of 1891. The lecture centres on the example of the tapestry The Woodpecker (1885, exhibited 1888) where Morris’s woodpecker motif refers to the story of Picus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The context of metamorphosis leads to a discussion of the woodpecker’s significance in that Victorian revisiting of metamorphosis, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. This is contextualized by a discussion of other Victorian theorizations of evolution and the evolutionary emergence of consciousness. The lecture discusses the morphology of form and the sequence of substitutions involved in sexual selection: the move from a reliance on the power of song to recourse to instrumental music, and then a further move to the use of coloured display in creatures seeking an advantage in courtship. The declarative and the tacit aspects of Morris’s tapestry are addressed in order to assess the potential for the elaboration of grand themes in a form of art that seemingly abjures the grandiose theatre of human action.

University of Louisville Hite Art Institute
Louisville, Kentucky

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