Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Spies - no longer under cover at the V&A

It is wonderful to see that the Haslemere Peasant Industries' The Spies is now on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum.   When I last visited in 2013 the 'Haslemere Peasant Hanging' (in this blog post) was on display in the Arts and Crafts gallery.  My understanding was that it had been on display here for some time.  When I inquired recently about seeing The Spies at Clothworkers Hall, where the V&A keep their textile storage, I was surprised to hear that The Spies was actually on display the V&A, at gallery 125 on the 4th Floor.  So back I went.

The Spies on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum,
gallery 125, October 2015

When I had visited in 2013, my opinion was that the 'Haslemere Peasant Hanging' was shown as the centrepiece of the Arts and Crafts main gallery.  Upon visiting on Friday, I now see that there was a bigger, central space in the gallery which now has The Spies hanging there.  The hanging that was there in 2013 clearly did not capture my interest!  I'm not sure what it was, but The Spies looks much better there now!  Comparing the 2015 and 2013 photographs, I cannot see that much, if any, of the other exhibits in that room have changed.  How nice to remove one Haslemere piece and put another Haslemere piece back.  I wonder if there was that thought behind the display?

'Haslemere Peasant Hanging' at the Victoria and Albert Museum,
gallery 125, January 2013

The space the 'Haslemere Peasant Hanging' occupied in 2013 is now home to Voysey's 'Owl' furnishing fabric, shown here in the V&A's library.   The same source states that the 'Haslemere Peasant Hanging' is in storage, here.

The Spies, handwoven and embroidered linen,
by Godfrey Blount, Victoria & Albert Museum online here

It was very interesting seeing The Spies in real life and hanging on display, after having examined it so many times online.  Whilst the 'Haslemere Peasant Hanging' is an arresting piece in it's bright and stark simplicity, The Spies demonstrates the enormous skill of the movement.  Having been owned by Joseph King, it seems highly likely that The Spies is one of the most significant pieces made by the Peasant Arts movement.  It is not just the visuals but the Bible story that is behind the scene depicted (which I explored in my post here), and the knowledge that this was also depicted above the entrance of the King's home, Sandhouse.  

The Spies
on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Spies
on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum

The Spies
on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum

In Country Life (27 August 1910) 'Homes, Gardens, Old & New' the entrance to Sandhouse is described "Below, an octagonal porch juts out in very interesting fashion.  On its face is a large plaster panel brilliantly coloured.  The walls of the house are of rich red brick diapered with blue, and by a happy chance some of the blue bricks by the porch have turned green, and so pick up the green which, next to the purple of the giant grapes, predominates in the plaster panel."  I expect that the plasterwork would have been that of Godfrey Blount, the Kings' brother-in-law.

The Spies, plaster panel above the porch to Sandhouse,
Country Life  (27 August 1910)

In gallery 125 it was interesting to see that the book guide to the room has 2 pages of photographs of the Haslemere movement.  I did not look at this, if it was there, last time I visited.

'Question of Design', book in gallery 125,
Victoria & Albert Museum,
with 2 photographs of the Haslemere Peasant Arts movement

The furniture in front of The Spies is:
  • 18. Lectern (1903-1904), designed by architect Charles Harrison Townsend
  • 19. Cabinet (1893), designed by George Washington Jack, made by Morris & Co.
  • 20. Chair (about 1883), by A.H. Mackmurdo



  1. Amazing and such brilliant acknowledgement of the status of the Peasant movement-well done!

  2. Nice image on the V&A website

  3. Thanks Marshall! I'd forgotten to add V&A's image of The Spies which is much better than mine.


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