Morris, Gainsborough, Turner, Riley

  • About the work
    Country: Other
    City: in conservation

    Grayson Perry is well known for his artworks that offer a candid commentary on British life, class, politics and culture. Alongside the ceramics for which he is well known, tapestry is another primary medium for Perry. Morris, Gainsborough, Turner, Riley is an impressive large-scale tapestry with a vivid CMYK colour-scheme (cyan, magenta, yellow and key, or black, are the four colour plates used in some kinds of printing), which literally weaves together iconic artworks by four important English artists, spanning 300 years of British art history. Perry chose artworks that were popular and would be instantly recognisable, he said “collectively, they each say something about society and English history: they are a palimpsest.”


    William Morris (1834-1896) was a key figure in the 19th century Arts & Crafts movement, championing design and handmade production. The wallpaper, “Seaweed”, which is woven across the tapestry, was designed by John Henry Dearle in 1901 and produced by Morris & Co. Morris’s designs remain enduringly popular. 


    Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), the portrait and landscape painter, was one of the most important artists of the 18th century. His portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews (1750, National Gallery) –  one of his most famous and well-loved paintings – was one of four paintings chosen to represent British art in an exhibition in Paris celebrating the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. For Perry, this picture tells the story of the rise of the middle classes; a couple showing off their land, with wheat fields being planted in the distance.


    JMW Turner (1775-1851), the English Romantic painter celebrated for his atmospheric landscapes and marine scenes, painted The Fighting Temeraire (National Gallery) in 1838. Perry says that Turner’s depiction of the famous warship being tugged from the battle of Trafalgar to her last berth to be broken up, speaks of the Industrial Revolution and changing technology. In 2005, it was voted the nation’s favourite painting in a BBC poll.


    Finally, Bridget Riley (born 1931) has been known since the 1960s for her iconic Op Art geometric paintings and wall drawings, which have become the quintessential representation of Britain in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and have been endlessly imitated and reproduced. Perry references Riley’s oil painting High Sky (1991, private collection). Like all the artists referenced in the tapestry – and Perry’s himself – Riley is notable for the way her work spans high art and popular culture. 

  • About the artist
    Grayson Perry was born in Chelmsford, Essex. He completed a foundation course at Braintree College of Further Education, followed by a BA in Fine Art at Portsmouth Polytechnic. In 2003 he won the Turner Prize and famously collected the award dressed as his alter-ego Claire. Perry works across a range of media but is best known for his ceramic works which explore challenging, psychological themes as broad-ranging as child abuse, mental illness and masculine stereotyping. Perry has had numerous solo and group exhibitions in the UK and abroad. Since winning the Turner Prize in 2003, which he famously collected dressed as Claire, he has arguably become one of Britain’s most widely known artists whose work and commentary on contemporary culture regularly features in the media. Dressed as Claire, Perry received a Royal Academy Award from the Queen in 2016, in recognition of his contribution to British art. Media projects include Grayson Perry’s Dream House (2015) and Grayson Perry: All Man (2016) for Channel 4 Television; and The Reith Lectures for BBC Radio 4 (2013). Solo shows include Hold Your Beliefs Lightly, in Maastricht, and Denmark (2016) and The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! Serpentine Galleries, London (2017).
  • Explore
    Materials & Techniques
    textile, tapestry
  • Details
    Morris, Gainsborough, Turner, Riley
    One in an edition of 10
    height: 274 cm; width: 360 cm; depth: 4 cm
    Purchased from Contemporary Editions, February 2022
    Contemporary Editions; from whom purchased by UK Government Art Collection, 28 February 2022
    GAC number