The Walkers and Islamic Art

Emery Walker was a great admirer of arts and crafts, demonstrated through his beautifully adorned home which included work of his British peers and close friends William Morris, Philip Webb and William De Morgan, to name just a few. However, amongst his many possessions, Emery Walker had also collected a number of items originating from destinations across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, including those locations where Islam was or had been the dominant faith of the local population.

 

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Emery Walker travelled to many places including almost a full tour of Spain and Morocco, home to the ‘Moors’ (Andalusian Muslims). These countries were places with a rich Islamic architectural and visual heritage stretching back hundreds of years. Within his letters and travel journals Emery Walker wrote of visiting the cities of Toledo, Seville, Granada, and Gibraltar, known for their beautifully decorated interiors and monumental facades. Here he would have been exposed to a myriad of bright and colourful patterns made with geometry, floral motifs and Arabic calligraphy, carved and painted onto plaster and wood. These stylistic elements within art and architecture were collectively referred to at the time as the art of the “Muhammadans”, now more commonly referred to as Islamic art.

In 1887 Emery Walker became a member (and later Master) of the Art Workers' Guild. The Guild was established in 1884 with the intention of bringing an appreciation of both fine and applied arts together through a number of like-minded craftsmen, designers and architects. Members of the Guild would often take trips together and in 1891 Emery Walker joined his fellow members, including his friend George Bernard Shaw (a celebrated playwright), on a trip to Venice. Here he became transfixed by an incense burner which he felt compelled to purchase. Shaw was to jokingly refer to Walker's passion for the piece in a letter to William Morris:

"Walker has just paid 3 1/2 francs for a three-spouted brass thing supposed to be a lamp,

but really a sort of candle-snuff incense burner which would stink him out of

Hammersmith Terrace if he attempted to use it

Jug bought by Emery Walker in Toledo, Spain, 1911

[1] Emery Walker with jug in hand, Toledo, Spain, 1905

Shaw further elaborated on all the museums, churches and sites the group visited and the many purchases they made. Venice has an interesting history and relationship with Islamic art, once a hub for trade between East and West where valuable goods were imported from Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Persia, which would have led to some local influence and increased encounters with Islamic artistic styles.

Emery Walker was in continuous correspondence with friends who inspired his travels further. 

In 1904 he received a letter from friend Sydney Cockerell (director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge), whose own interests in collecting may have had some influence on Walker. He wrote to Walker whilst travelling in Egypt with Wilfred Scawen Blunt (diplomat and poet) describing his observations of Egyptian life through carriage windows.  

 

In 1905, whilst visiting Toledo in Spain, Walker was photographed clutching a ceramic jug decorated with a geometric design [1]. It appears he had bought this in a local market and must have been very taken by it, as it made its way back to Hammersmith Terrace, where it still has pride of place in the Walkers’ dining room.

Moroccan Ceramics

Emery Walker also visited Morocco in 1907. He was so captivated by his trip, and must have enjoyed the climate, for he returned to encourage both his wife, Mary Walker (for whose health it was thought to be an ideal location), and daughter Dorothy Walker to also make the journey to Mogador (present day Essaouria) in 1911.

 

It is therefore no surprise that their home was eventually a homage to Moroccan crafts too;  with a collection of rugs layered across many floors, items of silver and natural stone jewellery, leather accessories, and perhaps the most striking collection of ceramics. A colourful array of jars, bowls, and dishes originating from Fez, Morocco, which were traditionally used to store butter, oils and fruit, serve as fine examples of late 19th century and early 20th century earthenware in the Moorish style [2].

 

These  ceramics were first introduced to London society through the 1871 Annual International Exhibition held in South Kensington. They stood out from contemporary British ceramics due to their highly decorated glazed surfaces, with hand-painted geometric patterns in an array of yellow, green, blue and black. The Walkers acquired quite a collection of these ceramics, making for a colourful display in their conservatory.

Moroccan Ceramics, late 19th Century, Fez

[2] Selection of Morrocan ceramics, late 19th century, Fez

Iznik Ceramics

Also on show at the International Exhibition were ceramics styled after Iznik ware. They take their name from the town of Iznik in Turkey, where production of hand-painted ceramics thrived between the 15th to 17th century. Iznik tiles were used to decorate the walls of the Topkapi Palace, in Turkey, and still cover the exterior of the Dome of the Rock in Palestine. The painted floral motifs most often included tulips, carnations, lotus, hyacinths and cypress trees in vibrant blue, green and red glaze. They were later imitated by European craftsmen [3]. Both William De Morgan and William Morris incorporated similar floral forms in their own pattern-based works, examples of which are dotted around Emery Walker’s home.

[3] Ceramic tile painted with Iznik floral motifs

Islamic Art and the Written Word

The Walkers’ interest in Islamic art did not stop at just material objects but acknowledged further aspects of Islamic culture, relaying the link between religious influence of the Islamic faith and cultural output in language and literature.

 

Another fascinating item that the Walkers came to own was a miniature Qur’an [4], the holy book of Islam containing the revelations sent from God to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.  This Qur’an, measuring just 2.5 cm in height, was produced by David Bryce at the turn of the 20th century, a Scotsman specialising in miniature books.

Styled after Ottoman and Mughal examples, this modern production from c.1900, was enabled through the discovery of the lithography print method, allowing wider circulation of printed books. The text is in Arabic (the popular Naskh script) on paper bound in red card with gold swirling decoration. The Qur’an is encased within a silver locket embossed with a similar swirling pattern and has a circular glass portal to the front, which also serves as a handy magnifying glass [5]. The small script was difficult for everyday reading, but encased as it was, and designed to be hung from a chain, it served a very practical purpose. These miniature Qur’ans were supplied to Muslim soldiers serving in the First World War, enabling ease of carriage and spiritual support. 

 

The Walkers were certainly not put off by the small script. Mary Walker wrote to her husband requesting the “little” Qur’an be sent to herself and daughter Dorothy to learn Arabic from. This method of learning was perhaps inspired by a wooden Qur'anic tablet they also owned (still hanging in the main bedroom). Such a tablet would traditionally have been used by students in Morocco for memorising passages from the Qur'an.

[4] David Bryce miniature Qur'an in silver locket with magnifying glass portal. C.1900

[5] Detail of printed Arabic script in David Bryce miniature Qur'an

[6] Dorothy Walker’s practice of Arabic vocabulary with translation

Mid-20th Century Travels

Dorothy Walker clearly inherited her father's passion for learning and travel. However, after her father's death she was left living alone. In 1948 she advertised for a live-in companion which was answered by Elizabeth De Haas. Elizabeth De Haas was to accompany Dorothy Walker on further travels, enabling a return to some of the destinations she had travelled to with her parents. 

In 1954 the two ventured on a month-long cruise of the Mediterranean and Asia on the SS Orcades. This trip allowed them to travel to some of the sights already visited by Emery Walker many years before, and some of the more famous sights of Islamic architecture in Europe and the Middle East including Turkey and Lebanon. 

 

They documented their trip with numerous photos, a wide collection of postcards and humorous captions, all meticulously organised and annotated within an embroidered leather bound photo album. They approached their chronicling with a great sense of humour, recollecting on one photo a camel they met who suffered from a "superiority complex".

Their cruise excursions included tours to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, the Grand Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, the Ottoman built Buyuk Han (caravansarai) in Nicosia, and the Mosque of Umm Haram in Larnaca, both in Cyprus. They also visited Gibraltar, Sintra in Portugal, and Beirut in Lebanon.  

Click image to view larger 

Arabian Horses

Dorothy Walker, in particular, was further fuelled to learn Arabic through a love of her Arabian horses. Emery Walker had purchased an Arabian mare Astola [7] through the Crabbet Stud in Sussex. This stud was founded by Lady Anne Blunt, daughter of Ada Lovelace, granddaughter to Lord Byron and wife of the aforementioned poet, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, with whom she co-founded and operated the stud. In 1927 Astola foaled Aiesha [8], whose fine pedigree was certified through a hand-drawn and wax-stamped certificate signed by Lady Wentworth (daughter of Lady Anne) [9]. It was at Crabbet Park where the horses were bred and stabled.

Dorothy Walker seated on Astola, 1924

[7] Dorothy Walker seated on Astola, 1924

Emery and Dorothy Walker cherished the letters they received from Crabbet Park, in which they were kept informed on the progress of their horses, including the bills for the keep and breaking of mares, an unfortunate injury to Astola’s eye and the celebrated news of when she foaled Aiesha, a direct breed from the champion Arabian horse Skowronek. Dorothy Walker kept numerous letters and photos of the horses together in an exercise book in which she cites Arab proverbs regarding horses. She noted the following:

 

"Let him who has no horse

at least possess the soul of a horse"

The wax seals on the certificate (right) show both the Blunt's coat of arms and a monogram of Lady Anne's name in Arabic calligraphy. The pedigree traces the line of champion horses via the 19th century horse breeder, Abbas Pasha, a high ranking Ottoman administrator of Egypt and Sudan.

Emery Walker with Aiesha at Daneway, 1927

[8] Emery Walker (left) with Aiesha at Daneway, 1927

[9] Pedigree of Aiesha, certified by Lady Wentworth of Crabbet Arabian Stud, 1927

Calligraphic inscriptions on objects and buildings were commonly found adorning art and architecture of Islamic lands, regardless of function and media. Calligraphy was most often inscribed in Arabic script where applied in a religious context.  However, as illustrated in the Walkers’ home, calligraphic decoration could also be found on a myriad of items of everyday use, including a Turkish coffee and spice grinder. Sometimes Persian poetry would also be used as adornment, as can be seen on the Iranian ceramic kashkul [10], also known as a dervish beggar’s bowl.

[10] Ceramic kashkul, Iran, late C.19th

Kashkuls were traditionally made from hollowed and engraved Coco der Mer shells. However, those made from valuable materials or engraved with highly intricate and ornate patterns would have served a decorative purpose, being displayed indoors whilst a more functional fabric or woven bag would have been used to collect alms out of doors.

The inscription on this ceramic kashkul is a phrase invoking happiness for Omar Khayyam (1048 - 1131), a famous Iranian mathematician and philosopher better known for his poetry which was translated to English as the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859. By the late 19th century it had become very popular. Emery Walker himself kept an 1887 edition in his library.

To further indicate the popularity of Khayyam's works, William Morris had hand-lettered and illuminated two manuscripts of the Rubaiyyat with Edward Burne Jones (c.1872). Verses from the Rubaiyyat were also used by May Morris in the design of her The Homestead and the Forest cot quilt, embroidered by her mother Jane Morris. It is therefore of little surprise that the close bond and shared interests of the Morris and Walker families meant that objects loved by one family were also found in the home of the other.

The Walkers not only purchased items from their travels, but also locally, and often received gifts from like-minded friends. It must have been evident to visitors that their home demonstrated the importance they placed on arts and crafts objects from a variety of cultures. In 1943, Dorothy Walker was bequeathed a gold brooch from Charlotte Shaw, wife of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. The brooch holds an inscription in Persian referring to ruler Fadlallah Shah as "The protector of the religion of Muhammad" [11].

[11] Gold brooch with inscription in Farsi, Iran, 19th Century

The Walkers, including Dorothy Walker’s companion Elizabeth De Haas, travelled to over 20 destinations across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Explore a map of their travels and see if you can match where some of the items displayed might have originated.

Travel by Emery Walker

Travel by Dorothy Walker and Elizabeth De Haas

Travel by Elizabeth De Haas

There are numerous examples of beautifully crafted and intricately decorated items in the collection at Emery Walker's home. Why not see if you can spot any on a visit to the house, or have a sneak peek through the virtual tour.

Authored and curated by Sara Choudhrey

Emery Walker Trust is grateful to the Arts Council England's Islamic art and Material Culture Subject Specialist Network for funding which has made this work possible. 

 

Emery Walker Trust original documents are lodged in the V&A Archive of Art and Design (AAD/2017/9).

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