7th November 2016
We’ve written in many blogs about the Firm; Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. however, only briefly, if ever, have we mentioned the ‘Marshall’ behind the title. It seems, after research, this is true across the board from many Pre-Raphaelite lovers- but why? A lesser known character, ignored by the scholars, Peter Paul Marshall’s contribution to the firm, from what we know today, were limited to a few stained glass designs from the early 1860s. When the Firm became under Morris’ sole leadership, Marshall had no more contact (that we know of) to any of the members, and so he seems to be somewhat of an enigma. But today, we want to discuss what we do know about him.
It’s probable, and widely believed, that Marshall met and got to know Ford Madox Brown in Liverpool during his exhibition in the 1850s. By 1858 he was well known enough by the rest of Brown’s Pre-Raphaelite friends to be nominated for membership of the Hogarth Club. You may know that the Firm was formed because Morris bought Red House, and was unable to find suitable textiles and furnishings that were to his taste. According to William Michael Rossetti, it was actually Marshall’s idea to create a Firm of the best designers and visionaries of the time to create the furnishings they’d like to see, and have in their homes.
It’s a big claim to make that he was the sole visionary with the idea for the firm, despite there not being much known about his contributions, but we can’t ignore it all together; after all, if he really didn’t play an important part within the Firm, including the creation of it- why would his name be in the title of the company? Marshall was one of the older members and had more worldly experience, meaning he could contribute his business acumen to the group. His name on the letterhead cannot be ignored, and whilst we know little of him, it leads us to not believe his contribution was as minimal as John William Mackail wrote in his book, The Life of William Morris, “He contributed several cartoons for glass, and a few designs for furniture and church decoration, but otherwise took little part in the work of the firm. His inclusion was, even at the moment, rather unaccountable. There had been talk of asking others to join, and the matter seems to have been hurried through at the end owing to Morris’s excitement and eagerness to get to work.”
It appears that with literature written like this about Marshall, few have bothered to counter his opinions in print, and so he’s not been remembered possibly as he should have been for the contributions made. From what we know of Morris; a hard working perfectionist who was involved in all areas of the Firm and conscientious in learning everything he could about a range of crafts; surely he wouldn’t put someone’s name in the title, who he didn’t believe was qualified to contribute.
We do know that he acted as a middleman on various occasions, from Dante Gabrielle Rossetti’s letters that he worked between the artists and various buyers as he was rather connected from his jobs throughout the years. His connection to his father in law, John Miller; a merchant who was a patron of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, a supporter, promotor and huge collector of art, would have put him in good stead.
That is not to say he didn’t contribute his artistic abilities. Perhaps placed next to Morris’ enduring work, his legacy pales, however we can’t forget that there are few artists who stand the test of time as Morris has. Marshall continued to exhibit, and wanted a more active role in the Firm. He proposed opening a branch of the Firm in London’s East End, with the letter head ‘Morris, Marshall & Co.’ however, at the meeting, the records show the members, ‘resolved that this meeting disapproves of Mr P.P. Marshall’s proceedings in this manner and requests him to carry the business no further.’ It was at this same meeting the Firm dissolved the partnership and valued the shares of the business; Brown, Rossetti and Marshall were paid £1000 compensation as the company became Morris & Co. in March 1875.
He moved to Norwich, and resumed his career in Engineering, something he was renowned in both before and after his artistic ventures. It’s noted by the The William Morris Society in the United States that after he removed himself from the Pre-Raphaelite circles, at this point in his engineering career, “He was responsible for the construction of the Foundry Bridge (over which you must pass when heading from the train station to the city centre) and the Isolation Hospital which was opened in 1893. He initiated the overhaul of Norwich’s sewerage system in 1887, and supervised work on the project until his retirement.”
Following his artistic passions to the end of his life by continuing painting, he died on 16th February 1900. Whilst his tombstone remembers him as a city engineer, it is important we also remember him for his contribution to Victorian art and design, and only wish we knew more about the man behind the ‘Marshall’ in the title.