This is possibly the first carpet made at Morris's factory Merton Abbey, as opposed to Hammersmith where he first experimented with carpet production in his converted coach house. In 1881, William Morris's diary (British Library) refers to a large peacock carpet he is making for the wealthy American Vanderbilt family: July 1881 ‘Thursday 21 July…designing big Vanderbilt carpet: coloured a new pine rug and it is begun by Kate and another…" On Sunday 25 December 1881 Morris wrote ‘To Grange: In afternoon at work, pointing Vanderbilt Peacock’ and a day later he wrote ‘At work on Vanderbilt Peacock, finished border, finished sketch of Dilke’s carpet [Sir Charles Wentwoth Dilke], finished corner piece….St. James'. On Tuesday 27 December Morris wrote ‘To Merton Abbey, neither weavers nor John there, I muddled about, trees being planted, our weavers are bad belike, the 13ft carpet loom being got up. To Faulkner’s and supper there left border of Peacock to finish, wool…’.
It is not certain which member of the large Vanderbilt family could have commisioned the carpet, but around this time they were erecting and furnishing a number of large mansions in New York.
The carpet is woven with naturally dyed yarns, and features Morris's characteristic combination of indigo blue and madder red. Morris opposed the use of shading to create a three dimensional effect in carpets. Despite the complexity of the pattern, it is made up of distinct blocks of colour. Morris's original design for the carpet is also in the Gallery's collection (A43).