While some strived to improve living standards, others were more concerned with the moral and spiritual wellbeing of the working classes. Intellectuals and artists such as John Ruskin and William Morris believed in ‘moral improvement' through exposure to art and design. Morris founded the Arts and Crafts movement, which promoted the simplicity and honesty of craftsmanship and design from pre-industrial times, and which sought to integrate art and beauty in everyday life. In Scotland, the Edinburgh Social Union aimed: ‘to beautify the homes of the poor' and ‘to teach them to do so themselves'. In 1885 the Union commissioned a programme of mural decorations in public buildings, which included Phoebe Traquair's paintings in the mortuary chapel of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
In 1884 the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh responded to the demand for a room where ‘bodies can be left reverently and lovingly for the parents before the burials’. A disused coalhouse was turned into a mortuary chapel and the young artist Phoebe Traquair was invited to decorate the walls. These small works are studies for the murals on the room’s north wall and are titled, from left to right: ‘An angel escorting an angel towards heaven’, ‘The Virgin and Child with angels’ and ‘The Holy Spirit awakening the spirit of the deceased’. Traquair was fascinated by pre-eighteenth century art and incorporated a mixture of Celtic, Byzantine, gothic and baroque elements into the design. The interlocking circles on the frame are a sign of the Holy Trinity.
Traquair's murals, easel paintings, embroideries, book illustrations and jewellery brought her international recognition, as one of the most accomplished artists of the Arts and Crafts movement. She was originally from Dublin but moved to Edinburgh after her marriage to Dr Ramsay Traquair, Keeper of Natural History at the Royal Scottish Museum. She played a significant and practical role in the promotion of decorative art in public buildings, for example, through her murals in the Sick Children's Hospital. In 1920 Traquair became the first woman member of the Royal Scottish Academy.