William Morris (1834–1896)

William Morris, one of the most influential intellectual of his age: poet, critic, artist, designer, manufacturer, and socialist. A charismatic leader and promoter of revolutionary ideas.

Portrait of William Morris, George Frederic Watts, 1870

image source: http://collectionimages.npg.org.uk/std/mw04542/William-Morris.jpg

About his life

Morris had trained as an architect and had early unfulfilled ambitions to be a painter. As a student at Oxford, he was deeply influenced by John Ruskin’s writings on architecture, he met the artist Edward Burne-Jones and through this friendship he came into contact with the Pre-Raphaelite painters. In 1859 Morris married Jane Burden and he immediately commissioned his friend, the architect Philip Webb, to build them a new home. In April 1861 Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was established at 8 Red Lion Square in London. He inspired the Arts and Crafts Movement, born in Britain around 1880 and quickly spread to America, Europe and Japan. Also, he was an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884. He devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in 1891.

info source: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/biography-of-william-morris/

Photo of William Morris in his fifties, old photo

image source: http://digital.libraries.uc.edu/exhibits/arb/williamMorris/age-fifties.jpg

What were his major works?


William Morris was a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, essays, and translations of ancient and medieval texts throughout his life. His best-known works include The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870), A Dream of John Ball (1888) and the utopian News from Nowhere (1890).

Snakeshead, William Morris, 1876

image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris#/media/File:Morris_Snakeshead_printed_textile_1876_v_2.jpg


During his lifetime, Morris produced over 600 designs for wallpaper, textiles, and embroideries. Morris’s first wallpaper design was Trellis (1862-1864), a pattern suggested by the rose-trellis in the garden of his house in Bexlevheath, Kent. The first pattern to be issued, in 1864, was Daisy, a simple design of naively drawn meadow flowers. The source was a wallhanging illustrated in a 15th-century version of Froissart’s Chronicles, but similar flower forms can be seen in late medieval ‘mille-fleurs’ tapestries and in early printed herbals. These two designs, and the next pattern Fruit (also known as Pomegranate), share a medieval character that links Morris’s early work in the decorative arts with the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and with Ruskin. Every pattern employs plant form, whether expressed in a luxuriant naturalism (Acanthus, Pimpernel, Jasmine) or a flatter, more formalised style (Sunflower). There are also Chrysanthemum, Vine and Garden Tulip used in an extensive redecoration of No.1 Holland Park, for the Greek merchant A.A. Ionides,

info source: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/w/william-morris-and-wallpaper-design/

Daisy, William Morris, 1864

image source: http://williammorristile.com/early_tiles/red_house/william_morris_daisy_wallpaper_tile.jpg


Among the furniture produced by Morris and Co. stands out the Morris Chair, which was a pioneering version of reclining chair, with a reclining back, moderately high armrests, and notches to adjust the degree of slant desired. It was adapted from a prototype owned by Ephraim Colman in rural Sussex, England.

info source: http://www.morrissociety.org/morris/artdecorative.html

info source: http://www.popularwoodworking.com/woodworking-blogs/editors-blog/history-of-the-morris-chair

Morris Chair, William Morris & Co., 1866

image source: http://www.morrissociety.org/images/morrisBirdchair.jpg


La Belle Iseult (1858) is the only completed easel painting that William Morris produced. It is a portrait in medieval dress of Jane Burden, whom Morris married in April 1859. He also painted the ceiling of the Oxford Union Library building. It was painted in 1857 and subsequently restored by Morris in 1875 to a modified design. The paintings depict scenes from the Arthurian legends.

info source: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/morris-la-belle-iseult-n04999

info source: http://info source: https://www.oxford-union.org/library/murals

La Belle Iseult, William Morris, 1858

image source: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/images/work/N/N04/N04999_10.jpg


After Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, with the printer and type designer Emery Walker as typographic adviser, and between that year and 1898 the press produced 53 titles in 66 volumes. Morris designed three type styles for his press: Golden type, modeled on that of Nicolas Jenson, the 15th-century French printer; Troy type, a gothic font on the model of the early German printers of the 15th century; and Chaucer type, a smaller variant of Troy, in which The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer was printed during the last years of Morris’s life. One of the greatest examples of the art of the printed book, Chaucer is the most ornate of the Kelmscott publications. Most of the other Kelmscott books were plain and simple, for Morris observed that 15th-century books were “always beautiful by force of the mere typography.”

info source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Morris-British-artist-and-author

Colophon of Kelmscott Press

image source: http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/morris/kelmscott.jpg

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