William Morris

William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1887.

William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1887.

William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

Morris (1834-96) had trained as an architect and had early unfulfilled ambitions to be a painter. As a student at Oxford he met the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and through this friendship he came into contact with the Pre-Raphaelite painters, such as Rossetti, and others in their circle. In 1859 Morris married Jane Burden, an unconventional beauty and a favourite model for the Pre-Raphaelites. He immediately commissioned his friend, the architect Philip Webb, to build them a new home on land he had bought in Bexleyheath, Kent. Now a suburb of London, Bexleyheath was then a rural area. Morris wanted a modern home which would nevertheless be ‘very medieval in spirit’. This is exactly what Webb gave him.

Morris and his wife moved into Red House in 1860 and spent the next two years furnishing and decorating the interior. Morris did much of the work himself, with help from his artist friends. Prompted by the success of their efforts, they decided to start their own company. In April 1861 Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was established at 8 Red Lion Square in London. It produced a range of original domestic furnishings including embroidery, tableware and furniture, stained glass and tiles. Wallpapers were soon added to the list because Morris was unable to find any he liked well enough to use in his own home.

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. profoundly influenced the decoration of churches and houses into the early 20th century. He was also a major contributor to reviving traditional textile arts and methods of production, and one of the founders of the SPAB, now a statutory element in the preservation of historic buildings in the UK.

Morris wrote and published poetry, fiction, 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).

He was an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884, but breaking with that organization over goals and methods by the end of the decade.

He devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in 1891. The 1896 Kelmscott edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered a masterpiece of book design.

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