William Morris (1834–1896)

William Morris was a poet, critic, artist, designer, industrialist, and socialist. Further, he was a charismatic leader of revolutionary ideas.

Portrait of William Morris by William Blake Richmond: A stern-looking man with a beard and a head full of hair.
Portrait of William Morris by William Blake Richmond

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris#/media/File:William_Morris_by_Sir_William_Blake_Richmond_retouched.jpg

About His Life

Morris studied architecture, but had an unfulfilled ambition to be an artist. As a student at Oxford,John Ruskin‘s work influenced his architectural designs. In addition, he met the painter Edward Burne-Jones and through their friendship encountered thePre-Raphaeliteartists. In 1859, Morris married Jane Bearden and commissioned architect Philip Webb to build them a home. Then, in April 1861, he co-founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in London at 8. Red Lion Square. The company inspired thearts and craftsmovement that began in Britain around 1880 and quickly spread to America, Europe, and Japan. Also he made a significant contribution to the establishment of socialism in Great Britain, as he founded the Socialist League in 1884. Later, he founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891, to which he devoted the rest of his life.

Photo of William Morris in his fifties: A stern man with a wild beard and full head of hair. Additionally, he has his head resting on his right hand.
Photo of William Morris in his fifties

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris#/media/File:William_Morris_age_53.jpg


William Morris was a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, essays, and translations of ancient and medieval texts. His best-known works include:

  • The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858)
  • The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870)
  • A Dream of John Ball (1888)
  • News from Nowhere (1890)
Snakeshead, William Morris, 1876: A detailed flowery design in blue, red, yellow and green, with leaf accents.
Snakeshead (1876)

Source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/b74d0f05-8b84-43b1-aa3e-1029704f56b7byThe Cleveland Museum of Art

Image taken from page 539 of 'The Earthly Paradise.
Image taken from page 539 of ‘The Earthly Paradise,” (1870)

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/6678f6d6-4640-4314-9c0b-cb11cd0cbf09bymechanicalcurator

Textile Design

Morris created over 600 wallpaper, textile, and embroidery designs.

  • Trellis(1862-1864) was the first wallpaper design that he developed. Inspiration for the piece comes from the pattern of a lattice entwined with roses in the garden of his home in Bexleyheath, Kent.
Trellis: pattern with birds, flowers and plants.
Trellis (1862-1864)

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/ab4e11ef-e26c-4002-9320-df94733c4f5cbyNinaZed

  • Daisy (1864)was the first pattern to be released, a simple drawing of naively painted meadow flowers. Further, he gained inspiration from atapestryillustrated in the 15th century Froissard Chronicle style. Similar floral forms are also found in latemedievalmillefleurs tapestries and early printed coats of arms.
Daisy, William Morris, 1864: Flower-design wallpaper in green, with red, yellow and blue flowers.
Daisy (1864) by William Morris

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/dcececfa-d31d-4339-8cf8-8556e683060aby

  • Fruit(also known as Pomegranate), similar to the two previous designs, it has a medieval character that links Morris’s early decorative arts with Pre-Raphaelite painters and Ruskin. Each pattern uses the shape of a plant, expressed in lush naturalism (Acanthus, Pimpernel, Jasmine) or a flatter, formalized style (Sunflower). There is also a chrysanthemum, grapes, and a garden tulip used in an extensive renovation of Holland Park No. 1 for the Greek merchant A.A. Ionides.
A Wooden Pattern for Textile Printing from William Morris's Company.
A Wooden Pattern for Textile Printing from William Morris’s Company

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris#/media/File:A_Wooden_Pattern_for_Textile_Printing_from_William_Mors’s_Company.jpg

Furniture Designs

  • Morris Chairstands out among the furniture produced by Morris and Co. It is a version of a reclining chair, with a reclining back, moderately high armrests, and notches to adjust the degree of slant desired. Futher, it was adapted from a prototype owned by Ephraim Colman in rural Sussex, England.
A chair by William Morris: A green-cushioned floral chair with a dark creed back.
A chair by William Morris

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/338b74bb-760f-475d-bb3b-c85d43a5061dbyShani Evenstein (שני אבנשטיין)


La Belle Iseult(1858) is the only completed easel painting that William Morris produced. Further, the piece is a portrait of Jane Burden wearing a medieval dress. However, he also painted the ceiling of the Oxford Union Library building, which was painted in 1857 and subsequently rebuilt by Morris in 1875 in a modified form. Additionally, the paintings depict scenes from the legends of King Arthur.

La Belle Iseult (1858) William Morris: A painting of a lady in a white dress by a bed looking sad.
La Belle Iseult (1858) William Morris

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morris#/media/File:William_Morris_001.jpg

In 1891, he founded Kelmscott Press with a typographic advisor typographer and type designer Emery Walker. From 1891 to 1898, the press issued 53 editions in 66 volumes. In addition, he designed three type styles for his printing press.

  • Gold: A typeface modeled after Nicolas Jenson, a 15th-century French printer
  • Troy: AGothictypeface modeled after early 15th-century German printers
  • Chaucer’s script: A smaller version of Troy, in which The Works of Jeffrey Chaucer were printed, in the last years of Morris’s life.
Algernon Charles Swinburne. Atalanta in Calydon- A Tragedy. Hammersmith, England, Kelmscott Press, 1894.
Atalanta in Calydon (1894) by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/edeeb07c-f0a1-417c-baaf-a84ceaa07aa9by50 Watts

Tale of Beowulf - William Morris-
Tale of Beowulf by William Morris

Image source:https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/1d26e4c6-4837-4aaf-ba05-63e148caa6e5byTim Evanson

Colophon of Kelmscott Press- Morris's design for the Kelmscott Press trademark.
Colophon of Kelmscott Press by Morris

Image source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Ms#/media/File:KelmscottPressColophone.jpg

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