William Morris

William Morris

Born in the year 1834 near London, William Morris was a craftsman, poet, designer and social activist who revolutionized the taste of the Victorian era. He was also one of the key figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England through his groundbreaking designs in the world of fabrics, stained art, furniture, as well as wallpaper design. His designs were not just limited to textiles but also, tiles, book design, tapestries, and carpets.

Morris had quite a privileged childhood with an inheritance great enough that he would not have had to earn any sort of income, mainly because of his fathers’ success as a broker. He acquired an early connection with buildings, landscape, and history by spending time and exploring churches, parklands and, forests. He also had a wild interest in the stories of  Walter Scott. Having quite strong opinions on design itself, Morris, aged 16,  refused to enter the Great Exhibition, depicting his loyalty to the principles of craft.

After finishing school, William Morris took off to study for the Church at Oxford University. That is where he met the soon to become painter and designer, as well as the lifelong friend Edward Burne-Jones. Both of them later joined a group of students known as the ‘The Set’ or ‘The Brotherhood’. They relished stories of self-sacrifice and medieval chivalry and, read books written by modern reformers such as Thomas Carlyle, Charles Kingsley and, John Ruskin. It was here when William Morris earned a deeper understanding of the divisions in society. This resulted in striving to create an alternative to poor-quality and fabricated objects produced by the industrial systems.

Morris and Burne-Jones took an architectural tour of northern France in 1855, following both men to realize their commitment towards arts rather than the Church. Shortly after that, he started working at the office of the eras leading Neo-Gothic architect, George Edmund. He showed insignificant skill in architecture and rather spent most of his time fixing up the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, a channel for writing used by him and the members of The Brotherhood. It was only eight months later that Morris left the office and began his career as an artist. He started working with the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti along with the team that was painting murals at the Oxford Union.

During his time at Oxford, Morris met Jane Burden, the daughter of a local stableman. With his informed views about class he married Jane in 1859. After the marriage, he commissioned his architect friend Philip Webb to build a home for him and his wife. The design was to be executed keeping in mind the idea of the craft-based community that Morris and Burne-Jones have been discussing throughout. This ideology directed the design of the Red House. It took two years to furnish and decorate the house with the help of the members of the artistic society. The success and joy of working in the team led Morris and his friends to initiate an interior design company in 1861.

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. did not make much money in the beginning but, they won a range of commissions to decorate the Churches that were newly built. Therefore, soon they became well-known for their work in stained glass. Due to functional restrictions of a small workshop, Morris sold the Red House and moved to London in 1865 along with his family.

Commission for a new dining room at the South Kensington Museum and, St. James’s Palace turned out to be the two distinguished commissions that helped form Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.’s repute in the late 1800s. During this time, Morris was also working on his poem The Earthly Paradise that noted him as one of the leading poets of his time. Meanwhile, he also creating wallpapers inspired by the designs of English gardens.

In the year 1875, the company was restructured and renamed to Morris & Company making Morris the sole director. He continued to work for over a decade and produced at a magnificent rate with 23 woven fabrics, 21 wallpapers and 32 printed fabrics. More designs such as those of embroidery, tapestry, rugs and carpets. By 1881 Morris had earned enough through his designs to acquire a textile factory, the Merton Abbey Mills in south London allowing all company’s workshops conjoint at one place.

Morris started focusing more on his writing towards the end of his career. His most acknowledged writing: News from Nowhere carried his socialist ideology and his vision of an uncomplicated world where art is enjoyed by all.

He passed away in the summer of 1896 worn out by the heavy amount of work-related activities. Since the 20th century William Morris has been regarded as a designer, a craftsman, a social and moral critic and an explorer of society.