William Morris (March 24, 1834 - October 03, 1896)
Born: 24th March, 1834
Died: 3rd October, 1896
Nationality: English
Profession/Occupation: Designer
Region: Walthamstow, England, Hammersmith and Fulham
Notable works: "A Dream of John Ball", "The Defence of Guenevere", "News from Nowhere", "Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs", "The Life and Death of Jason", "The Earthly Paradise"

William Morris Facts

Biography

William Morris, (born March 24, 1834, Walthamstow, near London, England—died October 3, 1896, Hammersmith, near London), English designer, craftsman, poet, and early socialist, whose designs for furniture, fabrics, stained glass, wallpaper, and other decorative arts generated the Arts and Crafts movement in England and revolutionized Victorian taste.

Education and early career

Morris was born in an Essex village on the southern edge of Epping Forest, a member of a large and well-to-do family. From his preparatory school, he went at age 13 to Marlborough College. A schoolfellow described him at this time as “a thick-set, strong-looking boy, with a high colour and black curly hair, good-natured and kind, but with a fearful temper.” Morris later said that at Marlborough he learned “next to nothing…for indeed next to nothing was taught.” As in later life, he learned only what he wanted to learn.

In 1853 Morris went to Exeter College at the University of Oxford, where he met Edward Jones (later the painter and designer Burne-Jones), who was to become his lifelong friend. Both Morris and Jones became deeply affected by the Oxford movement within the Church of England, and it was assumed that they would become clergymen. Nevertheless, it was the writings of art critic John Ruskin on the social and moral basis of architecture (particularly the chapter “On the Nature of Gothic” in The Stones of Venice) that came to Morris “with the force of a revelation.” After taking a degree in 1856, he entered the Oxford office of the Gothic Revivalist architect G.E. Street. In the same year he financed the first 12 monthly issues of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, where many of those poems appeared that, two years later, were reprinted in his remarkable first published work, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems.

Visits with Street and Burne-Jones to Belgium and northern France, where he first saw the 15th-century paintings of Hans Memling and Jan and Hubert Van Eyck and the cathedrals of Amiens, Chartres, and Rouen, confirmed Morris in his love of medieval art. It was at this time that he came under the powerful influence of the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who persuaded him to give up architecture for painting and enrolled him among the band of friends who were decorating the walls of the Oxford Union with scenes from Arthurian legend based on Le Morte Darthur by the 15th-century English writer Sir Thomas Malory. Only one easel painting by Morris survives: La Belle Iseult, or Queen Guenevere (1858). His model was Jane Burden, the beautiful, enigmatic daughter of an Oxford groom. He married her in 1859, but the marriage was to prove a source of unhappiness to both. Morris appears at this time, in the memoirs of the painter Val Prinsep, as “a short square man with spectacles and a vast mop of dark hair.” It was observed “how decisive he was: how accurate, without any effort or formality: what an extraordinary power of observation lay at the base of many of his casual or incidental remarks.” From 1856 to 1859 Morris shared a studio with Burne-Jones in London’s Red Lion Square, for which he designed, according to Rossetti, “some intensely medieval furniture.”

After his marriage, Morris commissioned his friend the architect Philip Webb, whom he had originally met in Street’s office, to build the Red House at Bexleyheath (so called because it was built of red brick when the fashion was for stucco villas). It was during the furnishing and decorating of this house by Morris and his friends that the idea came to them of founding an association of “fine art workmen,” which in April 1861 became the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company, with premises in Red Lion Square. The other members of the firm were Ford Madox Brown, Rossetti, Webb, and Burne-Jones. At the International Exhibition of 1862 at South Kensington they exhibited stained glass, furniture, and embroideries. This led to commissions to decorate the new churches then being built by G.F. Bodley, notably St. Martin’s-on-the-Hill at Scarborough. The apogee of the firm’s decorative work is the magnificent series of stained-glass windows designed during the next decade by Burne-Jones for Jesus College Chapel, Cambridge, the ceiling being painted by Morris and Webb. The designs for these windows came to Morris uncoloured, and it was he who chose the colours and put in the lead lines. He also designed many other windows himself, for both domestic and ecclesiastical use.

Two daughters, Jenny and May, were born in 1861 and 1862, and altogether the five years spent at Red House were the happiest of Morris’s life. After a serious attack of rheumatic fever, brought on by overwork, he moved in 1865 to Bloomsbury in London. The greater part of his new house was given over to the firm’s workshops—an arrangement that, combined with her husband’s boisterous manners and Rossetti’s infatuation with her, reduced Jane to a state of neurotic invalidism. Morris’s first wallpaper designs, “Trellis,” “Daisy,” and “Fruit,” or “Pomegranate,” belong to 1862–64; he did not arrive at his mature style until 10 years later, with the “Jasmine” and “Marigold” papers.

Iceland and socialism

As a poet, Morris first achieved fame and success with the romantic narrative The Life and Death of Jason (1867), which was soon followed by The Earthly Paradise (1868–70), a series of narrative poems based on classical and medieval sources. The best parts of The Earthly Paradise are the introductory poems on the months, in which Morris reveals his personal unhappiness. A sterner spirit informs his principal poetic achievement, the epic Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs (1876), written after a prolonged study of the sagas (medieval prose narratives) read by Morris in the original Old Norse. The exquisitely illuminated A Book of Verse, telling once more of hopeless love and dedicated to Georgina Burne-Jones, belongs to 1870.

In 1871 Morris and Rossetti took a joint lease on the Elizabethan manor house of Kelmscott in Oxfordshire. In the same year Morris paid his first visit to Iceland, and the journal he kept of his travels contains some of his most vigorous descriptive writing. He returned to Iceland in 1873. The shared tenancy of Kelmscott, however, was never a success, and, after the final breakdown of his health in 1874, Rossetti left the house for good, to Morris’s great relief. The following year the firm was reorganized under his sole proprietorship as Morris & Company. In 1875 Morris also began his revolutionary experiments with vegetable dyes, which, after the removal in 1881 of the firm to larger premises at Merton Abbey in Surrey, resulted in its finest printed and woven fabrics, carpets, and tapestries. In 1877 Morris gave his first public lecture, “The Decorative Arts” (later called “The Lesser Arts”), and his first collection of lectures, Hopes and Fears for Art, appeared in 1882. In 1877 he also founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in an attempt to combat the drastic methods of restoration then being carried out on the cathedrals and parish churches of Great Britain.

The Morris family moved into Kelmscott House (named after their country house in Oxfordshire), at Hammersmith, in 1879. Five years later Morris joined Henry Mayers Hyndman’s Democratic (later Social Democratic) Federation and began his tireless tours of industrial areas to spread the gospel of socialism. He was considerately treated by the authorities, even when leading a banned demonstration to London’s Trafalgar Square on “Bloody Sunday” (November 13, 1887), when the police, supported by troops, cleared the square of demonstrators. On this occasion he marched with the playwright George Bernard Shaw at his side. But by this time Morris had quarreled with the autocratic Hyndman Federation and formed the Socialist League, with its own publication, The Commonweal, in which his two finest romances, A Dream of John Ball (1886–87) and News from Nowhere (1890), an idyllic vision of a socialist rural utopia, appeared. Subsequently, he founded the Hammersmith Socialist Society, which held weekly lectures in the coach house next door to Kelmscott House, as well as open-air meetings in different parts of London.

The Kelmscott Press

The Kelmscott Press was started in 1891, 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.”

Death and assessment

A sea voyage to Norway in the summer of 1896 failed to revive Morris’s flagging energies, and he died that autumn after returning home, worn out by the multiplicity of his activities. He was buried in the Kelmscott churchyard beneath a simple gravestone designed by Webb.

Morris is now regarded as a modern and visionary thinker, though he turned away from what he called “the dull squalor of civilization” to romance, myth, and epic. Following Ruskin, Morris defined beauty in art as the result of man’s pleasure in his work and asked, “Unless people care about carrying on their business without making the world hideous, how can they care about Art?” To Morris, art included the whole man-made environment.

In his own time William Morris was most widely known as the author of The Earthly Paradise and for his designs for wallpapers, textiles, and carpets. Since the mid-20th century Morris has been celebrated as a designer and craftsman. Future generations may esteem him more as a social and moral critic, a pioneer of the society of equality.

Top 25 William Morris quotes

The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.
Daily
Daily life
Details
Genuine
Happiness
Happiness lies
Interest
Lies
Life
Secret
Taking
True
A man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. Memory and imagination help him as he works.
Because
Body
Energies
Exercising
Exist
Feels
He
Help
Him
His
Imagination
Making
Man
Memory
So long as the system of competition in the production and exchange of the means of life goes on, the degradation of the arts will go on; and if that system is to last for ever, then art is doomed, and will surely die; that is to say, civilization will die.
Art
Arts
Civilization
Competition
Degradation
Die
Doomed
Ever
Exchange
Go
Goes
Last
Life
Life goes on
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
Beautiful
Believe
House
Know
Nothing
Useful
You
Your
I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.
About
Another
Battle
Defeat
Fight
Fought
How
Lose
Meant
Men
Name
Other
Out
Spite
Not on one strand are all life's jewels strung.
Jewels
Life
Strand
No man is good enough to be another's master.
Another
Enough
Good
Man
Master
Give me love and work - these two only.
Give
Give me
Love
Me
Only
Two
Work
I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few.
Any
Art
Education
Few
Freedom
More
Than
Want
It took me years to understand that words are often as important as experience, because words make experience last.
Because
Experience
Important
Last
Make
Me
Often
Took
Understand
Words
Years
History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.
Art
Because
Created
Destroyed
History
Kings
People
Remembered
Warriors
The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make.
Alive
Dead
Future
Helping
Living
Make
Now
Past
Us
Which
Will
The reward of labour is life. Is that not enough?
Enough
Labour
Life
Reward
If you cannot learn to love real art, at least learn to hate sham art and reject it.
Art
Cannot
Hate
Learn
Least
Love
Real
Reject
Sham
To love
You
I don't remember being taught to read, and by the time I was seven years old, I had read a very great many books, good, bad, and indifferent.
Bad
Being
Books
By the time
Good
Great
Had
Indifferent
Many
Old
Read
Remember
Seven
Taught
I am going, if I can, to be an architect, and I am too old already, and there is no time to lose.
Am
Architect
Going
I am
I can
Lose
No time
Old
Time
Too
Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization.
Apart
Beautiful
Beautiful things
Been
Civilization
Desire
Has-been
Hatred
Leading
Life
Modern
Modern civilization
My life
Passion
I want a real revolution, a real change in society: society, a great organic mass of well-regulated forces used for the bringing-about a happy life for all.
Change
Forces
Great
Happy
Happy life
Life
Mass
Organic
Real
Revolution
Society
Used
Want
To do nothing but grumble and not to act - that is throwing away one's life.
Act
Away
Life
Nothing
Throwing
We shall not be happy unless we live like good animals, unless we enjoy the exercise of the ordinary functions of life: eating, sleeping, loving, walking, running, swimming, riding, sailing.
Animals
Be happy
Eating
Enjoy
Exercise
Functions
Good
Happy
Life
Like
Live
Loving
Ordinary
Riding
It is right and necessary that all should have work to do which shall be worth doing and be of itself pleasant to do, and which should be done under such conditions as would make it neither over-wearisome nor over-anxious.
Conditions
Doing
Done
Itself
Make
Necessary
Neither
Nor
Pleasant
Right
Shall
Should
Which
Work
How often it consoles me to think of barbarism once more flooding the world, and real feelings and passions, however rudimentary, taking the place of our wretched hypocrisies.
Barbarism
Feelings
Flooding
How
However
Me
More
Often
Once
Once more
Our
Passions
Place
Real
Happy as we are, times may alter; we may be bitten with some impulse towards change, and many things may seem too wonderful for us to resist, too exciting not to catch at, if we do not know that they are but phases of what has been before and withal ruinous, deceitful, and sordid.
Alter
Been
Before
Bitten
Catch
Change
Deceitful
Exciting
Happy
Has-been
Impulse
Know
Many
May
We are living in a epoch where there is combat between commercialism, or the system of reckless waste, and communism, or the system of neighbourly common sense.
Between
Combat
Common
Communism
Epoch
Living
Reckless
Sense
System
Waste
Where
I can't enter into politico-social subjects with any interest, for on the whole, I see that things are in a muddle, and I have no power or vocation to set them right in ever so little a degree.
Any
Degree
Enter
Ever
I see
Interest
Little
Muddle
Power
Right
See
Set
Subjects
Them

William Morris books

V&a William Morris : 100 Postcards (Paperback)--by V & A William Morris [2016 Edition]

V&a William Morris : 100 Postcards (Paperback)--by V & A William Morris [2016 Edition]

William Morris Coloring Book

William Morris Coloring Book

William Morris: Décor & Design

William Morris: Décor & Design

The Story of the Glittering Plain - A Book That Inspired Tolkien: With Original Illustrations (The Professor's Bookshelf) (Volume 3)

The Story of the Glittering Plain - A Book That Inspired Tolkien: With Original Illustrations (The Professor's Bookshelf) (Volume 3)

William Morris: An Arts & Crafts Coloring Book

William Morris: An Arts & Crafts Coloring Book

William Morris essays

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