27th January 2020
It’s been a while since we’ve done a blog just about William Morris and his life. We hope you do take a look through the rest of our blogs, where you’ll find more post about Morris and his life. We’ve been blogging for years now, so we hope you find something that you enjoy!
William Morris – the Early Years
Born 24th March 1834 in Walthamstow, Essex. He went on to study at Exeter College, Oxford University. It was here that we can really pick up his story in terms of his influences for his art. He met many people here that shaped him for life – including Edward Burne-Jones. They met and became life long friends; working together throughout their lives to create lots of beautiful art.
They were set to be within the church as Clergymen before they got involved in the Oxford movement, influenced by John Ruskin. Reading his work and learning from peers in Oxford, they read his work on the social and moral basis of architecture. Morris, following university, went on to take a position in the office of G.E. Street, an architect of the style Gothic Revivalist. The architecture Morris was entrenched in being in Oxford definitely led him to this office as he saw the stunning Gothic architecture here and wanted to protect that against the popularity of the time for building modern buildings and modernising the current ones.
Marriage and family life
He met his wife, Jane Burden, in October 1857. They met after she attended a performance by the Drury Lane Theatre Company, based in Oxford. She was spotted for her beauty by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones whilst she sat in the audience with her sister, Bessie. They were entranced by her and wanted to have her model for their art but she was unsure of the strangers and so didn’t turn up. A chance meeting saw them meeting again and she eventually sat modelling for much of their art – immortalised forever in many of the groups paintings. This included incredibly famous Rossetti’s Queen Guinevere and Morris’ La Belle Iseult. The latter can be found today in the Tate Gallery.
It was Morris who fell in love with Jane, asking for her hand in marriage. Rossetti was already engaged at the time, and so she said yes to William Morris, clearly because of his status. She is known to have said herself that she did not love him and, in the years of their marriage, she had a long affair with Rossetti after the death of his wife, which hurt Morris greatly.
They did have two children, May and Jane Alice (known as Jenny) and it was May who worked within his business, Morris & Co. and in her own right, has a wonderful legacy of art.
Morris and Jane’s home was Red House in Bexleyheath, London. It was designed by Morris and his friend, Philip Webb. Completed in 1860, it was Webb who did a lot of the exterior designs as he was the architect and Morris did much of the interiors. It was designed in the style of contemporary Neo-Gothic and Burne-Jones couldn’t;t have been more right when he described it as “the beautifulest place on Earth.”
When furnishing the house, Morris found that he struggled to find quality furnishings and it inspired him to create a decorative arts company which would fulfil this need. Along with six partners; Burne-Jones, Webb, Rossetti, Charles Faulkner, Ford Madox Brown and Peter Paul Marshall. They called it; Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (often referred to as The Firm.) Focusing on design and quality with British producers, Morris was, from the start, interested in preserving and encouraging traditional crafts.
Morris & Co.
After The Firm’s was dissolved, Morris set back up under ‘Morris & Co.’ which remains a huge part of Morris’s legacy. Again, passionate about hand crafting, quality, traditional craftsmanship, these are all things the brand was renowned for. The designs he created during his time running Morris & Co. are beautiful and today, we licence many of them to our own colour and sizing specifications.
It’s utterly impossible to talk about Morris’s work without noting his passion for art for everyone. He famously is quoted in saying, “…I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few… ” and this was something he not only spoke about but really implemented within his own company. The conditions in Victorian England at the time both for work and living were things Morris was passionate about changing. As industrialisation did occur at this time as more people shifted towards ‘progress’ Morris pushed back – he is clear in his views with this quote which is rather beautiful and also, as worrying as when he first said it – if you would ever like to read our environmental policy, please do so here. “There is no square mile of earth’s inhabitable surface that is not beautiful in its own way, if we men will only abstain from wilfully destroying that beauty.”
The Arts and Crafts Movement
An important member of the Arts and Crafts movement, he was part of a group that were really wanting to preserve the heritage and craft of traditional crafts. He followed through with this by opening his own printing works – Merton Abbey in 1881. Here, him and his team weaved, dyed, produced stained glass and more. It was here he thrived and perfected his indigo dye technique, which he was really passionate about, being known to walk round with blue forearms as he perfected it. This is something you can read about in multiple posts within our blog, so we hope you have a minute to go read them!
There’s so much to say about such a multi faceted man and we couldn’t possibly touch on it all within one blog. We do hope though that you grab a cup of tea and sit down to read some our other blogs about Morris and friends. We also regularity update our social media with little bits of happiness about William Morris and his work so we hope you come join us over there too!