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William Morris; His Life and Work

30th December 2018

We’ve written quite a few blogs about William Morris over the years. We’re aware though that in the eternal filing cabinet of our blog, older blogs can get lost in the noise of the internet. We therefore thought it was time to do another blog about William Morris. Though we of course focus on his life in terms of his designs, there’s so much more to him. Focusing on his life, work and passions, here’s everything you need to know about a man that never seemed to slow down. Achieving so much in his life, it’s no wonder that when he died, his physician gave the cause of death. “Simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men.”

A multifaceted man

Today, many of us know Morris as a designer – but actually, during his lifetime, he was best known as a poet. With beautiful work such as our favourite, ‘Love is Enough,’ it’s not hard to see why. He is recognised as one of the most significant and important cultural figures of Victorian England. He was pioneering in his thoughts, attitude and actions.

A few of his passions can be summarised. He either took an interest in one or more of these things and though some lasted for only a chapter of his life, many were important to him throughout his life. A designer, he had multiple talents including the design of textiles, wallpapers, tapestries, chintzes. He could weave, he could create stained glass and manufacture furniture. Also, he was a keen socialist, social reformer, preservationist and had a huge interest in the politics of the time. As mentioned, Morris was a wonderful poet and wrote novels, even creating his own press as the founder of the Kelmscott Press. Morris also started two businesses; The Firm came first, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. before being disbanded and reformed as Morris & Co.

Early Life

Morris, 24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896, was born in Walthamstow, Essex. He attended Oxford University where he studied at Exeter College at Oxford University. Here, he met characters that shaped him forever. Edward Burne-Jones and Morris became friends here which would be a friendship which would last their life and they would also work collaboratively on projects throughout the years.

Morris and Burne-Jones were hugely influenced by the Oxford movement within the Church of England – it was even assumed that both would go into the Church as Clergymen. However, it was the work and ideas of John Ruskin that truly shaped them as they read his work on the social and moral basis of architecture. Morris went on to take a position in the office of G.E.Street – an architect of Gothic Revivalist. It’s known that being in Oxford hugely influenced Morris – he didn’t want to see the beautiful gothic architecture be replaced with more modern buildings.

Family Life

Morris met Jane Burden in October 1857. She attended a performance of the Drury Lane Theatre Company in Oxford. Spotted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Burne-Jones in the audience along with her sister Bessie. They wanted her to model for their art because she was the ideal of Pre-Raphaelite beauty. She initially was wary of the group and didn’t turn up for the painting but eventually, she was featured in many of the groups work and is immortalised forever in paintings such as Rossetti’s famous Queen Guinevere and Morris’ La Belle Iseult which today is featured in the Tate Gallery.

Morris fell in love with Burden and asked for her hand in marriage. From a poor working class background, it’s claimed she said yes because of the status of Morris. By her own admission, she wasn’t in love with Morris and in fact, has a long and documented affair with Rossetti.

Morris and Burden had two children together, May (born in March 1862) and Jane Alice – known as Jenny (born in January 1861.) May later worked for Morris & Co. you can read more about her in our post here.

Socialism and the Arts and Crafts Movement

“…I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few… ” – William Morris.

This summarises the views of Morris in terms of his ideals. Art, for Morris, was a necessity for a fulfilling life. The conditions of Victorian life including the poverty, pollution and working conditions angered Morris.

As industrialisation occurred, he also campaigned against the destruction of the world’s natural resources. He was quoted saying, “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.” That view is worryingly still important today and something we will always keep in mind when licensing and printing his designs. You can read our environmental policy on how we print and manufacture our products here. 

William Morris was also a leader within the Arts and Crafts movement. The group of artists were passionate in preserving the traditional crafts. They resisted the mass production that came hand in hand with industrialisation. Morris actually started printing his own textiles at Merton Abbey in 1881. With workshops on site, Merton Abbey was used for weaving, dyeing, creating stained glass. Methods such as the Indigo Dye technique were achieved here after much trial and error to achieve the perfect print. Within three years, 100 craftsmen were employed at Merton Abbey. You can read our blog on the Indigo Dye Technique here.

The Firm

A stunning Arts & Crafts property in Bexleyheath, London, Red House was to be a family home for Morris and Jane. The house was complete in 1860 after being co-designed by William Morris and his friend and colleague Philip Webb. The interior was mostly designed by Morris and the exterior by architect Webb. The home was named after the red bricks and tiles which it was built from. The home itself influenced by contemporary Neo-Gothic architecture. It was described by Burne-Jones as ”the beautifulest place on Earth.”

In April 1861, after being disappointed with the quality of items to furnish his new home, Morris was inspired to create a decorative arts company. With six other partners; Burne-Jones, Webb, Rossetti, Charles Faulkner, Peter Paul Marshall and Ford Madox Brown. They called it Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and was often referred to as ”The Firm.” They focused on Ruskin’s ideals of how the British producers should reform their ideas on how arts are produced and enjoyed.

Morris & Co.

The Firm was dissolved and then reorganised under Morris’ sole ownership on the 31st March 1875. Becoming Morris & Co. It continued as a furnishing and decorative arts manufacturer. Along with friends from the Pre-Raphaelite movement, they were all passionate about hand crafting, hand printing and using traditional methods of production. The designs Morris created during this time are so beautiful. We licence many of these designs today according to our own specifications. Both in terms of size and colour to meet our own requirements for our products.

 

There’s so much more to Morris and his life, we hope you do go back within our blogs to learn more about him. Including travels, work, art and his life’s work. We can’t fit it all in one blog but we hope this is enough of an introduction to Morris and his life. We blog weekly all about William Morris and his work so make sure to keep checking back. You can also follow us on social media on Instagram and Twitter so we can let you know when the next blog is live!

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Our Black Friday sale is now live! 🥂 On our website only, use code, BLACKFRIDAY10 all weekend for 10% off your order ☺️ Ends Sunday at midnight 🌙
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We're so thrilled our new website is now live! 🌿Just in time for Christmas shopping, it's much easier to use, and still full of beautiful licensed William Morris designs on every page! We hope you like the change, especially where lots of you are featured on the new 'inspiration' page! 🌟 We absolutely love that it showcases everyones tablescapes and craft projects, just click on them to see the design and who posted the photo so you can see more of their content ☺️ If you're happy for us to use your photos, just send us a message, we'd love it to be a page we can keep adding to throughout the seasons 🪴
Special thank you to @adigi_agency for creating our website, we love it! 🤍
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A few of our licensed William Morris designs all hanging out, aren’t they iconic! It’s amazing that you can see a Morris print and instantly know it’s his design 🌿
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Hands up if you’re a Golden Lily fan 🙋‍♀️ Our licensed William Morris design tea towels make excellent Christmas gifts if you’re writing your Christmas list!🎄 
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Always brightening up the kitchen; Willow Bough 🌿 What a special design ✨
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“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life” - William Morris. Some days, for us, that means decorating our tables with napkin bows and settling down for a slice of cake! 🧁
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Fabric stack of floral dreams 💭
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We'd say Morris more than succeeded, with timeless designs and words, it shows true beauty and art will never age 🌿 Morris wrote this quote in "The Well At The World's End: Volume I." Have you ever read much of his poetry or writing? ✍️
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A little fabric stack full of William Morris floral magic 🌿
Is anyone else a little excited that it's only 100 days until Christmas... or is it too soon to talk about? We're quite excited for Christmas crafts, food and films! ☺️ We wonder what your favourite Morris design is? Does it change based on season? 🎄 (it's far too early for this emoji but we're excited and can't help it, sorry.)
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Important conversation of the day at Laura's Beau HQ: who fancies a crumble and which is your favourite flavour? 🍎 Apple seems popular, so does rhubarb ☀️ One thing we can agree on is that we're all going to be baking them tonight - best get our fave oven gloves out! 👩‍🍳 These are our licensed William Morris Eyebright double oven gloves, isn't it such a beautiful pattern 🤍
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A close up of our beautiful licensed William Morris Trellis 😍 Isn't it such a timeless design, it was first designed in 1864, inspired by the rose trellis in Morris's garden at beautiful Red House 🌿 It was the first wallpaper Morris designed, along with Daisy and Fruit. 
Because the three designs were produced using a hand printing process, each colour needed a separate block and for the three designs it was 12 blocks each so was a long and expensive process. Therefore, they were all put on hold until the early 1870s when Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & co. had enough money to finance the designs 🎨We love the Trellis design, currently our tea towel is hanging over the cooker - we always wonder if Morris could ever have foreseen that his design in 1864 would be so well loved all these years later? 🤍
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What’s your favourite thing to make out of our licensed William Morris fabric? 🌿it’s always incredible to see what you create 🧵🪡
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Did you know we have matching  kitchen accessories in a range of licensed Morris designs? 🌿 Perfect for pressies or treating yourself to bring a little Morris floral magic into your kitchen 🤍✨
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