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William Morris, Pioneer of the Arts & Crafts Movement

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Portrait of bearded William Morris at about age 50.

William Morris c. 1884

Photo by Fred Hollyer / Getty Images
Although not trained as an architect, William Morris had a profound influence on building design. Leading the Arts & Crafts Movement, Morris became famous for his wall coverings, stained glass, carpets, and tapestries. William Morris was also a painter, poet, political publisher, typeface designer, and furniture-maker.

Born:

March 24, 1834 in Walthamstow, England

Died:

October 3, 1896 in Hammersmith, England

Education of William Morris:

William Morris attended Marlborough and Exeter College, Oxford University. While in college, Morris met Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The young men formed a group known as the Brotherhood, or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They shared a love of poetry, the middle ages, and Gothic architecture.

Members of the Brotherhood read the writings of John Ruskin and developed an interest in the Gothic Revival style. The three friends painted frescoes together at the Oxford Union in 1857.

Partnerships:

In 1861, William Morris established "the Firm," which would later become Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Although Morris, Burne-Jones, and Rossetti were the most important designers and decorators, most of the Pre-Raphaelites were involved in designing for the company. The talents of the firm were rounded out with the skills of architect Philip Webb and painter Ford Madox Brown who designed furniture and stained glass. The partnership came to an end in 1875 and Morris formed a new business called Morris & Company.

Patterns by William Morris:

William Morris and his partners specialized in stained glass, carving, furniture, wallpaper, carpets, and tapestries. One of the most exquisite tapestries produced by Morris's company was The Woodpecker, designed entirely by William Morris. The tapestry was woven by William Knight and William Sleath and shown at the Arts & Crafts Society Exhibition in 1888.

See more famous patterns by William Morris:

Projects by William Morris:

Architectural commissions by William Morris and his Company included:
  • 1859: Red House (Designed with Philip Webb)
  • 1866: Armoury & Tapestry Room, St. James' Palace
  • 1867: Dining Room, Victoria & Albert Museum

Important Styles:

Writings by William Morris:

William Morris was also a poet. To learn more about his creative writing, see William Morris, an essay in the 1918 text, A History of English Literature by Robert Huntington Fletcher.

Famous Quotes:

  • If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer, A beautiful House; and if I were further asked to name the production next in importance and the thing next to be longed for, I should answer, a beautiful Book.
    From Some Thoughts on the Ornamented Mss. of the Middle Ages
  • Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
    From Hopes and Fears for Art
  • Remember that a pattern is either right or wrong. It cannot be forgiven for blundering, as a picture may be which has otherwise great qualities in it. It is with a pattern as with a fortress, it is no stronger than its weakest point. A failure for ever recurring torments the eye too much to allow the mind to take any pleasure in suggestion and intention.
    From Hopes and Fears for Art

Read More Quotes Online

Political Life of William Morris:

Later in his life, William Morris poured his energies into political writing. Initially, Morris was against the aggressive foreign policy of Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli and he supported Liberal Party leader William Gladstone. However, Morris became disillusioned after the 1880 election. He began writing for the Socialist Party and participated in socialist demonstrations.
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