Biography of William Morris

William Morris, photograph by Frederick Hollyer, 1884, platinum print. Museum no. 7717-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Morris, photograph by Frederick Hollyer, 1884, platinum print. Museum no. 7717-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Morris (24 March 1834 - 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

Morris (1834-96) had trained as an architect and had early unfulfilled ambitions to be a painter. As a student at Oxford he met the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and through this friendship he came into contact with the Pre-Raphaelite painters, such as Rossetti, and others in their circle. In 1859 Morris married Jane Burden, an unconventional beauty and a favourite model for the Pre-Raphaelites. He immediately commissioned his friend, the architect Philip Webb, to build them a new home on land he had bought in Bexleyheath, Kent. Now a suburb of London, Bexleyheath was then a rural area. Morris wanted a modern home which would nevertheless be ‘very medieval in spirit'. This is exactly what Webb gave him.

Morris and his wife moved into Red House in 1860 and spent the next two years furnishing and decorating the interior. Morris did much of the work himself, with help from his artist friends. Prompted by the success of their efforts, they decided to start their own company. In April 1861 Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was established at 8 Red Lion Square in London. It produced a range of original domestic furnishings including embroidery, tableware and furniture, stained glass and tiles. Wallpapers were soon added to the list because Morris was unable to find any he liked well enough to use in his own home.

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. profoundly influenced the decoration of churches and houses into the early 20th century. He was also a major contributor to reviving traditional textile arts and methods of production, and one of the founders of the SPAB, now a statutory element in the preservation of historic buildings in the UK.

Morris wrote and published poetry, fiction, and translations of ancient and medieval texts throughout his life. His best-known works include The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870), A Dream of John Ball (1888) and the utopian News from Nowhere (1890).

He was an important figure in the emergence of socialism in Britain, founding the Socialist League in 1884, but breaking with that organization over goals and methods by the end of the decade.

He devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in 1891. The 1896 Kelmscott edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered a masterpiece of book design.

Chronology

1834

Born on 24 March 1834 in Walthamstow.

1848-1852

Attends Marlborough School for three years. Privately educated by the Rev. F B Guy 1851-1852.

1852-1855

Attends Exeter College, Oxford, with the intention of becoming a clergyman. Meets Edward Burne-Jones, also a first-year undergraduate. His love of medieval art and architecture begins while at college.

1855

Comes into his inheritance of £900 per annum. Makes a walking tour of the Gothic cathedrals in northern France with Burne-Jones.

1856

Begins work in the architectural office of G E Street. Meets Phillip Webb and, later that year, Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Morris abandons his fledgeling career in architecture and becomes an artist.

1857

Morris, Burne-Jones, Rosetti and various others paint the Oxford Union frescoes. Meets Jane Burden, one of Rosetti's models.

1859

Marries Jane Burden.

1861

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. founded. Founder members include Ford Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Rosetti and Webb.

1862-1867

Designs the first of his wallpapers for the Company. Publishes poetry including The Life and Death of Jason and The Earthly Paradise.

1868-1869

Studies Icelandic with Eirikr Magnusson, and the following year publishes translations of he Saga of Gunnlaug Worm-tongue and The Story of Grettir the Strong.

1870

Publishes a prose tranlation from the Icelandic of the Volsunga Saga. Commits himself to radical Socialist political activity.

1871-1873

Morris and Rosetti become joint tenants of Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire. Travels to Iceland. In 1873, travels to northern Italy with Burne-Jones.

1875-1877

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. dissolved and reconstituted as Morris & Co., with Morris as sole proprietor. In 1877 Morris founds The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

1878

The Morris family move into Kelmscott House in Hammersmith. Made honorary fellow of Exeter College, Oxford.

1884-1890

Publishes Art and Socialism and A Summary of the Principles of Socialism. Founds the Socialist League. Becomes deeply involved in political activism, and is arrested in connection with free speech demonstrations.

1891

Founds the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith. Declines the offer of the poet laureateship after Tennyson's death.

1894-1896

Publishes The Wood Beyond the World. Begins work on the Kelmscott Chaucer, designed by Morris and illustrated by Burne-Jones, and published in 1896. Also publishes The Well at World's End.

1896

Dies on 3 October at Kemscott House. Buried in Kelmscott Village churchyard.

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William Morris Textiles (Hardback)

William Morris Textiles (Hardback)

William Morris Textiles was the first comprehensive survey of the many hundreds of original, colourful textiles produced by William Morris and the two…

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Event - Cleaning the Morris & Co. Tapestry The Forest

Wed 11 March 2015 15:30

The Forest tapestry is one of the V&A’s most popular textiles and one of William Morris’s finest achievements.

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