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William Morris and the History of the V&A Collections

William Morris, photograph by Frederick Hollyer, 1884, platinum print. Museum no. 7716-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Morris, photograph by Frederick Hollyer, 1884, platinum print. Museum no. 7716-1938, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Morris, designer, artist and writer, was an influential supporter of the South Kensington Museum. His firm contributed to the decoration of the Museum, and in his capacity as Art Referee he supported some major acquisitions, including the Ardabil carpet (Museum no. 272-1893) and a tapestry depicting the story of the Trojan War (Museum no. 6-1887).

Morris was born in Walthamstow, East London, on 24 March 1834. He graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, in 1856 and entered a brief apprenticeship with the architect George Edmund Street. In 1861 Morris co-founded the decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Webb, Charles Faulkner and Peter Paul Marshall. The company was central to the growth of the Arts and Crafts movement in the last quarter of the 19th century. In 1875 William Morris assumed sole control of the firm, which was renamed Morris & Co. Morris’s association with the South Kensington Museum began in 1865 when Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was commissioned to decorate the West Dining Room (later known as the “Green Dining Room” and now as the “Morris Room”). Morris became an examiner for the South Kensington Museum in 1876 and joined the Museum’s Committee of Art Referees in 1884. In these roles he advised on many prospective acquisitions, including the Ardabil carpet (Museum no. 272-1893). In 1869 Morris gave the Museum a 13th-century, southern Indian bronze sculpture of Hanuman, the Monkey God (Museum no. 275-1869) and in 1893 donated a miniature tapestry loom that had previously been used in Morris & Co.’s print works at Merton Abbey. William Morris died in 1896.

Several works by Morris and his associates are displayed in the V&A’s British Galleries. In addition to his achievements as a designer, William Morris was also an acclaimed poet, political thinker and conservationist.

Information in the V&A Archive

MA/1/M2848/1-2: Nominal file – Morris & Co. & Mr & Mrs William Morris

MA/1/B1764: Nominal file – Dr Franz Bock [art referee report]

MA/1/M3315: Nominal file – Lindo Myers (also known as Myers & Son) [art referee report]

MA/1/M340: Nominal file – Mrs S.E. Magnusson [art referee report]

MA/1/D1995: Nominal file – M & Mme Georges Duruy [art referee report]

MA/1/B494: Nominal file – Stanislas Baron [art referee report]

MA/1/M765: Nominal file – Louis Marcy [art referee report]

MA/1/R1314: Nominal file – Vincent Robinson & Co., Ltd. (& Vincent J. Robinson) [art referee report]

MA/3/50 & 51: Art Referees' reports, 1863-1886

Other archival sources

See the National Register of Archives

Selected printed works

Kelvin, Norman, ed. The Collected Letters of William Morris. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984-1996. NAL pressmark: 210.N.18, 502.A.204, NB.96.1261, NB.96.1290

Parry, Linda. William Morris Textiles. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, c1983. NAL pressmark: 746.092 PAR

Naylor, Gillian, ed. William Morris by himself: designs and writings. London: Macdonald/Orbis, 1988. NAL pressmark: 515.B.223

MacCarthy, Fiona. William Morris: a life for our time. London: Faber and Faber, 1994. NAL pressmark: NB.94.0473

MacCarthy, Fiona. ‘Morris, William (1834–1896).’ In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. NAL pressmark: 920.041 DIC

To locate material in the National Art Library, please search the Library Catalogue.