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Artist William Morris: Biography & Works

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

William Morris is known as one of the founders of the arts and crafts movement. He and his contemporaries rejected the industrialization going on around them in favor of more handcrafted and unique items.

Artistic Beginnings

William Morris was born into a large family on March 24, 1834 in Walthamstow, England. His family was rich and Morris was well educated. Although he didn't particularly enjoy school, it was during those years he discovered a love of the medieval arts. While in school he planned on becoming a clergyman until he came upon the writings of John Ruskin. Ruskin was influential in the architectural world and inspired Morris to get his degree in architecture instead of entering the church.

William Morris
morris

A trip to Belgium and France with his friends G.E. Street and Edward Burne-Jones confirmed his appreciation of medieval art. It was during this time that he met artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who was part of a group called the Pre-Raphaelites. This group sought to emulate the intense details and colors of medieval art, in addition to well-made, unique crafts and poetry. Rossetti and his group encouraged Morris to publish his poems and leave architecture to become an artist. During this time he also met Jane Burden, the woman who would become his wife. Burden was a frequent model for the group, even posing for Morris' only surviving easel painting, Le Belle Iseult, or Queen Guenevere, in 1858.

Le Belle Iseult or Queen Guenevere
jane burden

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company

Morris commissioned his friend Philip Webb to build a house for him and his new bride. The resulting Red House was finished in 1861. Morris and his friends created and designed many of the furnishings for the house including stained glass, murals, and furniture. The group enjoyed doing all of this and decided to create their own company. Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company was officially created not long after the completion of the Red House. The group included Morris, Ford Madox Brown, Edward Burne-Jones, Charles Faulkner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, P.P. Marshall, and Philip Webb.

The Red House
red house

Known as The Firm, the group used their love of all things medieval to create home furnishings. They created everything from stained glass to carpets, and later produced wallpaper. Business really took off in 1862 when they exhibited at the Great London Exhibition. Many commissions came in to decorate churches, since new ones were being built and others were being remodeled. The Firm's medieval styles were popular, especially for the stained-glass. They were also asked to decorate one of the dining rooms at the South Kensington Museum, which is now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Morris would go on to be a long-time supporter of the Museum, even assisting in the acquisition of a few objects.

Peacock and Dragon Fabric
fabric

Later on, Morris began to focus more on wallpaper designs, using a woodblock technique instead of roller printing, which was contemporary at the time. All the wallpapers were handmade, and designing them would be something Morris would continue to do throughout his career.

Daffodil Pattern Wallpaper
wallpaper

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