The father of the Arts and Crafts movement.
William Morris the father of the Arts and Crafts movement was a man of enormous talent and scope and is remembered as a designer, an artist, a poet and a socialist reformer. Born at Walthamstow, Essex, in 1834 the son of an affluent business man and the third of nine children (and the oldest son) of William and Emma Shelton Morris.
William had a happy childhood and a close relationship with his sister Emma. His fertile mind was inspired by gardens, flowers, forests and birds and these would feature strongly through his life in his art, poetry and fiction. Things medieval featured strongly in his formative years and this was encouraged by his his father who presented him with a pony and a miniature suit of armor.
William Morris attended Marlborough School, and later, Exeter College at Oxford University where he studied Medieval history. Morris and his friend at Oxford Sir Edward Burne-Jones planned to enter the church, but the social commentaries of Ruskin and Caryle and the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti persuaded them to become artists. It was while at Oxford William began to write poetry. In 1857 Morris met Jane Burden, one of Rossetti's models and they married at Oxford in 1859. In the beginning their marriage was relatively happy with the birth of their two daughters, Jenny and May. However as time went on their relationship became difficult - Jane didn't keep well, was moody and embarked on a long affair with William's friend Rossetti.
Click images to see a selection of William Morris inspired initials.
Morris founded William Morris & Co in 1861 and with his business partners Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones produced beautiful ranges of decorative goods such as stained glass, ceramics, textiles, wallpaper and furniture. Their works were noted for the fine craftsmanship and natural beauty and directly inspired the Arts & Crafts movement. The Arts & Crafts movement, led by William Morris, was made up of designers and writers who wanted to return to quality hand made goods instead of the lower standard mass produced goods of the Victorian era.
William Morris was an important influence on the Art Nouveau movement and such notable figures as Frank Lloyd Wright have said Morris was a direct influence in their work Morris's inspiration was the past and he never created anything without referring to it being inspired by old images to create new designs. He based the elaborate decoration of his books on illuminated manuscripts. His enduring popularity, with many of Morris's designs on textile and wallpaper still being produced today, highlights the genius of his work and the importance of tradition to us all.
Now over a hundred years since his death, William Morris has achieved his dearest wish - that his work should be not just be for the rich, but for everybody. In Morris's own words ''What business have we with art unless we can all share it?''
William Morris died on October 3 1896 and is remembered in the words of the poem On the Death of William Morris written by Walter Crane for a life "Woven in song and written in design".
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