England's William Morris was one of the most important creative figures of the 19th century in Europe. He is best-known as a designed of wall coverings, stained glass, carpets and tapestries, but he also was a great painter, typeface designer, furniture-maker, poet and political publisher. His accomplishments were many and most remarkable, as we will now see.
Born into a wealthy family in Walthamstow, England in 1834, Morris had a superior education, attending and graduating from Marlborough and Exeter College at Oxford University. While at Oxford, Morris met Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and with them formed a group known as the Brotherhood, or "The Firm." The three men became the principal designers within their firm (which later would become Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.).
The Firm became widely known for the following:
- Ecclesiastical stained glass
- Hand-painted tiles
- Table glass
Though Morris enjoyed a great deal of popularity for some years, his hostility toward the Industrial Revolution and mass production caused his star to dim in the ensuing decades of his life. Further, Morris was appalled by the poor work conditions of factory laborers, and this speeded his journey to the Socialist movement, which he joined in the 1880s. In 1883, Morris wrote that the "philistism" of modern society "have forced upon me the conviction that art cannot have real life and growth under the present system of commercialism and profit mongering".
Morris and his partners received numerous commissions for furniture, glassware and their other creations, including those for St. James's Palace and the Green Dining Room at the South Kensington Museum.
Also a designer of distinct typefaces, Morris received accolades for this aspect of his work. He then started the Kelmscott Press and used his own typefaces for all the books printed by that company. When American publishers imitated his Troy typeface, Morris reportedly flew into "a great rage" and refused to have anything to do with American publishers.
Morris eventually turned his attention to writing, and his efforts were prolific. He wrote numerous poems and essays (mostly regarding his own Socialist views), which consumed the rest of his life. Until his death in 1896, Morris remained a firmly entrenched Socialist and participated in numerous political demonstrations on behalf of the working people.
Morris eventually turned his attention to writing, and his efforts were prolific.
- He wrote numerous poems and essays (mostly regarding his own Socialist views), which consumed the rest of his life.
- Morris remained a firmly entrenched Socialist.
- Morris participated in numerous political demonstrations on behalf of the working people.
In 1996, the centennial year of Morris' death, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London displayed more than 500 examples of his work, including the St. George cabinet, two tapestries from his Holy Grail sequence, many elaborate carpets, and other works he so proudly designed and manufactured. It was a fitting tribute to the man whose genius contributed so heavily in so many areas.
Though Morris realized countless accomplishments, he never did live to see any of his Socialist leanings come to fruition. Nonetheless, even if we do not agree with his political leanings, we can at least admire his tenacity and his determination to help the common man.
But it is his craft work for which he will be remembered, and justly so. In all of it, he displayed a creative and unending genius, making all of us a little richer.