Thursday, July 12, 2012

William Morris

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The Life and Work of William Morris



William Morris is as popular today as he was in the 1th century. When his revolutionary style of floral decorative design was at the height of fashion.



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In this report we will be looking at the influences behind Morris’ work. Such as his childhood and early life, his interests and whom or what inspired him. Why the British public were so taken by his designs. The conflict in his life, that not only made him a great artist, designer and craftsman but also a dynamic and prosperous businessman. I will compare his work with the work of a 0th Century designer and finally give my personal opinion on the two.

William Morris was born in Waltham stow on 4th march 184 at Elm House. Morris’ father died when William was still a young boy. Leaving the already well to do middle class family, even more wealthy.



William never showed much of an interest in arts and crafts while at school. His heart lay with all things medieval. He loved the romantic chivalry and simplicity of anything medieval from books to tapestries. As a child William would often ride up to Queen Elizabeth lodge, on his horse and spend time observing the tapestries. He also enjoyed reading Walter Scott novels and would often re-enact the sagas on his horse.

While attending Exeter College at Oxford, William met Ned Burne-Jones who was to become a lifelong friend and companion. They had much in common in particular their love for medievalism. They toured the Gothic Cathedrals of France and the Louvre together. Inspired by the architecture they both decided to drop out of college, where they had been reading theology, abandon church and become artists. This was a radical move, for two young middle class men, living in the 1th century.

Burne-Jones and Morris moved to Red Lion Square and the Italian painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti mentored William. As an architect William became interested in old building preservation and the Pre-Raphaelite movement. It was whilst painting the Oxford union fresco’s William, was introduced to Jane, a young Pre-Raphaelite girl who was to become his muse and later his wife.

Jane’s beauty inspired William to have his poems published. Poetry was yet another string to William Morris’ bow.

In 1860 William commissioned Phillip Webb to design a house for Jane and him. This was to become the showcase for all Morris’ work, the famous Red house in South London. This house was the backbone of the William Morris design revolution. William and other Pre-Raphaelite artists decorated the red House it was homage to medievalism. They wove tapestries, painted murals and built furniture in a style that would inspire the Arts and Crafts movement and designed stained glass windows that would inspire Art Nouveau.



In 1861 Morris, Burne-Jones and Rosetti set up a London decorating business called Morris & Co. In 186 Morris designed the first of many types of wallpaper for the company.

Morris & Co fast became the most popular choice in London. People loved the bright, organic style of Morris’ designs. It was like a breath of fresh air from the unnatural forms so often used in the past. Morris’ designs were alive with wildlife and flowers; His work bought the outdoors in to the home. The pattern structures used were inspired by Islamic artwork, which was also revolutionary. As this was something most of the British public had not seen before, as foreign travel was not yet popular.

Although Morris’ work maintained a very British look by the subject matter he used in his furniture, wallpaper and textile designs. The way, in which his artwork was presented, was new and exotic.

From an early age Morris was a perfectionist. He was in no way influenced or impressed by mass production. He believed in the traditional methods of craft by hand, and long forgotten methods such as, using natural products and vegetable dyes to retain the organic feel of his work.

The medieval processes Morris used were time and energy consuming. As everything from stamping wallpaper prints to weaving textiles were all done by hand. This meant that the finished product would be costly and only the wealthy would be able to enjoy Morris’ pieces. This troubled Morris, as he was an ardent Socialist who believed in equality for all. This was one of many contradictions in Morris’ life and work. Morris was an atheist who at one point considered entering the priesthood. He also made and designed many stained glass windows.

William Morris was a workaholic who died at the age of 6, at home, his doctor giving his cause of death as “simply being William Morris and doing the work of ten men.” He was buried in the Kelmscott village churchyard.





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