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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

William Morris


William Morris was born at Elm House in Walthamstow, Essex, on March 24, 1834.

He was named after his father, a financier who worked as a partner in the Sanderson & Co. firm, bill brokers in the City of London.

Educated at Marlborough College, William studied for holy orders at Oxford University , but renounced the Church, and changed to architecture.

William Morris self-portrait, 1856; Morris grew his beard that year, after leaving university

In 1856, Morris became an apprentice to Gothic revival architect G. E. Street. That year he founded the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine


William Morris married Jane Burden in a low-key ceremony held at St Michael's Church, Ship Street, Oxford on April 26, 1859. They honeymooned in Bruges, Belgium, and settled temporarily at 41 Great Ormond Street, London.

They had two daughters, Jane Alice "Jenny", born in January 1861, and Mary "May" (March 1862 – 1938), who later edited her father's works. Morris was a caring father to his daughters, and years later they both recounted having idyllic childhoods.

Jane Burden's shock of hair, palely severe features and Cupid's bow of a. mouth featured in dozens of paintings by the poet and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Jane Burden Morris portrayed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as Dante Alighieri's muse Beatrice, 1869

Jane became increasingly close to Rossetti. It is unknown if their affair was ever sexual, but their relationship caused problems in her marriage to Morris.

From 1871 Morris and Jane rented the rural retreat of Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire.

The author Henry James described Morris as "short, burly, corpulent, very careless and unfinished in his dress ... He has a loud voice and a nervous restless manner and a perfectly unaffected and businesslike address.”

Portrait of William Morris, aged 53


After his marriage Morris began his career as a decorator. He disliked the elaborate furniture of his day and after designing and furnishing his marital home, he founded the design firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co in partnership with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the artist Edward Burne-Jones, to make such furniture as Morris chairs.

The first one-stop design stop,  Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co also made curtains, rugs, tapestries, wallpaper, and stained glass and were able to provide a complete home design service to their clients.

Excess of decoration was a fault of many early 19th-century wallpapers. One of William Morris's aims was to reinstate a sense of beauty into everyday life and forge close links between art and craft.

Design for Trellis wallpaper, 1862

Morris' firm of interior decorators was dedicated to the principles of medieval craftsmanship.  His passion for the medieval fed his unique style of domestic interior decoration. It revolutionized the art of house decoration and furniture in England.

In 1875, Morris assumed total control of the company, which was renamed Morris & Co.

Morris' belief that the excellence of medieval arts and crafts was destroyed by Victorian mass-production and capitalism. This led him to join the Social Democratic Federation in 1883, and he subsequently organized the Socialist League.


By the end of the 1880's, Morris had broken with the Socialist League over goals and methods. He devoted much of the rest of his life to the Kelmscott Press, which he founded in 1891. The 1896 Kelmscott edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is considered a masterpiece of book design.

Kelmscott Press typefaces and colophon, 1897

Morris wrote and published poetry, fiction, and translations of ancient and medieval texts throughout his life. He was best known in his lifetime as a poet, and it was only posthumously that he became better known for his designs.

Morris' best-known works include The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858), The Earthly Paradise (1868–1870). the utopian News from Nowhere (1890), and the fantasy romance The Well at the World's End (1896).


William Morris died of tuberculosis on the morning of October 4, 1896 when he was 65 years old.

His funeral was held two days later,  during which his corpse was carried from Hammersmith to Paddington rail station, where it was transported to Oxford, and from there to Kelmscott, where it was buried in the churchyard of St. George's Church.

Source Europress Encyclopedia

1 comment:

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    Painter & Decorator Chigwell