Flowers in Art: William Morris´ amazing patterns

William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist. Associated with the English Arts and Crafts Movement, he was a major contributor to the revival of traditional textile artsand methods of production in Britain. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre.

Born in Walthamstow, Essex to a wealthy middle-class family, Morris came under the strong influence of medievalism while studying Classics at Oxford University, there joining the Birmingham Set. After university he trained as an architect, married Jane Burden, and developed close friendships with the Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and with the Neo-Gothic architect Philip Webb. Webb and Morris designed a family home, Red House in Kent, where the latter lived from 1859 to 1865, before relocating to Bloomsbury, central London. In 1861, Morris founded a decorative arts firm with Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Webb, and others: the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Becoming highly fashionable and much in demand, the firm profoundly influenced interior decoration throughout the Victorian period, with Morris designing tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained glass windows. In 1875, Morris assumed total control of the company, which was renamed Morris & Co.

“Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers” – William Morris


During his lifetime, Morris produced items in a range of crafts, mainly those to do with furnishing and building. He emphasised the idea that the design and production of an item should not be divorced from one another, and that where possible those creating items should be artist-craftsmen, thereby both designing and manufacturing their goods. Morris & Co.’s designs were fashionable among Britain’s upper and middle-classes, with biographer Fiona MacCarthy asserting that they had become „the safe choice of the intellectual classes, an exercise in political correctitude.“ The company’s unique selling point was the range of different items that it produced, as well as the ethos of artistic control over production that it emphasised.

Furnishing textiles were an important offering of the firm in all its incarnations. By 1883, Morris wrote „Almost all the designs we use for surface decoration, wallpapers, textiles, and the like, I design myself. I have had to learn the theory and to some extent the practice of weaving, dyeing and textile printing: all of which I must admit has given me and still gives me a great deal of enjoyment.“

It is likely that much of Morris’s preference for medieval textiles was formed – or crystallised – during his brief apprenticeship with G. E. Street. Street had co-written a book on Ecclesiastical Embroidery in 1848, and was a staunch advocate of abandoning faddishwoolen work on canvas in favour of more expressive embroidery techniques based on Opus Anglicanum, a surface embroidery technique popular in medieval England.

He was also fond of hand knotted Persian carpets and advised the South Kensington Museum in the acquisition of fine Kerman carpets.

Book about William Morrison on Amazon

Museum of William Morris

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