Victorian Art & Design
William Morris 1834 - 1896
In 1853 Morris went to Oxford University to take a BA in Theology so that he could become a priest. He soon made friends with Edward Burne-Jones. Together they read the books of the art critic John Ruskin. They went to France to see the great medieval cathedrals. On the way back they decided to become artists instead of priests.
Morris started to study architecture with G. E. Street. He made friends with another pupil of Street's, Philip Webb. Morris soon gave up architecture. He decided to marry a working class Oxford girl, Jane Burden. He asked Webb to design a house for them, Red House. This is a photo of the house. To find out how to visit it click on 'Places To Visit' below.
Morris thought that all the furnishings in the shops were very ugly. He did not like the 3-D, garishly coloured flowers on Victorian wallpapers and fabrics and he wanted his house to look medieval. He did not care that a lady visitor's crinoline was too wide for his doorways as his wife never wore hoops! He and his friends decorated and furnished Red House themselves.
Burne-Jones started some wall paintings of The Wedding of Sir Degravant but he never finished them. A detail is shown here. The portly figure is a portrait of Morris. Webb designed some heavy oak furniture and candle sticks. Morris designed some embroidered wall hangings, simple daisies and other flowers on blue serge for his bedroom, shown below, and a frieze of famous women for the dining room. The Daisy embroidery and some of the Good Women are now at Kelmscott Manor
Their work in decorating Red House made them decide, in 1861, to set up a firm of 'art decorators'. The partners included Morris, Burne-Jones, Webb and the artists, Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. At the International Exhibition in 1862 they won two medals for their furniture, embroidered wall hangings and stained glass . One exhibit was the Saint George Cabinet, designed by Webb and painted by Morris, and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In the 1860s the firm's main work was in stained glass. In 1874-5 Morris reorganised the firm as Morris and Co. Now it was under his sole control but he relied on Burne-Jones for most of the designs with human figures, in stained glass and in tapestries.
Morris made most of the designs for wallpapers, and for printed textiles himself. Both were printed by hand from wood blocks, though the firm of Jeffery and Co. printed the wallpapers for him. Morris also made designs for woven textiles and, with his daughter May, for embroideries. In the 1890s Morris also set up the Kelmscott Press to print books by hand on hand made paper.
Morris at Kelmscott Manor Books on Morris
Morris in Brighton Morris Places to Visit