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(Photo credit: Google Images)

William Morris: a Legendary Figure

In a much earlier post: The Columbine Tile: William Morris (November 2011), I associated William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Craft Movement (1880-1910). He founded the latter. However, William Morris straddles the four ‘movements’ we have been discussing, except that he is a medievalist. Our four movements are:

  1. the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848)
  2. the Arts and Crafts Movement (1880-1910)
  3. the Anglo-Japanese style (c. 1850)
  4. the Aesthetic Movement (c. 1850)

Many of the artists associated with the above movements knew one another and were members of more than one movement. For instance, William Morris was a medievalist yet he was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as a painter. Morris and employees of Morris & Co., William Morris’ company, designed and made furniture. It may not have been in the Anglo-Japanese style, but it was furniture.

Moreover, not only was Morris the founder of the Kelmscott Press, but he was also a calligrapher and illuminator. He and Sir Edward Burne-Jones  produced the Kelmscott Chaucer, a 19th-century illuminated manuscript, reviving a medieval practice. Production began in 1892 and the book was published in 1896, four months before William Morris’ early death.

It would be difficult to associate the Kelmscott Chaucer with the Arts and Crafts Movement.  The Kelmscott Chaucer is unique, but if it has to be classified, it would be considered a product of the Aesthetic Movement, the movement associated with Sir Edward Burne-Jones. He and Morris met as students at Oxford University and their friendship endured.

Burne-Jones contributed paintings and stained glass to the Red House, Sir Burne-Jones reinvented the medieval art of staining glass but he is usually associated with the Aesthetic Movement. In fact, all four movements culminated in the Aesthetic Movement and eclecticism is a characteristic shared by several artists belonging the above-named movements.

His medievalism is William Morris’ contribution to the art of the Pre-Raphaelites, but it is not ‘grotesque’ (from grotto: cave). Architects used the grotesque, such as gargoyles (water spouts), as well as stained glass windows. Both originate in the Middle Ages. Some Victorian houses have beautiful stained glass windows.



SOL by Edward Burne-Jones, 1878 (from the Franklin Collection, 1970) (Photo credit: see Sources and Resources below)


“If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of art and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer, a beautiful home.”

William Morris quoted in the Guardian, 8 December 2015
Turner Prize winner Assemble debt to William Morris

The Arts and Crafts Movement‘s main characteristic is its domesticity. Artists and artisans made ceramic tiles, wallpaper, cushions, textiles, prints. Moreover, they were architects, cabinet-makers and interior designers. Although a piece of furniture such as Arthur William Godwin‘s sideboard, shown in an earlier post, would be very expensive, it could be said that it belongs to a democratization of the arts.


The Emery House (Photo credit: The Guardian, UK)

William Morris: A Renaissance Man

Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896)  was a renaissance man. He is described as:

“an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist. Associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, he was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he played a significant role in propagating the early socialist movement in Britain.”
(See William Morris, Wikipedia.)

The Arts and Crafts Movement was an international movement. Swedish artist Carl Larsson (28 May 1853 – 22 January 1919) was an interior designer. He also worked as an illustrator and made paintings portraying his home, his wife and his children.

Artists associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement often used the curvilinear and international Art Nouveau style. After World War I, it would be replaced by Art Deco, but fine styles resurface or leave an imprint. Morris’ socialism will not be discussed here. We have pictures to look at.

My kindest regards to everyone.


The Columbine Tile by William Morris



Acanthus Wallpaper by William Morris



The Floral Tile by William Morris


Sources and Resources

William Morris: Glasswork


The Cock

© Micheline Walker
11 December 2015
revised: 12 December 2015