Letter 9 - William Morris

William Morris (1834–1896) is considered to be a visionary, leaving an indelible mark as a textile designer, poet, artist, fantasy writer.

His profound influence on the British Arts and Crafts movement and his pioneering efforts in the realms of literature make him one of the most significant cultural figures of his time.

Born into a wealthy middle-class family that fostered a love for literature and the arts, he embarked on his educational journey at Exeter College, Oxford and developed a deep-seated interest in medievalism, which would become a hallmark of his later works.

William married Jane Burden (1859) - the beginning of an era of prolific artistic partnership. His interest in medievalism was evident in his paintings, and also in the design of his home. He chose to reject mainstream artistic tastes and instead painted furniture with Arthurian scenes and designed his living spaces in a medieval style.

After university, Morris began an apprenticeship in architecture but soon abandoned it for painting. He formed close friendships with pre-Raphaelite artists like Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, along with the neo-Gothic architect Philip Webb; all sharing a commitment to the ideals of the Brotherhood and the rejection of industrial production. In 1861 they founded the influential decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861 - later known as Morris & Co.  Together they played a pivotal role in shaping Victorian interior decoration. Morris's designs extended across tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, furniture, and stained glass windows, reflecting a commitment to reviving traditional British arts.

Morris also made significant contributions to literature as a key figure in the fantasy genre. His writings, include:

  • "The Earthly Paradise" (1868–1870)
  • "A Dream of John Ball" (1888)
  • "News from Nowhere" (1890)
  • "The Well at the World's End" (1896)

In 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, dedicating his final years to publishing limited-edition, illuminated-style print books; a reflection of his commitment to craftsmanship and artistic integrity. 

His legacy is upheld by The William Morris Society, founded in 1955. The enduring appeal of Morris's designs is evident in the continued production of his works, and many buildings associated with his life are open to visitors. His legacy is a testament to the power of artistic vision, social commitment, and a deep connection to the past.

References and Further Reading