William Morris was born in 1834 in Walthamstow, Essex, the third of nine children. William's father, after whom he was named, was a self-made business man, who was able to provide an upper-middle-class lifestyle for his family because of a shrewd investment in a Devonshire mine. Although William Morris Senior died when his son was just thirteen, the wealth he had accumulated provided a generous income for the artist well into his adult life.
Few artists left such a wide and indelible mark on the art, culture, and politics of their era as William Morris did on the second half of the nineteenth century. Training first as a priest and then as an architect before abandoning both to realize his visions of medieval arcadia in the company of the Pre-Raphaelites, he moved between artistic and literary media throughout his life. Initially producing paintings in the sweet Quattrocento style of his Pre-Raphaelite contemporaries, most notably Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he soon branched out into architecture and interior design, creating some of the most commercially successful and enduringly admired textile patterns and furnishings in British art history. Towards the end of his life,
Morris focused with increasing singularity on the radical political ambitions which had always underpinned his practice, publishing utopian socialist fantasy literature, and consolidating his lifelong work as a poet. When he died in 1896, he had not only left a deep imprint on the century he had lived through, but also laid the groundwork for many of the artistic, architectural and political projects which defined the next.
Did you know?
- William Morris is often seen as the grandfather of the international Arts and Crafts Movement. In an era of increasing industrialism and urbanization, he embraced an idealized vision of the artisanship and cottage industries of the Middle Ages. For Morris, art was nothing if it was not a product of craftsmanship: a collaborative, spiritually imbued activity by which human beings grew together in kinship, and in connection to their natural environment.
- William Morris was the first artist of the modern era to combine word and image in the expression of his vision.
- Like his mentor Rossetti, William Morris preferred to work in the company of friends, creative collaborators with whom he shared an artistic and spiritual worldview. It has often been argued that these collective endeavors, like those of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to which Morris was partially connected, pre-empt the notion of the avant-garde which held sway over radical artistic culture for much of the following century.
- His nickname was Topsy
- He had strong political views
- Along with his friend Edward Burne-Jones, they decided to become clergymen – their aim was to live a life of chastity and channel their energies into artistic pursuit. Ultimately, after a trip to Belgium and Northern France, they were inspired by Medieval churches and cathedrals and were inspired to dedicate themselves to a life of art instead.
- He wrote of the venture – “Here is a new craft to conquer and to perfect.” Printing began at the press in Spring 1891. He designed multiple fonts including “Golden” Roman typeface and “Troy” Gothic type along with “Chaucer.”
- In April 1861, Morris, along with his friends; Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Philip Webb, Ford Madox Brown, Charles Faulker and Peter Paul Marshall, set up the decorative arts firm.