William Morris

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William Morris
BirthplaceWalthamstow, England
Artist, designer, writer,libertarian, socialist
Known for Wallpaper and textile design, fantasy fiction / medievalism, socialism

Morris, William,

1834–96, English poet, artist, craftsman, designer, social reformer, and printer. He has long been considered one of the great Victorians and has been called the greatest English designer of the 19th cent.

While at Oxford, Morris, along with his lifelong friend Edward Burne-JonesBurne-Jones, Sir Edward,
1833–98. English painter and decorator, b. Birmingham. Expected to enter the Church, he went to Exeter College, Oxford, where he met William Morris, who became his lifelong friend.
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, became deeply interested in the ritual and architecture of the Middle Ages. However, Morris's great awakening came through his readings of John RuskinRuskin, John,
1819–1900, English critic and social theorist. During the mid-19th cent. Ruskin was the virtual dictator of artistic opinion in England, but Ruskin's reputation declined after his death, and he has been treated harshly by 20th-century critics.
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, whose ideas on aestheticism and social progress he gradually adopted. In 1856, after being apprenticed to an architect, Morris attached himself to the brotherhood of Pre-RaphaelitesPre-Raphaelites
, brotherhood of English painters and poets formed in 1848 in protest against what they saw as the low standards and decadence of British art. The principal founders were D. G. Rossetti, W.
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 and through the encouragement of Dante Gabriel RossettiRossetti, Dante Gabriel
, 1828–82, English poet and painter; son of Gabriele Rossetti and brother of Christina Rossetti. He attended the Royal Academy and studied painting briefly with Ford Madox Brown. In 1848 he became acquainted with W.
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 began to paint and write. In 1858 he published his first volume of poems, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems. This was followed by The Life and Death of Jason (1867) and The Earthly Paradise (3 vol., 1868–70), in which a group of medieval Norse wanderers seek a land where there is no death or misery. Although popular in its time, his poetry is not widely read today.

With friends, he started (1861) the firm of decorators later famous as Morris and Company, which, in reaction to growing industrialism, sought a return to the working operations of the Middle Ages and a revitalization of the splendor of medieval decorative arts (see arts and craftsarts and crafts,
term for that general field of applied design in which hand fabrication is dominant. The term was coined in England in the late 19th cent. as a label for the then-current movement directed toward the revivifying of the decorative arts.
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). He made carvings, stained glass, tapestries, carpets, wallpaper, chintzes, and furniture. Today he is especially known for his fabric and wallpaper designs, gracefully elaborate all-over patterns usually based on floral or animal motifs. In the 1870s he founded the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings.

Morris also became interested in politics and reform, joining (1883) the socialist Democratic Federation and forming (1884) the Socialist League. Two notable prose works came out of this political phase, The Dream of John Ball (1888) and News from Nowhere (1891). In these works Morris contrasts the ugliness of the machine world with the poetry and beauty of the Middle Ages, setting forth the doctrine that art is the expression of joy in labor rather than an exclusive luxury. He made no distinction between art and craft and saw fine design and workmanship as the salvation of the industrial society. His last artistic venture, and one of his most important, was the Kelmscott PressKelmscott Press,
printing establishment in London. There William Morris led the 19th-century revival of the art and craft of making books (see arts and crafts). The first book made by the press was The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891), by William Morris.
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 in Hammersmith (est. 1890), where he designed the type, page borders, and bindings of fine books. Morris had a profound influence on the printing industry with his brilliant graphic contrast of ink with page and his elegantly designed type.


See his collected works (24 vol., 1910–15; repr. 1966); his lectures, ed. by E. D. Le Mire (1969); selections, ed. by his daughter, M. Morris (1936, repr. 1962); biographies by J. W. Mackail (1912, repr. 1970), P. Henderson (1967), and F. MacCarthy (1995); studies by P. R. Thompson (1967), R. Watkinson (1967), and A. S. Byatt (2016).

Morris, William

Although not trained as an architect, Morris had a profound influence on modern and contemporary art as a designer of wall coverings, stained glass, carpets, and tapestries. He was also a painter, poet, political publisher, typeface designer, and furniture maker. He is considered a pioneer of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Morris, William


Born Mar. 24, 1834, in Walthamstow, Essex; died Oct. 3, 1896, in London. English artist, writer, art theoretician, and public leader.

Morris studied at Oxford University from 1853 to 1856, when he went to work for the architectural firm of G. E. Street in London. From 1857 to 1862 he concentrated on painting. In 1861–62, Morris, P. Marshall, and C. Faulkner organized an artistic and industrial company of workshops producing decorative painting, furniture, fabrics, wallpaper, metal objects, and embroidered items.

Morris’ views on aesthetics were influenced by T. Carlyle’s teachings and J. Ruskin’s lectures, as well as by the ideas of the Pre-Raphaelites. From the 1860’s he offered a romantic critique of bourgeois reality. Regarding art as the chief means of transforming that reality, he made the aesthetic education of the masses his goal. In his effort to demonstrate the value of individual creativity as opposed to depersonalized capitalist production by machines he was joined by F. M. Brown, D. G. Rossetti, E. Burne-Jones, W. Crane, and the architect P. Webb. Nonetheless, he was convinced that under socialism, machine-produced goods would have infinite aesthetic possibilities.

Hoping to solve the problems facing the modern decorative and applied arts, he tried to revive the folk crafts that had been pushed aside by capitalist industry. In a sense, he laid the foundation for artistic design. He attributed the greatest significance to the role of the master creator. The items produced in his workshops and the interiors designed by him are outstanding for their functionalism, for the tectonic balance of their composition, for spare ornamentation featuring stylized plant motifs, and for a restrained combination of colors. In a number of ways they anticipated the art nouveau style. Although his workshops contributed greatly to the rebirth of the British decorative and applied arts, in practice the objects produced merely reflected a reinterpretation of bourgeois life, and inevitably they fell short of Morris’ aesthetic beliefs.

In 1877, Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and in 1890–91, the Kelmscott Press, which published books modeled after incunabula. He and W. Crane illustrated The Story of the Glittering Plain with miniatures in the English Gothic style. With Burne-Jones, he illustrated the Kelmscott edition of Chaucer’s works (1896). Morris’ predilection for medieval motifs and romantic stylization of forms was also reflected in his literary creations, including the collection of poems The Defence of Guenevere (1858) and the series of narrative poems The Earthly Paradise (1868–70).

From the 1880’s, Morris played a major role in the British working-class movement. In January 1883 he became a member of the Democratic Federation (renamed the Social Democratic Federation in early 1884). After the split in the federation he helped found the Socialist League (1884), and from 1884 to 1890 he was the publisher and editor of its press organ, The Commonweal, He left the league when the anarchists came to power in the organization. Although he studied the works of K. Marx, he did not understand the essence of Marx’ teaching, and he remained, in the words of F. Engels, “a socialist of the emotional type” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 36, p. 409). Morris set forth his socialist views in many articles, in revolutionary verses, in the historical novella A Dream of John Ball (1888; Russian translation, 1911), and in the Utopian novel News From Nowhere (1891; Russian translation, Moscow, 1906).


Iskusstvo i zhizn’ [Translated from English with a foreword by A. A. Anikst.] Moscow, 1973.
Collected Works, vols. 1–24. London-New York, 1910–15.
Selections. Moscow, 1959.


Morton, A. L. Angliiskaia utopiia. Moscow, 1956. Pages 191–212. (Translated from English.)
Goldzamt, E. Uil’iam Morris i sotsial’nye istoki sovremennoi arkhitektury. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from Polish.)
Arnot, R. P. W. Morris. London, 1964.
Henderson, P. William Morris: His Life, Work and Friends. London, 1967.
Meier, P. La Pensée utopique de William Morris. Paris, 1972.


References in periodicals archive ?
11 Morris, William, Useful Work versus Useless Toil, 1885.
[See Nelson's story on page 10.] After Nelson started writing about Morris, Williams called to thank him for his attention to the case, letting him know she wanted to pursue the men who caused her grandfather's death and might still be alive.
Merthyr: Morris, Williams, Keddle, York, Jones (Witcombe, 22), Eckhardt (Dorrian, 55), Steins, Shephard, Holloway, Bale, Clarke (Carter, 85).
Nuneaton Griff (from): Brady, Dunn, Campion, Hood, Moore, Woodiwiss, Bateman, M'Briwa, Daz Wright, Morris, Williams, Aston, Upton, Mark Wright, Simon Wright, Marsden, Smith, Field, Trowell, Stringer, Roe, Rathbone.
MIDDLESBROUGH U21: Leutwiler, Bennett, Burgess, Gibson, Halliday, Reach, Waters (Brobbel 58), Morris, Williams, Jones (Fewster 65), Main (Sirrell 85).
Subs: Cornell, Wilson, Morris, Williams, Chamberlain.
Subs (not used): Cornell, Wilson, Morris, Williams, Chamberlain.
Merthyr Tydfil: Morris, Williams, Glassey (Rewbury, 46), Thomas, Dale Griffiths, Warton, Harris (Darren Griffiths, 46), Clarke, M Griffiths (Jones, 77), Davies.
COLWYN BAY: Parry, P Roberts, C Roberts (Covereley 74), Webster, Morris, Williams, Owen (O'Brien 50), Rodgers, Davies, Furlong, Kevan (Moores 86).
Merthyr Tydfil: Morris, Williams, Davies, Thomas (c), Griffiths D; Graves, Dimond, Harris, Jones; Griffiths M Glasse.
Merthyr Tydfil: Morris, Williams, Smothers, Phillips, Warton, Rewberry, Kift, Dimond (Collins, 84), Shephard (Billing, 84), Steins (Thomas, 69), Keddle.