Pioneer artist and designer William Morris (1834-1896) created the Arts & Crafts movement, aiming to reconnect the pure beauty of art with the practicality of crafts. What are some of his most famous designs?
Almost nothing escaped his curiosity: he was a designer, craftsman, businessman, poet, essayist, illustrator, typographer, weaver, social agitator. William Morris sought an alternative avenue of creative expression. An escape from the dehumanising onslaught of an increasingly industrialised society. Also, something different from the ornate taste of the Victorian era.
Emerging around 1880, the Arts & Crafts movement was the mainstream influence in British crafts and design until the eve of the First World War. His influence attracted a new generation of architects, designers, artists, and artisans. Among them are Charles Robert Ashbee, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, Ernest William Gimson. Also William Richard Lethaby, and Charles FA Voysey – who advocated a simple lifestyle. They took inspiration from nature: the domestic objects they created had quality, functionality, and respect for the authenticity of techniques and materials.
The Red House
Morris’s holistic and inclusive drive was embodied in The Red House, built by Philip Webb in 1859 in Kent, England. Thus named for the red brick of its walls, it was the first architectural work of the Arts & Crafts group. Morris conceived it as a “Palace of the Arts”. There, he and his friends could enjoy producing works of art and crafts.
The critic Nikolaus Pevsner described Morris in 1936 as one of the pioneers of modern design. A sample of his absolute relevance – philosophical, aesthetic, political, and social – currently has his work and ideas.
Some of the most famous William Morris designs include:
- Lavolio’s Blue Seaweed design
- “Willow Boughs”
- Acanthus wallpaper
- “Strawberry Thief”
For William Morris, true art must be “by the people and for the people, as a blessing for those who make it and for those who enjoy it.” However, he was somewhat unable to achieve this. Unfortunately, Making his products by hand was more expensive and thus they became less accessible to everyone, only the rich. As a result, the firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was not very successful and was therefore discontinued in 1875, when only Morris was the owner of the laboratories.
Morris & Co. and where to find William Morris designs
Later, its successor Morris & Co. was inspired by medieval aesthetics and respect for hand-craftsmanship and traditional textile arts. It had a profound influence on the decoration of churches and houses into the early 20th century.
Morris & Co. remained in operation until its closure in 1940. The firm’s designs are still sold today under licences given to Sanderson & Sons, part of the Walker Greenbank wallpaper and fabrics business (which owns the “Morris & Co.” brand) and to Liberty of London.
Lastly, Morris defined art as “the way for man to express the pleasure that comes from work”. He thought that “it is impossible to dissociate art from morals, politics, and religion.” He was a faithful follower of John Ruskin. He believed that “to do with truth is to do it manually, and to do it manually is to do it with joy.”