William Morris Research Papers
England’s William Morris was one of the most important creative figures of the 19th century in Europe. He is best-known as a designed of wall coverings, stained glass, carpets and tapestries, but he also was a great painter, typeface designer, furniture-maker, poet and political publisher. His accomplishments were many and most remarkable, as we will now see.
Born into a wealthy family in Walthamstow, England in 1834, Morris had a superior education, attending and graduating from Marlborough and Exeter College at Oxford University. While at Oxford, Morris met Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and with them formed a group known as the Brotherhood, or “The Firm.” The three men became the principal designers within their firm (which later would become Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.).
The Firm became widely known for the following:
- Ecclesiastical stained glass
- Hand-painted tiles
- Table glass
Morris and his partners received numerous commissions for furniture, glassware and their other creations, including those for St. James’s Palace and the Green Dining Room at the South Kensington Museum.
Though Morris enjoyed a great deal of popularity for some years, his hostility toward the Industrial Revolution and mass production caused his star to dim in the ensuing decades of his life. Further, Morris was appalled by the poor work conditions of factory laborers, and this speeded his journey to the Socialist movement, which he joined in the 1880s. In 1883, Morris wrote that the “philistism” of modern society “have forced upon me the conviction that art cannot have real life and growth under the present system of commercialism and profit mongering”.
Also a designer of distinct typefaces, Morris received accolades for this aspect of his work. He then started the Kelmscott Press and used his own typefaces for all the books printed by that company. When American publishers imitated his Troy typeface, Morris reportedly flew into “a great rage” and refused to have anything to do with American publishers.
Morris eventually turned his attention to writing, and his efforts were prolific. He wrote numerous poems and essays (mostly regarding his own Socialist views), which consumed the rest of his life. Until his death in 1896, Morris remained a firmly entrenched Socialist and participated in numerous political demonstrations on behalf of the working people.