William Morris

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William Morris

William Morris (born March 24, 1834 in Walthamstow , † October 3, 1896 in London ) was a British painter , architect , poet , craftsman , engineer and printer . He was also one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement and early founder of the socialist movement in Great Britain.


childhood and education

The house where William Morris was born in Walthamstow, now the William Morris Gallery in Lloyds Park
The Burne-Jones and Morris families, 1874

William Morris was born on March 24, 1834 in Elm House in Walthamstow near London , at that time still a small village beyond the city. His father was a partner in a stockbroking firm and left the family a large fortune after his death in 1847. William Morris had a happy childhood, but he did not yet show his artistic talent. At the age of 13, Morris attended the newly established Marlborough College boarding school , which placed a high value on freedom and less on discipline. There he learned handicrafts and came into contact with the high church movement . He left Marlborough College with the intention of studying theology and becoming a priest .

William Morris: Queen Guinevere , 1858 ( Tate Gallery )

With the spring trimester 1853 William Morris began studying at Exeter College of the University of Oxford , to which at that time the doctrine and discipline were not taken very seriously. His tutor denied William Morris any literary taste and did not certify that he was particularly intelligent.

William Morris was enthusiastic about the city of Oxford , but he valued the university business less. During the first semester, he befriended Edward Burne-Jones , who remained his closest friend during college, as neither of them had much in common with their fellow students. Burne-Jones introduced Morris to his former classmates from King Edward's Grammar School in Birmingham who studied at Pembroke College and in whose company he felt comfortable.

There he was influenced by the ideas of John Ruskin and became friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti , Ford Madox Brown , and Philip Webb alongside Burne-Jones . He also met Jane Burden there , his future wife, who came from the working class. Their pale skin and copper-red hair were seen by Morris and his friends as a sign of extreme beauty, which later found expression in portraits of Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

When they moved to London in 1856, Morris (nicknamed "Topsy") and Edward Burne-Jones (called "Ned") took over the space in Red Lion Square that Rossetti had shared with Walter Deverell . Since there was no furniture, Morris went to work designing tables, chairs, cupboards, and a bench that a carpenter then made on site. Rossetti described them as "strongly medieval" and persuaded Burnes-Jones and Morris to decorate them with their paintings. Rossetti also contributed designs. This growing interest in individual craftsmanship eventually led to the Morris & Co. company in 1861.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Jane Morris as Proserpina (1874)

Morris and Burne-Jones belonged to the next generation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood . They rejected industrial designs and architecture and sought a return to individual handcraft; they saw the craftsman as an artist. In doing so, they founded the arts and craft movement .

Morris' house in Kent, the Red House

William Morris first worked in an architectural firm, but then became more and more drawn to interior design and decoration. Together with Philip Webb he built the Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent, his wedding present for Jane. This is also where his design ideas first took shape.

In 1858 his first collection of poems appeared under the title The Defense of Guenevere and other Poems , which is the first ever publication of poems by the English Pre-Raphaelites , which critics either ignored or sharply criticized. During the 1860s, Morris began work on a more extensive poetic work, published in four volumes under the title The Earthly Paradise between 1868 and 1870, based on the structure of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer . Classical and Northern Irish mythological stories are arranged in an alternating sequence. This successful four-volume collection established Morris's reputation as a renowned poet and in 1877 led to two nominations for the prestigious position as Professor of Poetry at Oxford on the one hand and the successor to Alfred Tennyson as poet laureate on the other. However, Morris declined both of these appeals.

Central sources of material in the poetic work of Morris are the medieval world and various mythological material collections. His keen interest in mythology can also be clearly seen in his numerous prose translations of sagas from Icelandic since 1869 and Beowulf in 1895, as well as in his verse translations of Virgil's Aeneid from 1876 and Homer's Odyssey from 1887. As in his deepening in the old forms of handicrafts, Morris' literary work shows the effort to bring old forms, texts and materials back to life and to develop them further.

William Morris married Jane Burden on April 26, 1859 at St Michael's Church, Oxford. In the Red House to two daughters, Jane Alice (Jenny) were born in January 1861 and Mary (May), (March 1862-1938), editor of the works was her father.

"Artichoke", wallpaper, design by John Henry Dearle for William Morris & Co., around 1897 ( Victoria and Albert Museum )

After the family had to give up the Red House, in Upton, Bexleyheath, they moved to London and lived in Queen Square, Bloomsbury from 1865 to 1872. He set up the company and his office at Red Lion Square No. 26 where the workshops were behind the house.

They later also lived in the summer house at Kelmscott Manor , near Lechlade in Gloucestershire , now owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London and open to the public. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who chose Jane as a model for portraits and with whom she had a liaison, also lived there between 1871 and 1874. Morris escaped from this situation to Iceland , where he learned about Icelandic legends. These later formed a basis for his novels and poems.

Like many of his contemporaries, Morris knew and loved life in the country. He loved fishing in the Thames and especially the flowers and birds that appear in much of his work - but he was also happy when he shot them to pieces with his rifle. He had a violent side and his uncontrollable outbursts of anger, which almost led to a black-out, probably manifested the epileptic genes on his mother's side, which later tragically came to light in his daughter Jenny.

In 1861 he founded the company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. together with Charles Joseph Faulkner (1833-1892), Peter Paul Marshall (1830-1900), Dante Gabriel Rossetti , Edward Burne-Jones , Ford Madox Brown and Philip Webb where furniture, wall decorations and stained glass were made. Rossetti and Madox Brown left the joint company in 1874; However, Morris stayed and worked there all his life. The company changed its name from time to time. The best known is Morris and Company . His designs are still distributed today under license by the London firms Sanderson and Sons and Liberty . Messrs. Morris & Co. opened a New York office in 1881, which was run by Elliot & Godwin in Union Square. They carried an excellent selection of carpets, wallpapers, tapestries and wall hangings in different colors.

In the 1870s, Morris devoted himself again to his literary work. In 1873 he wrote his verse drama Love is Enough or the Freeing of Pharamond, A Morality, in the form of the pre-Elizabethan drama, with the adaptation of a story from the Welsh Mabinogion and a redesign of the Icelandic Völsunga saga, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs, which he had translated into English in 1870 and whose material he had previously used in The Earthly Paradise . These works were rejected by his contemporaries and only received again in the 1920s.

In the years between 1877 and 1885, Morris published mainly factual texts, lectures on art or handicrafts and, to an increasing extent, political writings. In 1877 he founded a Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings . This indirectly resulted in the National Trust .

William Morris' earliest experiments in hand-knotted carpets date back to 1878 when he set up looms on Morris & Co.'s property at 26 Queen Square, Bloomsbury. Within a year he had outfitted the former coach building of his Kelmscott House in Hammersmith with larger looms and employed a team of 6 women to knot the carpets. When Morris & Co. moved to Merton Abbey , Surrey in 1881, it was then possible to make larger bridges and carpets, although they kept the name "Hammersmith" (to distinguish them from their machine-woven products).

William Morris trade marks.jpg

Approximately 100 rugs were made to Morris and Dearle's designs. By around 1890, Morris was less involved in carpet making. The new patterns that followed were largely the work of his assistant, John Henry Dearle (1860–1932). However, there was a transition period in which the two worked together in different genres, especially on large commissions. Morris employed many talented artists and artisans. John Henry Dearle worked for Morris & Company from 1878 until his death in 1932. He became the principal designer of the company's repeat patterns and was art director after Morris' death. The pattern "Honeysuckle" (honeysuckle) is attributed to him and Kate Faulkner designed "Vine & Pomegranate" (wine and pomegranate)

When the larger of the Ardabil carpets was offered for sale in London in 1892 , the Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned designer William Morris to examine the carpet. After he reported that the carpet was "of unique perfection ... and consequently beautiful," he urged the museum to buy it.

Hammersmith Socialist Society emblem

William Morris and his daughter Mary "May" Morris were among the first British socialists . Together with Eleanor Marx , Edward Aveling and Engels, they laid the foundation for the socialist movement. In 1883, William Morris joined the Social Democratic Federation ; after the split of the English socialists, he founded the alternative institution of the Socialist League in 1884 . News from Nowhere , one of his better-known novels, describes the utopia of an ideal socialist society.

At the beginning of the 1890s he restricted his involvement in the socialist movement because of his progressive gout. Sections of the Victorian public interpreted this illness-related withdrawal as a distancing from socialism and a return from the political aberrations to his actual artistic vocation. However, Morris's own statements do not confirm this view.

Page from the "Kelmscott Chaucer". Print by Kelmscott Press, illustration Edward Burne-Jones, typography William Morris, 1896

Morris' fairytale novel The Wood Beyond the World had a strong influence on CS Lewis Narnia books. JRR Tolkien's work also shows dependencies on Morris' depictions of early Germanic life, such as in The House of the Wolfings or The Roots of the Mountains .

William Morris describes his ideal of a society in his utopian novel News from Nowhere (dt. News from Nowhere ). In this world people only work for pleasure and give away their high quality handicrafts to those who value them. Morris tried to fulfill this wish through various initiatives and always found that his high quality products could only be afforded by people of the wealthy class of society. The others had to settle down with machine-made furniture, to Morris's regret.

In January 1891, William Morris founded Kelmscott Press in Hammersmith, near London, to produce high quality books. He designed printing types such as his "Golden Type", which was influenced by the early Venetian printer Nicolas Jenson . The decorations followed medieval woodcuts from the 15th century. The choice of paper and printing inks, as well as the sense of the entire print product, made Kelmscott Press the most famous private printing company of its time. Up to its closure in 1898, it had produced 53 book editions. Today the edition of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer , also known as "Kelmscott Chaucer", is considered to be one of the most beautiful books ever produced. The Kelmscott Press has influenced many subsequent private printers.

Along with Walter Crane and Dante Gabriel Rossetti , Morris was one of the most important members of the Arts and Crafts Movement .

William Morris died in 1896 and was buried in the Kelmscott Cemetery in Oxfordshire .

The William-Morris Gallery in Walthamstow shows a selection of his works.

See alsoKelmscott Press


First complete German edition, Seemann, Leipzig 1901

Literary work

  • The Haystack in the Floods
  • The Defense of Guinevere, and other Poems (1858)
  • The Life and Death of Jason (1867)
  • The Earthly Paradise (1868-70)
  • The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Nibelungs (1876)
  • Love is Enough, or The Freeing of Pharamond (1872)
  • A Dream of John Ball (1886)
  • A Tale of the House of the Wolfing and All the Kindreds of the Marks (1888)
  • A King's Lesson , (1888)
  • The Roots of the Mountains (1889)
  • News from Nowhere (1890, German customer from nowhere 1900, ISBN 3-7466-0048-0 )
    • News from nowhere. A science fiction . Translated from English by Paul Seliger. Seemann, Leipzig 1901
    • Customer from nowhere. A utopian novel , edited by Wilhelm Liebknecht. JHW Dietz, Stuttgart 1920
    • News from nowhere. Novel . Translated from the English by Natalie Liebknecht and Clara Steinitz, reviewed by Wilhelm Liebknecht; reviewed and completed by Sarah Janke. Edition Nautilus, Hamburg 2016. ISBN 978-3-96054-020-5
  • The Story of the Glittering Plain (1890)
  • The Well at the World's End (1892, The source at the end of the world 1981, ISBN 3-404-24015-4 ), digitized edition 1896
  • Child Christopher (1895)
  • Goldilind the Fair (1895)
  • The Wood Beyond the World (1892, The Sorceress Beyond the World 1984, ISBN 3-404-20057-8 )
  • The Storie of the Sundering Flood (1896, dt. The kingdom of the electricity in 1980)
  • How I became a Socialist . Reprinted from Justice . Twentieth Century Press, London 1896
  • A summary of the principles of socialism. Written for the Democratic Federation by HM Hyndman and William Morris. Reeves, London 1896
  • The Hollow Land (1897)
  • The Water of the Wondrous Isles , 1897
  • Svend and His Brethern , 1901
  • Art hopes and art worries , in 5 volumes, Leipzig 1901/1902 digitized edition
  • The Story of the Unknown Church , 1904
  • Gertha's Lovers , 1905
  • The Wolf's Head and the Queen , 1931 (with John Martin)
  • The Shimmering Land , 1985, ISBN 3-404-72041-5 , The Glittering Plain , 1973

William Morris also translated a number of medieval and classical works, including collections of Icelandic sagas, Virgil's Aeneid (1875) and Homer's Odyssey (1887). His reflections on book art are posthumous in an edition The Ideal Book. Essays and Lectures on the Art of the Book (University of California Press 1982, German translation Das ideal Buch. Essays and lectures on the art of beautiful books , Göttingen 1986) collected.


Web links

Commons : William Morris  - Album with Pictures, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Arthur Clutton-Brock: William Morris . Parkstone Press USA, New York 2007. page 28
  2. Topsy and Ned Jones Settled on the Settle in Red Lion Square - drawing by Max Beerbohm in the Tate Gallery
  3. Cf. Dörthe Schilken: Morris, William. In: Metzler Lexicon of English-Speaking Authors . 631 portraits - from the beginning to the present. Edited by Eberhard Kreutzer and Ansgar Nünning, Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2002, ISBN 3-476-01746-X , special edition Stuttgart / Weimar 2006, ISBN 978-3-476-02125-0 , p. 413.
  4. History of Queen Square ( Memento from November 1, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  5. Heritage: Life's rich tapestry Anne Campbell Dixon, The Telegraph 15 Apr 2003
  6. ^ "Morris" Art in Decoration . published in “The Art Amateur”, Vol. 4, February 1, 1881
  7. Cf. Dörthe Schilken: Morris, William. In: Metzler Lexicon of English-Speaking Authors . 631 portraits - from the beginning to the present. Edited by Eberhard Kreutzer and Ansgar Nünning, Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2002, ISBN 3-476-01746-X , special edition Stuttgart / Weimar 2006, ISBN 978-3-476-02125-0 , p. 413.
  8. ^ Architecture and history. A paper read before the Society for the Protection of Ancient buildings on July 1, 1884. by William Morris . "Printed at the Chiswick Press with the" Golden type "designed by William Morris for the Kelmscott Press." Finished 14th September 1900
  9. Cf. Dörthe Schilken: Morris, William. In: Metzler Lexicon of English-Speaking Authors . 631 portraits - from the beginning to the present. Edited by Eberhard Kreutzer and Ansgar Nünning, Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2002, ISBN 3-476-01746-X , special edition Stuttgart / Weimar 2006, ISBN 978-3-476-02125-0 , p. 413.
  10. cf. The Saga Library
  11. ^ The Ideal Book. An Address delivered before the Biobliographical Society of London 1903
  12. ^ The Art and Craft of Printing. Collected essays by William Morris. 210 Copies have been printed by Clarke Conwell at the Elston Press, New Rochelle, New York.