William Morris was the celebrated figure of nineteenth century in the world of decorative art and textile designing. He made a remarkable contribution to the revival of traditional textile arts and was actively involved in the English Arts and Crafts Movement. He was also famous for his literary input as an English novelist, poet and a translator. His literary works were instrumental in the introduction of modern fantasy genre in literature.
On March 24th, 1834, in Walthamstow, Essex, William Morris was born into a wealthy bourgeois English family and was named after his father. He spent most of his childhood housebound which resulted in his developing an avid reading habit. When he was six years old, his family moved to a Georgian mansion in Woodford, where he spent time largely sightseeing the country and admiring the architect of numerous cathedrals and churches. As he turned nine, he was enrolled at a preparatory school and then to a boarding school. After his father’s sudden demise in 1847, he went on to study at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, and disliked the experience. In Wiltshire, prehistoric sites captured his interest as he visited them frequently, such as, Silbury Hill and Avebury. Moreover, the Anglican faith of the school rendered him an enthusiast of Anglo-Catholic movement and Romanticist aestheticism.
Subsequent to his removal from the school, Morris entered Oxford University’s Exeter College. Morris took an instant dislike to the college for their tedious method of teaching Classics. However, the Medieval buildings in Oxford proved to be inspirational in his development of attraction toward the Medieval history and architecture. His fascination was associated with the then growing Medievalist movement. The movement in a way was an extension of Romanticism as it opposed the advent of industrialist capitalism in the Victorian society. He was the proponent of the ideals dictated by Medieval Age that hold the chivalric values and socialism above capitalism. These beliefs immensely influenced his artistic input in designing and literature.
While studying at Exeter, Morris met his lifelong friend Edward Burne-Jones, with whom he collaborated on several works of art. Furthermore, he was highly inspired by the writings of, John Ruskin, the art critic. He supported Ruskin’s philosophy of art that dismissed the industrial manufacturing of tawdry decorative art pieces and architectural structure in favour of hand-crafted work. The Pre-Raphaelites paintings and John Keats’ poetry also appealed his aesthetic sense. Upon his graduation, he had served his apprenticeship as an architect. With his relocation to London he made an association with, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the foremost Pre-Raphaelite painter. Rossetti persuaded him and his friend Brune-Jones, to embark on their professional career with Pre-Raphaelite painting. Morris designed furniture in Medieval style and painted in Arthurian style. In Kent, he designed Red House with Phillip Webb, inspired by multifarious forms of contemporary Neo-Gothic architecture, where he moved in with his wife. The house defied the conventional style and architectural norms as it was structured L-shaped.
In 1861, William Morris co-founded a decorative arts firm, the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., in London. The firm soon became popular and their decorative art became the highlight of the Victorian era. They influenced the contemporary interior designing with Morris’ meticulous and intricate designs of tapestries, stained glass windows, furniture and wallpaper. Additionally, he is recognized for his epic poems and fantasy romance, including The Well at the World’s End, The Earthly Paradise, A Dream of John Ball and News from Nowhere. The foremost cultural figure of Victorian age passed away in 1896, at the age of 62.