Sunday, February 16, 2014

William Morris - Textiles and Interior Design

William Morris

William Morris  Decor and Design, Elizabeth Wilhide, Abrams, Inc., NY, 1991

One of the greatest influences of interior design in the 19th C was the work of William Morris.  Born in 1834 in the village of Walthamstow, Northeast of London, Morris was brought up in a prosperous family with eight siblings.  He entered Exeter College, Oxford  to ready theology , intent on entering the clergy but while there began a friendship with Edward Burne-Jones and Charles Faulkner.  These, and other friends began to explore literature of the medieval period particularly poetry.  Inspired by medieval history and architecture Morris and Burne-Jones decided upon a life of design (Morris did finish Oxford with a degree in Theology).  Burne-Jones became a painter and Morris studied as an architect, apprenticing under G.E. Street, a leader in the Gothic Revival Movement of that time.

Street had a unique view which was to greatly influence Morris, that of the architect being influential not only in the design of a building but also in its interior elements, i.e textile and glass design. When Morris met Dante Rosetti he decided to abandon architecture in favor of painting.  It is fortunate for Morris that he had favorable financial security so that he could pursue these various interests.  In1860 Morris married Jane Burden whom he had engaged as a model and they moved into Red House, designed by Philip Webb.  It was Red House that would serve to begin Morris’s new career in the decorative arts.

William Morris Textiles, Linda Parry, Weideenfireld and Nicolson, Londan, 1983

It is Morris’s textile designs that I speak of today.  One of the reasons for Morris’s success was, basically he was a “process” artist.  By that I mean he was adamant about learning technique (whether modern or classic) before starting a design.  His knowledge of history served him well as well as his love of nature.  When designing natural elements he designed in mass, using a profusion of flowers, leaves and vines.

In 1861 Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was founded, with Burne-Jones, Rosetti, Webb and Ford Maddox Brown  as founding members, each with an area of specialization.  The firm designed handpainted tiles, stained glass, embroidery and furniture.  In 1875 the firm was dissolved and Morris & Co. was formed.  From this time the emphasis was interior, domestic design.  Morris designed wallpaper, printed and woven textiles, carpets and tapestries as well as his famous embroideries. 

Due to his rigid standards, Morris & Co was not hugely profitable and it was to Morris’s dismay that only the wealthy were able to purchase his expensive fabrics and wall coverings.  His workshops did produce, however, kits for embroidery and a range of affordable accessories. Morris died in 1896.  His younger daughter, May, continued his tradition until her death in 1938.

Further Reading
Textiles of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Linda Parry,Thames and Hudson,  London, 1988

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