William Morris (1834-96)
William Morris was born in Walthamstow, Essex, on 24 March 1834. He enjoyed a comfortable
childhood and as the son of a wealthy businessman, he was able to attend Marlborough and Exeter College, Oxford
with an intention to enter the holy orders.
As with many young men of his time, his life at Oxford drew him
toward the radicalism of the period and towards the arts. After leaving Oxford, Morris briefly worked under G. E.
Street, the Gothic Revival architect. For a period afterwards, he tried his hand as a painter. Morris's only surviving painting
Guenevere shows the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who also influenced Swinburne. In the 1860s,
Morris decided that his future lay in the field of the decorative arts.
He formed Morris, Marshall,
Faulkner & Co. in 1861. Morris & Co., as it was later reorganized, was particularly well-known for its stained
glass, examples of which can be seen in churches throughout Britain. Morris produced over 150 designs which are
generally characterised by their artful foliage patterns. His greatest achievement came as a designer in the field of
textiles and wallpapers, patterns that were influenced by the medieval works held at the South Kensington Museum.
These works may have also influenced his writing. His first volume of poetry,
The Defence of Guenevere,
received mixed reviews, but his reputation grew as a poet with the publication of
The Earthly Paradise (1868-70). Among his many other works are the classical translations of
Sigurd the Volsung, The Pilgrims of Hope, and a series of prose romances which included
A Dream of John Ball, News from Nowhere, and The Well at the World's End.
In 1876 and on through the 80s, Morris was drawn to radical organizations, the Eastern Question Association,
the National Liberal League and the Radical Union. In 1883, he joined the socialist Democratic Federation. Disillusioned
with all of the groups, he formed the Socialist League and later the Hammersmith Socialist Society. During the period,
he was probably the most active propagandist for the socialist cause, giving hundreds of lectures and speeches throughout
In 1890, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press near his last home at Kelmscott House in Hammersmith
(now the headquarters of the William Morris Society). During the last
years of his life, sixty-six volumes were printed by the Kelmscott Press. The most impressive is magnificent edition of
Chaucer which was published in 1896 the year of his death. Morris died at Kelmscott House on 3 October, 1896.
Morris' works in the Art Section