‘Ars longa, vita brevis’ 1.
Industrial Revolution in England in 19th century was technical and technological development but it was also beginning of revolution of social, value, democratic and cultural transitions, technical and technological achievements leading into capitalisation of contemporary England. Growth of cities, birth of middle class, and mechanisation of production were responsible for the increase of demand of many goods from one side and, on the other hand, possibility of cheap and mass production of the goods. New modern, materials such as iron or stained glass, for example, and easier techniques of production gave great opportunities for designers. Interiors of Victorian era were over furnished, cluttered, dark and eclectic. Among of happiness of socio-technical development citizens, from time to time, played up any critical roles. Father of William Morris was a bill brokers, partner of Sanderson & Co, and his mother was a teacher of music in Worcester. During his childhood, young William spent first, in Elm House, suburban residence of his parents and next in Woodford Hall. Both places had natural surroundings with historical background remembering medieval times. Idyllic atmosphere, wildness of the natural environment, prehistoric echoes was stimulating for small boy with great imagination and sensibility. As fourteen years old boy he was sent to Marlborough College and next in 1853 entered Exeter College, Oxford, studying theology. Maybe, it was the most influential period for young William not only because of his education but also because of people he met there. A great ability of William was, arguably, to win the favour of people as his friends like Edward Burne – Jones, met by Morris in Oxford, who became his friend, mental confederate and later business partner.
‘My work is the embodiment of dreams in one form or another…’ 2.
Formative live in raw, natural surroundings, theological study, next gothic architectural practice in G.E Street firm gave Morris extensive education, open-mindedness and invaluable connections and friendships. Despite of the interest in architecture and design, main activities of William Morris during that time were literature, poetry and translations. Most of them reflected gothic and utopian ideas, which could improve people’s existence, for example. Gothic and medieval art were particular for William Morris as only true, honest, free craftsmanship of art period in history. As it was different idea from existing fascinations of the day. Turning point in cultural and art activities of William Morris was commission of his own house, designed by his other friend Phillip Webb who he met in Oxford as a senior clerk in Street’s office. Because Morris had his own vision of decoration, absolutely opposite to machine-made without artistic spirit, lack of craft and wishy-washy ‘creations’ of 19th century. Decoration style of new Morris’s house fully reflected his artistic, romantic vision, hand-made objects designed with respect for nature, true materials. Entire interior of ‘Red House’, named because of red bricks of which it was made from, was designed and made by him and his friend such as Webb and Jones. Final result was great, clear design and light space. Wallpapers and textiles designed by Morris, wall paintings and stained glass designed by Jones and oak furniture often made in gothic order, designed by Webb. Exposed beams, brick arches contrasting textures, and natural motifs created new value of art. Following this event, in 1861 Morris together with his friend established the firm ‘Morris, Marshal, Faulkner & Co – ‘Fine Art Workmen’. Morris as a writer, poet, artist and visionary but also as a philosopher and good, honest man wants to share his art, happiness of beautifully surroundings with others. The idea of the firm was to create decorative objects which should be made by hand by artist as craftsmen and craftsmen as artist on different areas of specialisation like mural painting, metal work, stained glass or furniture making. In 1862 the firm won two gold medals, their design and objects were fashionable in London, but main clients of the firm were representatives of upper-middle class, because of expressivity of hand-making process of production. Between 1860 and 1870 William Morris concentrated on his work mainly on wallpapers and textiles design. His strong points are floral and animal patterns. His inspiration was taken from nature and gothic influences. Dyes used by him were only natural, vegetables and techniques production were developed from medieval print and based materials were paper or chintz. As a public figure, known mainly as a novelist and social mentor, he encouraged other artists and manufacturers to natural design with natural process of production to unification of artistic idea, manufacturing and designing. He designed 41 wallpapers such as ‘Daisy’, ‘Willow’, ‘Honeysuckle’ or ‘Sunflower’ and 5 ceiling papers, many of fabrics and textiles such as ‘Acanthus’, ‘Rose’ or ‘Kelmscott Vine’, printing on cotton chintz and wool, next carpets, curtains and tapestries richly coloured, used, for example, in his Kelmscott House in London. Many of this works were used in other houses as his own Kelmscott Manor – holiday residence, with atmosphere described by Morris as ‘melancholy born and beauty’ or Wightwick Manor. Uncarpeted white board floors, with plain white curtains with minimum furniture covered in blue and green patterned textiles. Crucial elements of the Morris’s room were fireplaces as focal points, but first of all like a symbol of family and unity. His designer activity was connected with his social and cultural activity, from the school’s year. He was a member of Brotherhood in Oxford, later connected with Pre-Raphaelites, in 1877 inspirited probably by John Ruskin’s ‘The Nature of Gothic’ essay, he founded The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings’ existing today as SPAB, in 1884 he established contacts with Eleanor Marx Socialist League and in 1890 he founded The Kelmscott Press. Heritage of William Morris includes over 20 poetry, fiction and essays, over 10 translations, endless quantity of patterns made by him for wallpapers, textiles, tapestry and other artistic objects. His great humanity, his art and his activity in many areas, his ‘Arts and Crafts Movement’ lead directly to ‘Art Nouveau’ as a beginning of modern art. He was the most influential figure of 19th century and arguably, we could call him ‘first modern designer’.
To summarise, the whole human nature of William Morris and his artistic personality was totally opposite to Victorian style and more to views and ideas of 19th Century.
‘I don’t want art for a few, any more than education for a few or freedom for a few…What business have we with art unless we can all share it?’ 3.