“There is no excuse for doing anything which is not strikingly beautiful”- William Morris
William Morris (1834-1896) was an English artist, a craftsman of broad skills of artistic mediums and a pioneer of designs. Morris is also described as a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, essays and translations of ancient and medieval texts. That said, Morris created a legacy all his own.
And of his diverse creative skills that produced a range of decorative art including textiles, furniture, stained glass windows, book design, wallcoverings and tapestries? It is the embellishment of the interior walls with distinctive botanical wonder and the adorning of the interior with lush textiles and fabrics of botanical delight that beckons my attention. In appreciation of his distinctive botanical patterns, it is evident that Morris valued rich, depth of color paired with abundant, free-form and diverse details. Artistry of nature within the Victorian era.
Aside from Victorian influences, it is believed that his appreciation and admiration of Medievalism inspired his work. In addition, devoted to the preservation of architecture, ancient buildings and the natural world, it is not surprising with his botanical focus and craftsmanship that Morris would not be pleased with the lower quality of mass production of Industrialism, which resulted in pollution and its effects on the natural world. Certainly, Morris was committed to create an impact in the interior world. Craftsmanship paired with beauty at its best.
Born in Walthamstow, England, Morris would later earn a degree from Exeter College in Oxford in 1852. Morris’s education is said to have provided him with a lifelong friendship with a fellow student and aspiring artist Edward Burne-Jones. Morris and Burne-Jones are said to have been influenced by the pre-Raphaelite movement, the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the essays of John Ruskin. Of interest, it is Ruskin who is credited with the “Rejection of the industrial manufacture of decorative arts and architecture in favor of a return to hand-crafted, affordable art where artisans are elevated to fine artists”. Perhaps a longterm inspiration to Morris?
In 1856, Morris began working for one of England’s leading Gothic revival architects in Oxford. During this time, Morris embarked upon another lifelong friendship with pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It was Rosetti who would bring the striking and beautiful artist’s model into the focus of Morris. The beautiful Jane Burden. In 1859 William and Jane were married. History hints that their happiness would not continue although they remained married until Morris’s death. Of note, a long affair is stated to have swirled between Rossetti and Burden. A love triangle, indeed. Yet at the beginning of their marriage it is thought that in the joy of decorating of their own home in Kent, England, inspired the beginnings of the focus on the interior that William Morris would bestow upon the world of interior design…..
In 1861, the decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. was established. Morris, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Ford Maddox Brown, Philip Webb, Charles Faulkner and Peter Marshall as partners. The firm would undertake carving, stained glass, metal work, chintzes, printed fabrics and carpets. Of interest, the initial intent was for the decoration of churches. Who knew? In time, the firm would expand to include a myriad of craftsman skills, such as murals, furniture, glass wares, cloth, paper wall hangings, embroideries, jewelry, silk damasks, tapestries and tiles. A wide array of skilled arts, for certain. In 1874 Morris would become principal owner and design director of the firm and in 1875 the company name became “Morris and Co.”. A history of design that has endured.
And of his timeless wallpaper designs? Morris’s pattern work is unique from the machine produced wallpaper of the period. Creative uniqueness, for certain. The “flat” patterns of his botanical designs are considered opposite of the three-dimensional quality, excessive floral and precision of the wallpaper designs of the mid-Victorian interiors. It is said that “Many of Morris’s designs utilize the flowing, meandering lines, the idea of which stems from the meandering of the River Thames and all of its tributaries. In Morris’s work these lines become the stems of plants, flowers and foliage that wander through his repetitive designs”. Beautifully stated in regards to his flowing artistry of botanical wonder. Perhaps while relishing life within his own English garden of his beloved country house at Kelmscott Manor, observing plant nature and the delights of the natural world, his attentions would shift his energy and focus to designing botanical wallpaper and textiles. Perhaps it can be linked to his own words: “My work is the embodiment of dreams in one form or another”. That said, wherever his inspiration in originating his art form of the natural world, his patterns certainly emulate the natural world and remain timeless and iconic statements within the interior. Works of art to be appreciated, for certain…
“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life”- William Morris
Considered a genius pattern designer, the work of William Morris has an enduring appeal beyond the Arts and Crafts Revival of the 20th and 21st centuries. Unlike other English decorative artisans of the time who are credited with art of more formal, perhaps rigid and symmetrical style, Morris’s “Visual poetry and passion for the natural world” would become and iconic, stylized classic within interior design. Bold and patterned botanical bliss of which he colored and infused interiors with. Timeless.
Perhaps it can be said that Morris altered the way the home was viewed. The inner world. Perhaps Morris even altered the way the world was viewed. Either way, his botanicals of nature’s beauty expressed in definitive fashion endure. Lasting emblems that continue to endure in appreciation in the world of interior design. Beyond what is shared here, the world or William Morris and his originality, quality, craftsmanship and mastery of techniques expressed through his wide range of artistic mediums is vast. Merely an appreciation presented here, consider the sensory delight of the natural world of William Morris. For certain, the creative character and legend of William Morris as a designer lives onward. The patterns of botanical bliss will forever create a statement. One of enduring appreciation, indeed…
“If there is a reason for keeping the wall very quiet, choose a pattern that works all over without pronounced lines…Put very succinctly, architectural effect depends upon a nice balance of horizontal, vertical and oblique. No rules can say how much of each; so nothing can really take the place of feeling and good judgement.”- William Morris
“No pattern should be without some sort of meaning”- William Morris
“If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of art and the thing most to be longed for, I should answer, a beautiful house.”-William Morris
and lastly, my personal favorite…
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”- William Morris