William Morris was a prolific designer of tiles, tapestries, carpets, wall paper, stained glass and furniture. The work of this 19th century designer are lately enjoying renewed popularity for its themes of nature and florals, expressed in intricate and complex designs.
Born in Walthamstow, England to an affluent middle class family in 1834, Morris was the son of wealthy stockbroker. He originally studied theology, intending to enter the Church. However, he developed a deep love for mediaeval arts and architecture while studying at Oxford. When he later joined the gothic revival architectural practice, George Edmund Street, he formed the Arts & Crafts movement along with Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Webb.
Married in 1859, he moved into the now famous Red House in Bexleyheath, designed by Philip Webb. Together, they completely decorated it in the mediaeval style including stained glass windows, murals and tapestries. It was this experience that led Morris to become a designer of home furnishings. Thus was founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. to produce high quality decorative work for commercial sale.
In 1875, "the Firm" disbanded and Morris set off on his own as Morris & Company. He flourished with full control of the company, and was most prolific and creative during this period. He perfected his indigo discharge print technique that would be his signature style, combined with madder reds. Interestingly, Morris was unable to draw birds, so crucial to many of his designs. Philip Webb is credited with filling those in.
Morris died at 62 years of age, seemingly of exhaustion. His company continued to operate until its final demise through the Great Depression. And yet to this day, his original designs survive and are still printed, a testament to the lasting beauty and timeless appeal of his work.
In addition to his profuse design work, Morris was also an accomplished poet, author, publisher and Socialist, the latter pursuit of which led to some controversy among his peers.
Today, amongst high tech and computer-generated designs, we find refuge in this designer's handcrafted, detailed ode to nature and natural beauty.