Morris Co. stained glass windows at the Albert & Victoria  Museum  .........................  Arts & Crafts -Table of Contents

William Morris

William Morris (1834-96) was an English poet, artist, and socialist reformer, who rejected the opulence on the Victorian era and urged a return to medieval traditions of design, craftsmanship, and community. He was inspired by the writings of John Ruskin and Augustus Pugin who championed the return of Gothic architecture (the last true architectural movement in their opinion.)

In his political writings, Morris attempted to correct the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution by proposing a form of society in which people could enjoy craftsmanship and simplicity of expression. (This was the inspiration for Elbert Hubbard to establish the Roycroft community in East Aurora, NY.)

While at Oxford University he met a circle of artists which became known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and included Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones.

In 1861 Morris and others formed Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. His partners:

The company was formed to manufacture wallpaper, stained glass, chintzes, and later also carpets, tapestries, and woven furnishing materials.

Its aims were to promote the appreciation of better design standards amongst the middle and artisan classes, and to offer them honestly made domestic artifacts The work of Morris is characterized by an emphasis on decorative elements, especially on those that he thought to be characteristic of the art of the Middle Ages. His designs for books and wallpaper resembled precise, elegant illuminated manuscripts, and his poems and epics read like the ancient epics and sagas.

In 1874 the firm changed to Morris & Company.


For several years after his marriage [to Jane Burden],  Morris was absorbed in two intimately connected occupations: the building and decoration of a house for himself and Jane, and the foundation of a firm of decorators who were also artists, with the view of reinstating decoration, down to its smallest details, as one of the fine arts. ..

Red House at Bexleyheath in Kent, so named when the use of red brick without stucco was a startling novelty in domestic architecture, was built by Phillip Webb  [in 1859] to designs by Webb and Morris. It was Webb's first building as an independent architect and the first serious attempt made in Victorian England to apply art throughout to the practical objects of common life.

Red House featured ceiling paintings by Morris, wall-hangings designed by Morris and worked by himself and Jane; furniture painted by Morris and Rossetti, and wall-paintings and stained- and painted glass designed by Burne-Jones

- Wikipedia: William Morris (online 12/09)


As far as is known, William Morris never designed any furniture but devoted his attention to other crafts, particularly printing, fabrics and book production; furniture design was the province of Philip Webb.

Morris chair
Introduced about 1865 by Morris & Co., the chair's adjustable design - based on a Sussex carpenter's pattern - was designed for cozy comfort. Gustav Stickley later took William Morris' concept and refined the chair's styling: his slats-to-the-floor design is now considered an Arts & Crafts classic.

With their turned spindles and claw feet, pre-Stickley era Morris chairs are usually deemed too fussy by collectors. But even among the pared-down Stickley-designed chairs, there is variety. An open air chair (no side slats) is the most affordable, and is still robust and attractive.... Next in desirability comes the side-slats-to-the-seat model; the aforementioned slats-to-the-floor model is at the top of the desirability scale. From there, even more rarified designs by Stickley can be found, including the bent-arm Morris chair, bow-arm Morris chair, and the design that incorporates spindles rather than broad slats.

[All the Morris chairs feature wide paddle arms.]

- Barbara Rhines, The Essential Six,"  in Old-House Journal, February-March 201, p. 35

Stained glass


Morris & Company began to sell their wallpapers in Boston in 1873, and by the mid 1870s had representatives for their growing line of wallpaper, fabric and carpet in many major American cities.

Morris's chief contribution to the arts was as a designer of repeating patterns for wallpapers and textiles, many based on a close observation of nature.

Morris style wallpaper is being manufactured by Bradbury & Bradbury


Morris established the Kelmscott Press in 1890, and, using his own designs for the type and ornamental letters, he issued editions of the classics and of his own works, notably The Kelmscott Chaucer (1896).


Post-Morris: Voysey

When William Morris died in 1896, a new generation of British designers continued in the Arts & Crafts tradition. Most notable was C.F.A. Voysey, an architect and designer who created a large archive of animal and foliate patterns for fabrics and wallpapers.  His designs are playful and often based on fairytales - with cats, birds, and rabbits scampering about - and they are more stylized and less detailed than Morris's work, bridging the eras between Victorian and Modernism.

- Dan Cooper, "Arts & Crafts Walls," in Old-House Journal, February-March 2011

Illustration above: Modeled by Jerome Connor and later cast in bronze. On display at the ScheideMantel House Click on photo for larger size.

See also:
Morris Exhibit At The Foreign Fair - Boston, 1883-84 (G. Wardle)  (online Dec. 2016)

Color photos and their arrangement © 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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