It’s not just designers hailing from the 21st Century that I consider true style icons. I also delve into the past where beautiful design was just as important to the world as it is today. And one of my historical favourites is William Morris, widely known for his wallpaper design (Yes wallpaper!) But he’s so much more. In fact, this senile looking old man is actually one of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain.
Born in 1834 and passing in 1896, today he has a society (the William Morris Society) devoted to honouring his legacy, is subject of multiple biographies and his works (which are still in production) can be found in many art galleries and museums.
I personally feel an affinity with William Morris for he – like me – drew inspiration from nature in the creation of his art. I find his wallpaper designs so captivating that they make me feel like I am in a fantasy world. The ability to transform people through art to another world is true artistry.
So today, I bow down to the memory of William Morris, his ability as a fine artist to successfully commercialise his work and for all that he did for the design world.
Here’s all you need to know about William Morris:
- In his 62 years of life, William Morris was an artist, designer, printer, typographer, bookbinder, craftsman, poet, writer and champion of socialist ideals.
- He also trained as an architect and was a student at Oxford.
- At the time of his death his poetry was known internationally and his company’s products could be found all over the world.
Yet while considered ‘the single most important figure in British textile production’, during his lifetime Morris was mostly recongised for his poetry and only became better known for his designs posthumously.
- Morris, his wife and his artist friends spent two years furnishing and decorating the interior of his home ‘Red House’.
- He and his artists friends were so inspired by their work in the Red House they opened Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. producing a range of original domestic furnishings including embroidery, tableware and furniture, stained glass and tiles
- His philosophy on interior design was “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
- He eventually started to design his own wallpaper because he was unable to find any he liked well enough to use in his own home.
- As his wallpapers (he produced over 50) were handmade and expensive he was slow in finding a market outside of fellow artists. In fact, his designers were actively disliked by figures such as Oscar Wilde. Yet despite this his designs had a long and significant impact on wallpaper design and they achieved an overall lasting appeal.
- Morris believed that designers should have a working knowledge of any media they used, so spent considerable time learning a wide variety of techniques.
- He believed that the art and design of his own time was inferior and unworthy and felt this was due to the poor quality of life during the Industrial Revolution.
- He was a leading figure in the creation of the Arts and Craft Movement – one of the most influential, profound and far-reaching design movements of modern times.
- Morris was greatly inspired by nature believing it to be the perfect example of God’s design.
- He was also influential in the revival of the private press having founded Kelmscott Press to create beautiful handmade books. It resulted in elevating the craft of printing to an art form.
- He encouraged artists and designers to look back to medieval art for their inspiration as this was a time when artists and craftsmen worked together with equal status.
- One of my favourite Morris quote is: “If you cannot learn to love real art, at least learn to hate sham art and reject it!” Still so significant today.
Who else is a William Morris fan?