Appreciating William Morris

If you need a cure for a bout of cultural FOMO, today we’re enjoying all things William Morris.

Last month marked 186 years since one of the 19th century’s most famous names was born and his influence is still going strong.

At a time when many of us are turning to arts and crafts in our own homes (macramé plant hanger anyone?), it seems fitting to celebrate the artist that initiated the Arts and Crafts design movement.

In 1861, William Morris recruited Pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones as artist-designers with the aim of improving the quality of design and to make it available to the widest possible audience.

Focusing on simple functional design rather than the excess ornament and imitation of typically Victorian styles, the Arts and Crafts movement is often seen as the starting point for modern design.

By the late 19th century, wallpapers were widely used by all classes, in homes and in public buildings. Prompted by the fact he couldn’t find any that he liked well enough to use in his own home, Morris began to design the wallpapers and fabrics that we’ve come to know him for, and we’ve come to obsess over. (He also found time to be a poet, author and social activist.)

Showcasing his natural eye for pattern and turning natural motifs into art, he produced more than 50 wallpapers during his career, staring with ‘Trellis’ in 1862, inspired by the garden of Red House, his home in Kent. Every one was centred on plant-based forms, and nearly all that Morris then went on to design were printed using hand-cut woodblocks and natural, mineral-based dyes.

In his own words, you should “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. Here are some of our favourite William Morris designs…

                                                     William Morris Strawberry print

William Morris Strawberry Thief printed cotton, 1883 William Morris Daisy wallpaper  Daisy Wallpaper, 1864William Morris Sunflower print     SunflowerWilliam Morris Bird and Anemone print

Bird and Anemone detail

*Images © William Morris Gallery, London Borough of Waltham Forest