William Bright Morris

English , 1834 - 1896

Poet, artist, craftsman and political activist, William Morris was born in Walthamstow, Essex. His parents’ affluence was enhanced by their successful speculation during the 1840s in a British copper-mining endeavor. This investment formed the basis for their son, William’s inheritance, providing him with the means to pursue a lifelong search for the ideal in art and life.

Morris’ formal education began at the preparatory school at Marlborough College. He developed an interest in history and the Classics and went on to attend Exeter College in Oxford in 1853. Morris was greatly influenced by the art criticism of John Ruskin and the social criticism of Thomas Carlyle.

While at Oxford, Morris met Edward Burne-Jones and a life-long friendship was made. The two traveled together in Europe. Morris left Oxford in 1856 and began an apprenticeship with the Gothic Revival architect, George Edmund Street. After a year, Morris became convinced that he should join Burne-Jones in London to pursue a career as a painter. They enlisted architect, Philip Webb to design some furniture for their new home and this marked the beginning of Morris’ career in the decorative arts.

During the 1860s and 1870s, Morris was active in writing and translating and he began studying and creating illuminated manuscripts in an attempt to revive the art of calligraphy. He also became a public activist for both cultural and social causes. Morris was one of the founders of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to stave off ruinous restoration and destruction of early English buildings. He was a leader of the Eastern Question Association, formed to protest Turkish treatment of Christian minorities in the European provinces.

Morris devoted the latter years of his life to the revival of fine printing. His interest in typography and his love of books, paired with Emery Walker’s knowledge of printmaking, gave birth, in 1891, to the Kelmscott Press. The Press issued fifty-three books- the culmination of Morris’ constant pursuit of the ideal. Morris’ final years were plagued by diabetes, exhaustion, tuberculosis and kidney failure; he died in London in 1896.

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