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senses-artnouveau.com: William MORRIS biography

William MORRIS

(1834-1896)

British painter, designer, craftsman and poet

Founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England, William Morris worked for the renaissance of decorative arts. He studied medieval architecture at Oxford, but under the influence of Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriele Rossetti, leaders of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, he turned toward painting and writing. In 1861, they founded together a guild of fine arts craftsmen and began to produce furniture, tapestry, stained glass, tiles, fabrics and the most famous wallpaper designs. They also explored the total vision of art and craft for Red House, in South London countryside, where every detail of architecture, furnishing and decorative elements were completed as a whole artwork.

William Morris portrait

In the 1870s, Morris was committed to the Socialist movement and tried to apply its principles in order to create art "made by people and for the people" and fight against fierce modernization or destruction of old buildings, which were undergoing during the Industrial Revolution.

In 1877 he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, one of the world's first conservationist groups. In 1891 he founded the Kelmscott Press and worked on illustrated books. All his life he wrote poetry and prose.

The works of William Morris, the emotional and mythical themes he explored, his love of country-garden nature and medieval ideals of chivalry as well as the romantic attachment to forests, gardens, flowers and birds, which would recur in his art and his poetry throughout his life, were an inspiring contribution to Art Nouveau artists, such as Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta who used Morris'wallpapers and textiles to decorate its interiors.

Moreover, Morris was a pioneer of new artistic ideals, as he fiery celebrated all the "minor arts" from the wooden furniture to the naturalistic flower-and-foliage prints, from weaving tapestries and embroidery to mural painting, from stained glass windows to tiles design.

He has also influenced the modernist movement Bauhaus, which would later celebrate the idea that "there is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman".

a typical Morris motive for wallpaper and fabrics


Major works:

Architecture and decorative arts:
Red House, London (1860-1861); wallpapers, tiles, fabrics and textile designs.

Books, essays and poetry:
The Volsung Saga (1870), The Decorative Arts (1878), Hopes and Fears of Art (1882), Art and Socialism (1884), The Wood Beyond the World (1894), Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1894).


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