Saturday, January 7, 2023

William Morris

Yesterday -- the last weekday of our winter vacation -- I headed up to Walthamstow to see the William Morris Gallery. Morris was a Victorian designer known for his elaborate and fanciful fabrics and wallpapers, and he and the other designers working in his firm also created stained glass windows, embroidery, furniture and other items. The gallery is a public museum in a house where Morris lived as a teenager, surrounded by grounds that are now a public park.

This is another idea I got from "The Ink Black Heart." One of the characters visited the gallery, which reminded me that I'd never been there. This book is really getting me out and about! I also texted one of my co-workers, Chris, and invited him along. With school about to begin on Monday, I needed to reawaken my social skills.

It was an interesting visit. I didn't know anything about Morris, really, and I'm sure his designs must have seemed stunning to his fellow Victorians, who were used to dark, cluttered drawing rooms. This 1883 wallpaper, Honeysuckle, is attributed to Morris's daughter, May, who also designed for the company.

This cotton fabric is called Brother Rabbit, from 1882. Many of the wallpaper and fabric designs were printed using woodblocks, and it took lots of blocks to complete the designs.

Morris was also a book designer and publisher, an artist and poet, and something of a rabble-rouser, a Socialist class warrior who wanted to smash barriers. He himself married a woman from a poorer family, an unconventional union at the time, and he railed against police treatment of the working classes, though he was treated quite gently when his political demonstrations got him arrested.

Here's a woven tapestry designed by Morris and his frequent collaborator, Edward Burne-Jones, depicting the Knights of the Round Table departing on their search for the Holy Grail. On the left is Queen Guinevere handing Sir Lancelot his shield; on the right, Sir Gawain accepts a spear from an attendant. Morris was very into mythology and legends, and he loved the craftsmanship of the medieval era, finding modern industrialization dehumanizing. This is one of several tapestries with Arthurian themes that were designed for Stanmore Hall, a country house in Harrow, North London.

After checking out the museum we walked around the park and then had a late lunch at a pizza place on the way back to the tube station. It was kind of a hipster pizza place -- I had sweet potato on mine, and Chris had avocado on his. They were good but we ate pretty late so I skipped dinner last night!


Moving with Mitchell said...

I love William Morris art and really enjoy that museum, and the house and grounds. The hipster pizza place would make the day even better.

Rachel Phillips said...

An interesting man with vision and born into great wealth. That tapestry looks wholly Burne-Jones to me. I am glad to see that his daughter May was at least acknowledged in one of the designs you mention; it is believed that she in fact was responsible for all his pattern designs after her sketch books were found a few years ago although stating this publicly is regarded as controversial.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Thanks for advertising the William Morris Museum. I am sure I would enjoy a similar visit. It seems that Morris was a whole man with a range of interests and talents. Into beauty and social justice - not a bad combination.

Sharon said...

I've heard of William Morris but had never heard of this museum. It sounds like a fascinating place to visit. I'm wondering where that book will send you to next.

Bob said...

I've heard of Morris and seen some of his work but didn't know they turned his home into a museum and park, so that was a nice treat.

Simone said...

I would love to visit the museum and it is not too far from me. I also like the work of William De Morgan who was a friend of William Morris. Thanks for sharing - you have reminded me to go and visit the museum.

Boud said...

Rachel is quite right back there. He also underpaid his workers, mostly women, running a polite version of a sweatshop. He's a mixed bag. Took a lot of credit for other people's work. I'm glad the museum acknowledges his daughter, at least. He talked the talk, but others walked the walk!

As far as design innovation of the period goes, I hope this book sends you to the Macintosh Glasgow school! It's really worth the trip..

You're certainly getting your value out of this book. You could get a secondary book out of it, like those in search of Jane Austen ones! Endlessly interesting coming in here, thank you.

Ellen D. said...

This is an informative post, Steve. I didn't know anything about William Morris and now you have me Googling him! :)

Ms. Moon said...

How interesting! And I love these designs. How fabulous!
And it's so cool that you can read about these places and people and then go and do your own exploration of them.
I have my issues with Rowling now as so many of us do but I love how her book has been the portal for a few rabbit holes that you have graciously let us visit with you.

ellen abbott said...

I'm familiar with both William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones from my searches for inspiration early in my studio days. I would love to go to that gallery.

The Bug said...

The designs are interesting, but I would like to hear more about the sweet potato pizza. That is right down my alley. Ha!

NewRobin13 said...

I'm so glad you went to the museum and shared these stories and photos. I never heard of William Morris (or maybe I did and my aging brain has no recollection), and I liked seeing his works (or not his works) and reading about his books (or not his books).

Red said...

I like the term "reawaken my social skills" Cool!

Ed said...

Over here, wallpaper is making a comeback. I assume my grandchildren will be paying for it much like I have in the past having to remove it all tiny bits at a time.

Pixie said...

As always, I learn when I read your posts. I knew nothing about William Morris prior, other than his name. He was a beautiful artist and his wife was quite a beautiful woman.

Margaret said...

That book is going to make me want to goggle many places when I finally get to it! William was very progressive for his time. Your pizzas sound interesting! Although I love both those ingredients, I don't know how I feel about them on pizza. :)

Kelly said...

Morris sounds like an interesting person and I would love seeing all the displays in the museum. I think I've mentioned before that I always think of Vera Bradley designs when I see his patterns. I also think of the William Morris Agency in Hollywood!! (an entirely different William Morris who represented some big names!)

Colette said...

I sincerely love the artists of that Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Andrew said...

While I knew about his fabric and wallpaper designs, you have fleshed him out very well and it seems he was a decent person.

Peace Thyme said...

I love the Knights of the Round Table tapestry. The faces are so full of love and hope.

sparklingmerlot said...

I knew of his wallpaper designs (or rather hers, I now know) but I didn't know anything about the man. It is easy to judge harshly from our more enlightened times but he has to be better than most of that era.
The tapestry is gorgeous. I love all things Arthurian.
I am glad you were able to re-awake your social skills!

37paddington said...

Interesting! I wonder if the William Morris book and entertainment agency is named for him?

Steve Reed said...

Mitchell: The hipster pizza sounds a little weird but it was yummy!

Rachel: May was acknowledged as a primary designer for Morris's company, but he was working as a designer while she was still a child so I can't see how she would be the source of ALL his designs. Apparently she took over the embroidery department of Morris & Co. in her 20s and some of the designs she did there have since been misattributed to her father. (I'm getting this from Wikipedia.)

YP: He seems like a remarkable man and possibly a bit of a crank!

Sharon: Well, I have 400 more pages of potential destinations!

Bob: And like many London museums, it's free, which is a nice bonus!

Simone: Yes! They mention De Morgan consistently throughout the museum. I think he did pottery or tile designs? (That's from my memory so I might be wrong.)

Boud: I have never been to Glasgow and I would love to go! It's interesting to hear your comments about the working conditions, because the museum emphasizes Morris's dislike of Victorian-era industrialization and sweatshops, and his operation of his workshop in Merton, which was said to be progressive for the time. Maybe it's a question of degree. I'm sure by today's standards there would be labor violations!

Ellen D: Excellent! I love sharing bits of London life that others find interesting!

Ms Moon: My feelings about Rowling are complicated, but I am comfortable continuing to read her work. I thought you in particular might like that rabbit fabric, I'm not sure why!

Ellen: Oh, yeah, I'm sure your glass design work would bring you into contact with them!

Bug: The restaurant was called Le Delice and the menu is online:
Look under vegan pizzas and you'll find mine. (I got it with real mozzarella, though.)

Robin: He's one of those people I'd heard of, vaguely, but hadn't really looked into before.

Red: We all need that now and then, right?!

Ed: I've never had wallpaper myself. Hard to imagine it in my house.

Pixie: Reading about him can lead you down a rabbit hole of information about the Pre-Raphaelites!

Margaret: Chris said the avocado one was good, but it had hunks of uncooked avocado on it, which seemed weird to me.

Kelly: I can see the connection with Vera Bradley. I didn't even think of the William Morris Agency, but I'm sure that's partly why Morris's name was so familiar to me!

Colette: The museum included paintings and works by many other Pre-Raphaelite artists like Rossetti, Arthur Hughes and others.

Andrew: I got the impression he was quite forward-thinking for the time, though as Rachel and Boud point out he would probably fall short by modern standards.

Peace Thyme: Isn't it great? And it's on loan from Jimmy Page, who I assume is the same Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame. (It looks very Led Zeppelin.) There's another much larger companion piece also based on Arthurian legend hanging nearby.

Caro: It did feel good to get out and talk to someone other than my spouse! LOL!

37P: That was a different William Morris, but he wasn't born with that name, so maybe he was inspired by the designer to adopt it? Not sure.

Rachel Phillips said...

Yes, I agree with you although she could have gone to the Slade at 15 and chose to work for her father. She was 23 when she took over the directorship of the embroidery section. It would appear though that she could easily have been designing from a much earlier age and the sketch books found did contain designs that have been attributed to William Morris.

The bike shed said...

Love WM - ultimately class and quality last. Still today his designs are everywhere from duvet covers to wallpaper to ... As said, class lasts

Jeanie said...

I need to check this out when I finally get back. I love Morris. It seems like he was one of the ones responsible from saving the town of Bibury from the greedy hand of Henry Ford who wanted to move the village, stone by stone, to Detroit's Greenfield Village. I love that period in art so thanks for sharing this and for the intro to this spot!