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William Morris

William Morris

1834-1896 England

William Morris is recognized as one of the most significant cultural figures of Victorian Britain. He was best known in his lifetime as a poet, although he posthumously became better known for his art and designs. He was a textile designer, Medievalist, poet, painter, novelist, conservationist, printer, translator, socialist activist, and founder of the British Arts and Crafts Movement. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre. Morris was a prolific writer. His collected works of poetry, fiction, essays, and translations of ancient and Medieval texts total 26 volumes.

He was born in Walthamstow, Essex, to a wealthy middle-class banking family. He was inspired by the natural world and spent his childhood observing plants and birds in the hedgerows near the family home. He came under the influence of Medievalism while studying Classics at Oxford University. This interest was tied to Britain's growing Medievalist movement, a form of Romanticism that rejected many of the values of Victorian industrial capitalism. For Morris, the Middle Ages represented an era with strong chivalric values and an organic, pre-capitalist sense of community, with handmade goods being created by artist’s guilds, using natural materials. He was particularly influenced by the tapestries and Illuminated Manuscripts from the era.

After university, he married Jane Burden, model, and muse for the Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite style was heavily Medievalist and Romantic, emphasizing abundant detail, intense colors, and complex compositions in classic styles. Several books and films depicted the complicated and intertwined relationships of the group.

In 1861, Morris founded a highly successful decorative arts firm with Burne-Jones, and Rossetti which greatly influenced the Victorian period. He wanted to create a lifestyle and bring that which he loved outside in nature, inside the home. Many of the designs have never been out of production and are currently visible in fashion, and interior products. Morris and Co. produced a range of crafts, furnishings, and designs for wallpaper, textiles, tapestries, and stained-glass windows. He revived several extinct techniques, often mixing his own pigments and using wood blocks to handprint patterns, similar to the techniques he observed on his travels to Japan and India. They are still being reproduced the same way today. His work inspired new art movements in America, Scandinavia, and Japan. His activism and efforts to protect the natural world from pollution and industrialism set the groundwork and increased awareness for the current environmental movement over 150 years ago.


The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California,

collection of Morris includes stained glass, wallpaper, textiles, embroidery, drawings, ceramics, more than 2000 books, original woodblocks, and the complete archives of Morris & Co.

Victoria and Albert Museum "Morris Room". The V&A's British Galleries house decorative works by Morris and his associates.

William Morris Gallery in London, houses over 10,000 examples of William Morris’s designs.

Jane Burden Morris

This brief synopsis barely touches upon the life of an extraordinary individual. For those interested in more details about Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement or the Pre-Raphaelites, the following links have numerous references.


For this lesson the class did some preliminary

sketches influenced by Morris's textile designs.

The next step was to draw the design onto a piece of foam, using pressure to create an indented line similar to a wood block or etching plate. They colored their designs with markers. Next, we damped a piece of paper and pressed the foam firmly to create a print.

They are such little wonders to achieve this in 2 hours!

That is why I call them " art stars".



 Week One: Cave Paintings

It has been an eventful week in our Art Literacy class. We have been all around the world.  I would like to thank all of my wonderful students for their great efforts. We began with the story of the discovery of the discovery of cave paintings in Lascaux,  France  and also looked at images from  Spain , where the oldest known cave paintings have been found,  in the cave called El Castillo. The prehistoric dots and crimson hand stencils are now the world's oldest known cave art that dates more than 40,800 years old.

© Serene Greene- Art Literacy Academy
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