British, 1834 - 1896
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William Morris was born on 24 March 1834 at Elm House, Walthamstow, London. His family
were prosperous merchants. In 1852 he entered Exeter College, Oxford, where he acquired an
interest in the Middle Ages and its art. Together with
Burne-Jones, he also studied English Gothic,
theology, and medieval poetry.
After a trip to France to see the splendour of the French Gothic cathedrals, he
decided to become an architect. He resumed his studies and wrote for
The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine but, like Burne-Jones, at
Rossetti's bidding he turned to
painting and adopted the beliefs of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
In 1858, at Oxford, he painted The Defense of Guenevere, the only known canvas
to bear his signature. His talents, however, inclined toward the decorative arts, and he
designed and created stained glass, wallpaper, rugs, and textiles, often in
collaboration with Walter Crane.
Returning to literature in 1865, he composed a series of poems that met with success, and he
translated a number of Icelandic sagas. From 1877 to 1889 he was involved almost exclusively
in politics, contributing money, delivering speeches, and writing articles and verses on
behalf of various social reform movements. In the latter years of his life, the
poet-artist-social reformer again returned to art and literature. Among his varied pursuits
he designed printing typefaces and ornaments.
But William Morris must be considered, first and foremost, an innovator in the
industrial arts; in the field of textile design, he was pre-eminent. His art work for books,
too, was notable. In a totally different direction, he was universally acclaimed for
his efforts as initiator of press reforms.
Morris died in Hammersmith, London on 3 October 1896.
A selection of art exhibitions which have featured this