Morris & Co William Morris Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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In the flourishing years of the Arts and Crafts Movement, small organisations and projects were started across Britain and other regions as ambassadors of craftsmanship. Morris & Co, initially known as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company, was one of the most successful projects launched by William Morris and his counterparts.

Based on the medieval concept of craftsmanship, the company became a successful brand in creating fabrics, home furnishings, wallpapers, and other handcrafted products. In a period when Britain had just launched the first-ever Industrial Revolution, the unexpected worse happened. Large quantities of machine-produced items were released in the market, with little or even no input on quality and aesthetics. The social values of workers were also at stake, as industrialisation undermined craftsmanship as well as alienating the workers from the items they produced. In response to the effects of the Industrial Revolution, designers and artisans launched the Arts and Crafts Movement meant to recapture the spirit of craftsmanship.

The History of Morris & Co

In 1861 Morris rallied his architectural and art counterparts to create a commercial venture that would propel decorative arts to another level. This came after Morris had finished working on the Red House project, years after his graduation from Oxford. The Red House was built and decorated by William Morris' as part of his effort to fight industrialisation using creative arts and designs. The firm was a joint venture that comprised of members including William Morris, Phillip Webb, Edward Burne-Jones, and P.P Marshall. Also, as part of the venture was Charles Faulkner, Ford Madox Brown, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The firm was originally based in London at the Red Lion Square.

Following some disputes with Madox, Rossetti, and Marshall on return on shares, Morris dissolved the partnership in 1874. He later restructured the firm into a sole proprietorship in 1875, renaming it Morris and Company. In his pursuit of learning different works of art such as tapestry, Morris developed associations with apprentices the likes of John Henry Dearle. Dearle later became the Director of Art at Morris & Co following the demise of William Morris in 1896. Morris & Co was later restructured into Morris and Company Decorators Limited in 1905 under the watch of Dearle and Morris's daughter. The company was prominent in producing decorative arts and other products up until the start of World War II when it was dissolved.

Artists Who Inspired William Morris

Morris & Co was a group that comprised of the Pre-Raphaelites brotherhood who drew their inspirations from John Ruskin, a critic of the Industrial Revolution. Before he joined Morris & Co, Dante Gabriel Rossetti had inspired Morris in his painting works. Painters such as William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais had also influenced Morris significantly. The ideals they employed as the pioneers of the Pre-Raphaelites brothers were incorporated widely in Morris & Co.

Established Projects by Morris & Co

The philosophy of Morris & Co was that people should only own beautiful and useful items in their houses. Its members were involved in designing and also executing every piece of artwork linked to the company. They produced items such as tiles, wallpapers, fabrics, furnishings, jewellery, stained glass, furniture, and tapestry. All these items were made in creative designs that brought beauty to houses. Morris & Co was known for using traditional materials and methods in producing their fabric designs, wallpapers, and other decorative arts. In its years of existence, before it suffered misfortunes on the inception of World War II, Morris & Co managed to commission a vast of projects. These projects included figure drawings or cartoons, animal figures, museum, royal, and church projects.

Church Projects

Church decorations were from the beginning a core aspect of Morris & Co affair. They included ecclesiastical decorations, embroideries, tapestries, mural decorations, window paintings, and other forms of decorative arts. In 1871, Edward Burne-Jones designed the decorative windows of the All Saints Church in Wilden village.

The Museum Project

In 1867, Morris & Co were involved in the designing and execution of the green dining room of the Victoria and Albert Museum (initially known as South Kensington museum). The design included panel figures, stained window glasses, panels with olive branches, and those with flower and fruit branches. Morris designed these in conjunction with Phillip Webb and Edward Burne-Jones. Morris & Co were also involved in the decorative schemes of St. James Palace, particularly the Tapestry Room and the Armoury. The project involved designing and execution of floral patterns that were painted on doors, windows, cornices, ceilings, and dados. Other projects that Morris & Co commissioned include decorations of Bullers Wood School, Charleville Forest Castle, and the windows at Adcote.