William Morris

William Morris (1834-1896) was best known during his lifetime as a poet.  Today, few know anything about him outside of his work designing textiles and wallpapers.  I'll bet you have seen his work, perhaps without knowing it.  He was prolific and had a profound impact on the Victorian era sensibility in England and the international Arts & Crafts movement.  

william morris.jpg

William Morris once wrote “Nothing useless can be truly beautiful.”  He then went on to design decorative wallpaper, stained glass, and textiles for most of his life.   It seems a bit of a contradiction.  I struggle to reconcile these ideas with his practice in the same way that I am confused about Soetsu Yanagi's acceptance and affection for the decoration of pottery and ornamental painting. Yanagi declares that the decorations and patterns are "useful".  Maybe Morris was of the same opinion.  In both cases it was important to mimic nature in a stylized manner (not a faithful rendering but a recognizable derivative (in Morris's case this meant flat and illustrative, in Yanagi's Kingdom of Beauty it meant thoughtless or uncontrived).

“...everything made by man's hands has a form, which must be either beautiful or ugly; beautiful if it is in accord with Nature, and helps her; ugly if it is discordant with Nature, and thwarts her; it cannot be indifferent...”   -William Morris

One may argue with William Morris about the virtues of hand made v. machine made goods or his socialist anti-industrial political position but arguing against the beauty of Nature is a form of madness, like taking a position against beauty itself.  

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."    

-William Morris

Good advice Bill.  Can I get some help picking out some wallpaper?

William Morris,  Age 53

William Morris,  Age 53