Have nothing in your houses
that you do not know to be useful
or believe to be beautiful
This post could also have been called ‘William Morris: An Introduction’
While browsing YouTube searching for videos in traditional wallpaper block printing (Yes, that is my idea of ‘fun’ on a week night) I discovered Marthe Armitage (More on her on a coming post, and a video of her process further down on this entry) ‘Well, of course William Morris is always and inspiration (…) It is completely satisfying, the colour, the shapes, the rhythm, because it speak for itself’
So, yes, of course the referecences part of the blog has to start with William Morris
For those of you who don’t know who is he, short presentation: William Morris (1834-1896) was an English designer and artist (writer and socialist) who discovered the Arts and Crafts movement while he was an architecture student.
Like many a few architects before and after him, he realized he was more into interior and product design than architecture itself. And like many others, he started decorating and furnishing the house he commissioned to Philip Webb (with the help of some of his artists friends). Seeing as their decorating efforts were quite successful, and in 1861 they founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, a company which produced a wide range of furniture, fabrics, stained glass and wallpapers.
William Morris & Wallpaper
Wallpapers were soon added to the list because Morris was unable to find any he liked well enough to use in his own home.
Probably one of the most famous (and accessible) items of Morris & Co are his wallpaper designs.
Their designs followed the Arts & Crafts principles of using traditional techniques and and natural motifs.
This days you can get your hands on some of Morris original wallpaper design online. I could not help myself and ordered some samples on The Original Morris & Co site.
The Acanthus design (the one from the video) is one of the best known ones. I love the traditional and the embroidery one, where you only have the profiles of the leaves. The first time I saw this pattern design was awed by the complexity of the repeat. And to this day it still amazes me that he they were able to crate this level of detail by hand!
And I like the China Blue quite a lot too (kind of reminds me to the Portuguese tiles). And on this particular design you can see the characteristics shapes left by he printing block.
One thing about the block printing wallpaper is that you have to be able to control your linework, and that was something that Morris did beautifully. To quote Marthe Armitage: ‘when I am drawing I give the plants their heads and follow them and he makes the plants follow him’
Which brings me to another favourite of mine: the process pics! To be honest, this is not really a work of William Morris but of John Henry Dearle, one of Morris’ disciples and designer for Morris & Co. For the longest of time I thought this to be a design of Morris, and even if it was made by another artist is still one of my favourites in this case (and Morris hand can be clearly seen on the development of the design) The watercolour studies that Morris did when developing a new design are like a quality stamp all unto itself. If this is something that you are interested on too, I got quite a few of these studies collected on my Pinterest board.
A Contemporary Makeover
However, I must confess that, whilst I love Morris designs, I am not a big fan of actually using them as wallpaper… Until I found out about the Pure Collection. It is basically an update on the original designs, using new techniques and colour palettes (going more towards the whites and golds than the colour heavy previous ones)
This is just a small sample of the William Morris pattern universe. Apparently their designs are experimenting quite the comeback in the fashion world too.
If you want to know more about Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement, first I highy recomend visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum. But if you are not in London (or planning to visit any time soon) there are plenty of sites on the internet to learn about them:
- William Morris and Wallpaper Design
- William Morris at the Victoria & Albert Museum website
- William Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement
- Morris & Co Website
- William Morris in fashion
- Search the Victoria & Albert Museum Collections
The Red House
- William Morris and Philip Webb Red House
- The National Trust: Red House and William Morris
- Webb’s 100th Aniversary
The Arts & Crafts Movement