William Morris (1843 – 96)

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Persian Wallpaper by William Morris (1834-96) England, late 19th century© V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

William Morris was a highly reputable, renown wallpaper designer in the 19th century, who’s work was highly influential, even influencing the styles of Art Nouveau. His wallpapers, as well as other products from “Morris & Co” were handmade and expensive and unfortunately had little take up at the time. The wallpapers was only affordable for wealthy middleclass and upper-class families. However, in the 1880s, designers recognised Morris’s wallpapers growing appeal, making cheaper versions of the wallpaper in Morris’s style, to be affordable to much larger audience. The reason why William Morris’s work inspires me, is because of the intricate detail and use of nature in his work. His wallpapers are very floral and beautifully intertwine with one another, to the point you can hardly see the repeat. Morris’s sources of inspiration were often from plants he found in his garden or country walks. Furthermore, he owned copies of 16th and 17th century herbals including Gerard’s famous Herball, illuminated manuscripts, tapes-tries and other textiles incorporating floral imagery. Morris’s designs were not intended to just be realistic looking prints of natural forms, but to be designs that emulate nature within your home.

In The Lesser Arts he wrote:

‘Is it not better to be reminded however simply of the close vine trellises which keep out the sun … or of the many-flowered meadows of Picardy … than having to count day after day a few sham-real houghs and flowers, casting sham-real shadows on your walls, with little hint of any-thing beyond Covent Garden in them?’

On other hand, he did advised people designing wallpapers to ‘accept their mechanical nature frankly, to avoid falling into the trap of trying to make your paper look as if it were painted by hand’, He also encouraged that intricacy and elaboration was important, so that the repeat itself was disguised.

As a experiment, it would be worth while attempting to create prints, calving out of lino a design inspired by nature, maths and pattern. William Morris did create his prints, calving designs into wood blocks, which he would use multiple times to create the repeat pattern. I could do something similar with lino, using the Columbian Press in PCA main building. There is a strong connection between the work of William Morris and my FMP, when considering the nature and pattern aspect of the design. However, if I was to attempt to produce a floral design, similar to the style of William Morris, for interiors in this present day, I would have to find ways to simplify the designs and make them more contemporary, to fit in within the contemporary home.

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