The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design

May 20–October 26, 2014

William Morris and Morris & Company

Designed by William Morris (British, 1834–1896) | Bird

William Morris was a brilliant polymath. Remembered today as a designer and manufacturer of textiles, wallpaper, and stained glass, he was equally renowned in his lifetime as a poet and novelist. An avid socialist, he fought class inequities, and he also campaigned to preserve green spaces and ancient monuments. Morris fervently subscribed to the Pre-Raphaelites' belief that medieval exemplars could be used to improve the present. Opposed to industrial mass production, he advocated tradition-minded practices, believing that beautiful objects, honestly made, would promote a better society. 

To this end, in 1861 the young entrepreneur helped found the decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company. His ingenuity was the driving force behind the enterprise, but it also showcased the talents of Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, and architect Philip Webb. In 1875 Morris became sole director of the reconfigured Morris & Company. His predilection for historical techniques ensured that profits were modest, and, despite his socialist ideals, his wares were often affordable only to the wealthy. Nevertheless, the company's designs became iconic and many remain in production. Bird hung in Morris's own drawing room at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, London.

Left: Designed by William Morris (British, 1834–1896). Bird, designed 1878. Manufactory: Morris & Company. British, Merton Abbey, Surrey. Wool. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Edward C. Moore Jr. Gift, 1923 (23.163.15)