Initial research and text analysis.

 

Day, L.F. (1899) Of William Morris and His Work (The Art of William Morris). London: Virtue.
Accessed via LCC Special Collections. Online archival copy available via Getty; https://archive.org/details/decorativeartofw00dayl

 

About the author

Lewis Foreman Day

“An important figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Day’s early design work was in glass painting and design. Having built up experience working for three different companies from 1865 to 1870 he established his own stained glass business in London. Within a short time he developed a reputation for surface pattern in a range of media including wallpapers for W. B. Simpson & Co., textiles for Turnbull & Stockdale, and tile designs for both Maws and Pilkingtons. […] Day also played a significant role in the education sector, serving as an examiner for the Department of Science and Art and later the Board of Education as well as lecturing at the Royal College of Art. He was a prolific writer for a wide range of journals, including the Magazine of Art, the Art Journal, and the Journal of Decorative Art. […] His influence was also felt in the arrangement of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum when it was established in the new building in 1909, having served on the consultative committee.”

– Oxford Quick Reference (http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095703604)

 

Condensed Notes

  • This is a very brief book containing the insights and perspectives of a personal acquaintance of Morris, making it a first-hand account of his work and therefore very relevant.
  • The book was written after Morris’ death and, for better or worse, reads like an obituary. The author made every effort to make even the less flattering aspects of Morris’ life and career appear positive, though in an incredibly transparent way. Objectivity is a potential issue.

 

  • Morris came to oxford at a time when the romantic movement was in full swing and with it the rise of romanticised interpretations of the medieval art and society. This I believe is the key to understanding his mindset and ideologies.
  • With romantic medievalism came a fascination with all things gothic – architecture in particular. Fun fact: Morris referred to himself as a ‘goth’. Yes, I am aware that meant something completely different back then but the mental image is amusing nevertheless.
  • Ruskin is a major influence, so is Rossetti.
  • The bloke was dripping privilege. He had already made his name known as a poet which guaranteed a consumer base before he even began to produce goods. Coupled with a sizeable inheritance, he managed to sustain his impractical and contradictory ideals on his pre-existing wealth alone, meaning he could afford to be stubborn. He refused to adjust to the demands of the market he was operating in – according to Day, this was due to Morris’ own aversion to the idea of making money as opposed to creating art for its own sake. This, however, begs the question of why he went into business in the first place.
  • Morris’ rejection of¬†mechanised factory processes design was seemingly based in his disdain for the industrial revolution – more specifically the social issues it had created.
  • His political ideas are reflected in his choice of style and vice-versa. Morris very much disliked the ideas of humanism and renaissance since they fed directly into the industrial revolution. This extended all the way to ancient greek art, which Morris disliked seemingly on principle. He made every effort to move away from the abstract geometric shapes of antiquity and focused on natural motifs.
  • Horrible attention span. The moment he felt he had mastered a process, he started working on something else. Eventually moved away from printmaking into tapestries and carpet making.
  • When it comes to his writing efforts, his publishing system was so unnecessarily restrictive (only appealing to – in Day’s words – wealthy bibliophiles and collectors) that even Day couldn’t spin it in a way that didn’t make Morris look like a hypocrite. His printing press phase is when the gulf between his socialist ideologies and his methods stretches wider than ever.