|William Morris (1870) G F Watts|
The Young William Morris
|Self Portrait (1856)|
|Self Portrait, 29 July 1856|
Both Ned and Topsy believed their futures lay in the clergy. In his self portrait of 1856 (right) there is definitely something of the curate about his appearance, so young and studious. He was clever, rich, generous and well bred. His passion and intelligence gave him friends, gave him purpose and provided him with the drive to see his aspirations through. When Ned and Topsy toured Northern France together in 1854, the both realised that their future lay in art and architecture. Despite not finding his feet as an architect, Morris found the training he received invaluable to his future as a designer, and also led to a life-long friendship with Philip Webb. Actually, it strikes me that with one very notable exception, any friends that William Morris made during his life held him dear and repaid his friendship with devotion, which should tell you something about him. Isn't it interesting that more often than not, the image we have of William Morris is due to the one person who really should not have been rewarded with his friendship, but I'll come to that in a minute.
|William Morris in 1857|
Here ends the first part of William's life. He was clever, he was rich and he knew his life would be spent in pursuit of art and beauty, which given his level of drive and commitment, was sure to succeed. Then he attended an art class given by Rossetti...
The Rossetti Years
I don't know how William's life would have been different without Rossetti. Before they attended his class, both Ned and Topsy were already fans, and so when they accompanied Rossetti back to Oxford to paint the Debating Room, they were sealed as the merry band, a defining moment in second generation 'PRB'. The actual project was fraught with issues - inexperience with the paint and difficulties in the building worked against them, but on one evening trip to the theatre Ned and Rossetti came across a young woman called Jane Burden.
|Jane Burden, c.1858|
|Jane Burden (1858) D G Rossetti|
|Jane Morris (1858) William Morris|
|La Belle Iseult (1858)|
Jane and William were married in 1859 and William made plans to build The Red House in Bexleyheath in Kent (now a spectacular National Trust property). Their daughters Jane Alice (Jenny) and Mary (May) were born in 1861 and 1862 respectively, and William set up the company Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co with his friends. Of all the partners, William was the only one who didn't have to split his time between the company and his own work during the first five years of the company, as he had the luxury of his own wealth. Until the company started earning money, William was the only one who dedicated all of his time to it, making the move from Kent back into London inevitable, especially when the company began to attract more and more work. Coming back to the city also meant that Jane could begin modelling for Rossetti again.
|The Bard and Petty Tradesman (1868) Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
|Resolution, or The Infant Hercules (1869) D G Rossetti|
A lot of what is felt about William Morris by a good many people seems to be based on the events of two summers in the early 1870s. That is a book all of its own, but it cemented William's reputation as a cuckold and an unfit husband. I heard that Jane's infidelity was the fault of the brutish, unpleasant Morris recently in a talk by Franny Moyle, and I was astonished as apart from a tendency to bursts of noisy enthusiasm, we have no proof that he was unpleasant and in no way was he reported to be violent towards his wife or children. It does seem a damn shame that the man who created this...
...should be remembered for allowing adultery to happen under his roof. Mind you, if Morris was such an unpleasant, violent man, it makes you wonder why he didn't react with unpleasant violence under such provocation.
Despite Rossetti's continued obsession with Jane that lasted until the end of his life, the Morris family remained more or less intact, and William's passion turned to politics, which he saw as a natural extension of his work.
Freedom to be William Morris
William's later years, after the death of Rossetti in 1882, became increasingly involved in the world of politics, and he formed the Socialist League in 1884.
|Proper Socialist have beards like Karl Marx|
|I'm sure it's damage on the photograph, rather than any members of staff having been 'offed'|
|Friends don't make friends go to Iceland in order to sleep with their wives.|
|William Morris in the Bath Edward Burne-Jones|
|William Morris, at work (1890s) Henry Halliday Sparling|
|William Morris (1875)|
You do indeed, Topsy, you do indeed.