The borders that serve as background on these pages correspond to wallpapers that can still be seen in modern homes. And yet they were designed in the mid-nineteenth century. Its creator, William Morris (1834-1896), was a Brit who wanted to contribute to making the lives of his contemporaries more beautiful through the objects that surrounded them and at the same time preserve the craft production systems , those that allowed -believed- to grow and recognize themselves as people at work. These wallpapers and the objects that accompany them can now also be seen in Barcelona, in an exceptional exhibition at the MNAC dedicated to the father of the arts & crafts movement art as a result of the imagination and also human industriousness. The exhibition could be seen earlier in Madrid at the March Foundation.
William Morris was born into a wealthy family; without the need to earn a living, he was able to dedicate himself freely to writing and painting, to thinking, designing and making beautiful objects, an interest that he developed from a very young age, when at the age of 16 he refused to enter the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851 at greater glory of machines and factories that heralded an industrial era that would end work well done with hands and soul. In that atmosphere of euphoria and blind faith in science and progress, the young William Morris stepped aside: instead of looking to the future in Oxford, he surrounded himself with the nucleus of those who would be pre-Raphaelite painters, especially Edward Burne- Jones, with whom he shared friendship all his life, to look for inspiration in the past: the Arthurian legends, the medieval …
An inspiration that he conveyed to the wide group of designers with whom he collaborated or knew. His role was definitive in the formation of the taste of generations, first, as always, by those who had the means to surround themselves with these objects, furniture, vases, chimneys, and even more, build a house following their dictates, the union of the aesthetics with utility, but later, just as in those moments was also happening with fashion, for social classes that could afford, thanks to the cheapening of materials and techniques, to imitate the most affluent. Despite his progressive ideas, which led Morris to contract an unequal marriage with a young woman of lower social status, his designs ended up going downhill.
You could say that Morris, a convinced socialist, worked or tried to do it in accordance with your ideas, as a team. With his wife, Jane, he bought a house, the Red House, and when he did not find materials to decorate it to the taste of both, he decided to make them with his friends; thus, during two years, they dressed the walls with tapestries that recreated medieval scenes and painted papers that would become one of their specialties. The success of the Red House ("the joy of collective work", as he defined it) led him to try to create a community of artists and artisans in the large house. It was not possible, but the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co company was born there, dedicated to interior decoration and in which all the products had to be made by hand, its reason for being. The quality already had a price then, but the fame that gave orders as the decorate St. James Palace expanded the demand and therefore the challenge of increasing production without betraying the spirit of a company that sought to be the antithesis of "progress industrialized". Morris got it by selling individual kits and buying a textile company in which to apply his principles. Also thanks to the wallpapers, whose use extended from the 1860s as a cheap alternative for those popular classes to which William Morris, increasingly involved in politics and founder of the Socialist League, aspired to arrive.
Throughout these years, in which Morris combined design with politics and writing, he created at least 32 models of printed fabrics and 23 fabrics. But the highlight was the wallpaper, about 50 different models. Morris was extremely rigorous with his designs, always inspired by nature, with the careful English gardens in the spotlight. The first Trellis (trellis), in 1862, recreated the climbing roses of the Red House; the second, Daisy (margarita), from 1864, showed the simple flowers that grow in a meadow. All his papers were printed by hand-cut wood plates loaded with natural dyes of mineral origin. Again the price of his production, along with the innovative nature of his designs, played against him: Oscar Wilde disliked him and a famous Victorian architect said of them that they should be limited to serving as "pure and simple" background. But the seed was sown, and at the death of Morris a new generation of designers strongly influenced by his work and with new techniques popularized them among the general public. And they continue selling.
William Morris and the arts & crafts movement in Britain
MNAC. BARCELONA. www.museunacional.car. Until May 20. He was previously seen at the Juan March Foundation in Madrid.