While at Oxford, Morris, along with his lifelong friend Edward Burne-Jones, became deeply interested in the ritual and architecture of the Middle Ages. However, Morris's great awakening came through his readings of John Ruskin, whose ideas on aestheticism and social progress he gradually adopted. In 1856, after being apprenticed to an architect, Morris attached himself to the brotherhood of Pre-Raphaelites and through the encouragement of Dante Gabriel Rossetti began to paint and write. In 1858 he published his first volume of poems,
With friends, he started (1861) the firm of decorators later famous as Morris and Company, which, in reaction to growing industrialism, sought a return to the working operations of the Middle Ages and a revitalization of the splendor of medieval decorative arts (see arts and crafts). He made carvings, stained glass, tapestries, carpets, wallpaper, chintzes, and furniture. Today he is especially known for his fabric and wallpaper designs, gracefully elaborate all-over patterns usually based on floral or animal motifs. In the 1870s he founded the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings.
Morris also became interested in politics and reform, joining (1883) the socialist Democratic Federation and forming (1884) the Socialist League. Two notable prose works came out of this political phase,
See his collected works (24 vol., 1910–15; repr. 1966); his lectures, ed. by E. D. Le Mire (1969); selections, ed. by his daughter, M. Morris (1936, repr. 1962); biographies by J. W. Mackail (1912, repr. 1970), P. Henderson (1967), and F. MacCarthy (1995); studies by P. R. Thompson (1967), R. Watkinson (1967), and A. S. Byatt (2016).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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