Thursday, February 15, 2018

William Morris: the quintessential Pre-Raphaelite

Morris' The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896)

William Morris was deeply influenced by the writings of John Ruskin (on the social and moral basis of architecture, particularly the chapter "On the Nature of Gothic" in The Stones of Venice, that came to Morris "with the force of a revelation"). After taking his degree in 1856, he entered the Oxford office of the Gothic Revivalist architect G.E. Street. In the same year he financed the first 12 monthly issues of The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, where many of those poems appeared that, two years later, were reprinted in his remarkable first published work, The Defense of Guenevere and Other Poems. He visited Belgium and France, with fellow Burne-Jones, where he first saw the 15th-century paintings of Hans Memling and the Van Eyck brothers and the cathedrals of Amiens, Chartres, and Rouen. It all confirmed his passion for medieval art. At this time that he came under the powerful influence of the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who persuaded him to give up architecture for painting and enrolled him among the band of friends who were decorating the walls of the Oxford Union with scenes from Arthurian legend based on Le Morte D'Arthur by the 15th-century English writer Sir Thomas Malory. Only one easel painting by Morris survives: "La Belle Iseult," or "Queen Guenevere" (Tate Gallery, London).