The legacy of William Morris explored in new exhibition

William Morris National Portrait Gallery
William Morris National Portrait Gallery

A new show at the National Portrait Gallery will reveal a different side to the artist William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

William Morris National Portrait Gallery
William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1884. The National Portrait Gallery

Although he may be best remembered for his beautiful patterned textiles and wallpapers, which have adorned many the wall of the middle classes, the artist William Morris was also a radical thinker in Victorian England, and it is his strong belief in ‘art for the people’ and its legacy that will be explored in a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery this autumn.

Anarchy & beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960, curated by historian and biographer Fiona MacCarthy, brings together a collection of paintings, banners, textiles and jewellery all under one roof, which will demonstrate the socialist leanings of Morris and his fellow artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as well as the Arts and Crafts practitioners inspired by the artist. Among his many influential friends were leading figures in the suffrage movement, as well as Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx.

Eleanor Marx by Grace Black, 1881
Eleanor Marx by Grace Black, 1881. The National Portrait Gallery

MacCarthy said: “This exhibition gives a new view of Morris, bringing his ideas together; ideas of a great Victorian visionary.”

According to MacCarthy, Morris regarded beauty as a basic human birthright and saw it being obliterated by the industrial revolution, hence his idea that art should be accessible to all.

Fans of Morris may also want to visit his Red House, now owned by the National Trust, which was commissioned and created by Morris and which his friend Edward Burne-Jones once described as “the beautifullest place on earth.”

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