Sunday, 16 November 2014

Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960

The National Portrait Gallery in London is currently showing the exhibition "Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, 1860-1960".

For those of you who cannot place the name -

William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was an English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist. Associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, he was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he played a significant role in propagating the early socialist movement in Britain.

If you have seen those patterns on wallpapers and, nowadays, all sorts of merchandising, those are his designs.

As I´m interested in Victorian times in general and the Pre-Raphaelites in particular I have come across Morris many times before so had to visit the exhibition.

In two small conjoined rooms a few portraits and caricatures of him are displayed together with some personal items like his copy of Karl Marx´ "Le Capital" and his worn satchel bag. 
The exhibition quickly moves on to his like minded contemporaries - each portrayed by a photo or painting and an explanatory text. This goes on showing British designers, city planners and thinkers that wanted to combine beauty and functionality all through to the first half of the 20th century.

So far so good - I still left after only 30min and was fairly confused.
There is hardly any information about William Morris the man, his tricky love life, his wife Jane being the lover and muse of his friend and fellow notorious Dante Gabriel Rossetti. 
Nothing to make him more palpable for the viewer, to connect with him. 
All the other mentioned people are undoubtedly important and interesting figures but most names you will have forgotten as soon as you have left the room as it is simply too much information paired with too little art jumping around between various subjects.

Didn´t think I would ever say this but this exhibition felt shallow, loveless and fragmented and certainly isn´t worth it´s steep entry money. 
What a shame, William Morris is such a fascinating figure!

PS: If I haven´t put you off - it is still on until the 11th January 2015.


  1. Kennst Du die William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow?
    Die ist zwar auch nicht so spannend, wie man vermuten könnte. Jedoch sicher ein nettes Samstagsprogramm. Anschließend kann man im Wintergarten einen Tee trinken.

    1. kenne ich noch nicht, Danke fuer den Tipp!!!