Tuesday, 10 December 2013

How did Pre-Raphaelite visions on domesticity reform Victorian ideals?

Kelmscott House, Hammersmith.
The William Morris Society.
In a society like today where fashions change and deciding whether wallpaper should be plain or patterned, coloured or simple it’s easy to forget the true beauty and complexity in the designs of décor. William Morris was arguably one of the most influential designers of the nineteenth century, with his works profoundly influencing the décor of both homes and churches. Morris designed wallpaper, fabrics and tile patterns. William Morris began creating eccentric naturalistic patterns in an era whereby patterns where rhetoric and repetitive. Thad Logan suggests that “The most common wallpaper patterns in the Victorian era were naturalistic representations of flowers and foliage, but geometrical patterns of diapers or lozenges were also popular” (43). It becomes apparent from numerous designs that Morris had created, that the natural landscape was something that inspired his works greatly along with ideas of pre Raphaelite brotherhood. The brotherhood was a group of English painters and poets who were founded by William Hunt. “The groups intention was to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach”.  William Morris later established the firm of Morris, Faulkner and Marshall Co which could be interpreted as his own small brotherhood group. The firm was to produce high quality work by hand on a commercial basis. The renaming of the Firm in 1874 to Morris and Co ultimately projects how talented William Morris was, with his work appealing to arts and crafts enthusiasts of the period. Arguably, it is through Morris’creation of the firm that we see how inspired Morris was by the work of the craftsman; industrialisation was something that Morris wished to avoid. Peter Faulkner argues that, “the young men wanted to align themselves with what they saw as the most exciting developments of all time” (41). It becomes apparent that what Morris would have considered to be the most exciting development was pre Raphaelite art. Morris’ excitement with the pre Raphaelites can be seen within his designs. 

John Ruskin, 1867.
Image by Google Images.
The image below shows Morris’ original press in the basement of Kelmscott House in Hammersmith. What became apparent from visiting the house was how intricate the machinery was and how challenging it became to get a consistent amount of ink across the design. The individuality and uniqueness of Morris' works arguably removes it from the Victorian period and places it firmly within a society of today. John Ruskin argues that, “All old work nearly has been hard work. It may be the hard work of children, or barbarians, of rustics; but it is always their utmost. Ours as constantly the look of money’s worth, of a stopping short whenever we can, of a lazy compliance with low conditions” (19). It is important to note that Ruskin was an architectural critic of the Victorian era. What he seems to suggest is that there is purity to man made work seeing him emphasise the value of human work. This purity to work that Ruskin explores relates directly to Morris’ works. The details and the intricacy of his designs meant that they couldn't be designed by machinery, or “children” and “barbarians” as Ruskin mentions. It’s debatable that the beauty of Ruskin’s work is the individuality of it and the knowing that it has been created by hand and something that couldn't be recreated in the masses.
Morris' original printing press,
photographed at the William Morris Society,

Jane Morris with her daughter May Morris,
taken in 1865. William Morris Gallery, London.
 Arguably it wasn't just Morris’ working life that was interesting, Morris also had  an extremely complicated personal life. It’s debatable that Jane Burden later Jane Morris was a great influence on William Morris’ creations. Jane Morris was proclaimed a “stunner” by Rossetti, something which would later hold implications in Morris’ life. After Jane’s engagement she became privately educated in order to become a gentleman’s wife. Whenever Morris was away Jane grew closer to Rossetti, arguably becoming a muse of his. With Jane later indulging into an affair with Wilfred Blunt, one may suggest that aspects of Morris’ private life became apparent within his creations. What becomes apparent in Morris’ works was the predominant appearance of nature and birds. Despite nature being of trend in the Victorian era as Logan argues, one may suggest that the intertwining of branches and greenery in some of Morris’ works represent his chaotic relationship with Jane Morris. Perhaps the intertwining trees and branches represent the way in which Jane’s affair deeply affected Morris ultimately with him losing his very own Eden.  Bartolomeo suggests that “… none of the tragic lovers of human fact or fiction can come close to the planetary catastrophe wrought out of the undying love Adam had shown for Eve so very long ago in the Garden of Eden” (1). With Bartolomeo’s view in mind then perhaps the birds in some of Morris’ creations represent Jane trying to free her love for someone else, whilst Morris holds on to her, which could be interpreted as the intertwining branches. Perhaps it is through the overlapping patterns that Morris creates which represents his true emotions for Jane. In a similar way to how nature will continue to blossom and grow, Morris will continue to love Jane. What becomes apparent from visiting Kelmscott House was the vivid lack of nature.
One of William Morris' wallpaper designs.
photographed at the William Morris
Society, Hammersmith. 
 It is significant that Morris was deeply moved by the natural landscape, and that it was the landscape which made its way on to his designs. K.B Valentine suggests that “Most of Morris’ controlling motifs can be grouped under three headings: the natural world, the handicraft, and human characters”. (83) What Valentine’s view suggests is that Morris was only concerned with subjects that were natural or man-made. Examples of how pre Raphaelite visions of domesticity reformed Victorian ordeals can be supported within Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton. In the opening of the novel Gaskell closely describes the furnishes within the Barton’s home. “It was evident that Mrs Barton was proud of her crockery and glass, for she left her cupboard door open, with a glance round of satisfaction and pleasure". (14) Despite Gaskell’s novel denying an insight into the intricate details of the wallpaper or upholstery , it becomes apparent that the Victorians were becoming more house proud and that the pleasure that Gaskell so plainly describes of Mrs Barton, Morris longed his buyers to feel the same way. 

Works Citied: 

Bartolemeo, J. Louis. 'Adam and Eve: A Tragic Love Story'. Google Books. Infinity Publishing.com. Pp1. Web. 10.12.13

Faulkner, Peter. 'The Journal of William Morris Studies'. Morris and Pre-Raphalitism. The William Morris Society. Short Run Press: Exeter. Pp. 41. Print. 

Gaskell, Elizabeth. Mary Barton. Wordsworth Editions Limited: London. pp. 14. Print. 
K, B. Valentine. Victorian Poetry. Vol, 13. No,3/4. 'An Issue Devoted to the Work of William Morris. (Fall Winter) Pp. 83. Jstor. Web. 10.12.13

Ruskin, John. 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture'. Google Books. English Oxford Library. PP. 19. Web. 10.12.13.

Wikipedia, 'Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood'. Wikipedia.org. Web. 10.12.13

No comments:

Post a Comment