Morris was a radical socialist who believed that beautiful things were meant for everyone. He even encased his copy of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in gold. Along with the art critic John Ruskin, Morris reinvented the idea of medieval ‘guilds’: collectives where artists could practice their crafts in environments of mutual support. Despairing of relentless Victorian industrialisation, Morris became increasingly enamoured by the art and literature of medieval England. This obsession was shared among Morris’ Oxford peers Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti , and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of avant-garde painters.
The collaborative results are explored in this exhibition of 70 objects and 70 portraits. Highlights include the Prioress’s Tale Wardrobe (1859); a cabinet built by the architect Philip Webb and decorated with Chaucerian fantasy by Burne-Jones, and which used to stand in Morris’ marital home, The Red House in Bexley Heath. Look out also for La Belle Iseult , a gorgeous tableau of medieval lore, which is Morris’s only completed easel work.
As well as the gold-bound Marx bible there are a number of unusual objects to see, including the Indian sandals which Edward Carpenter had distributed amongst the liberal intelligentsia to replace the ‘ coffin -like imprisonment’ of normal shoes.
The exhibition broadly charts Morris’s legacy across an entire century, including a survey of contemporary Eric Gill’s contribution to the Arts and Crafts tradition (as well as titters at his infamously peculiar sex life). Curator Fiona McCarthy, who is best known for her books on British design, also interestingly sets Terence Conran up as Morris’s 1960s heir. However, above all this show celebrates Morris as a radical thinker and designer of lasting beauty.
|What||Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy, 1860 - 1960, National Portrait Gallery|
|Where||National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London, WC2H 0HE | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
16 Oct 14 – 11 Jan 15, 12:00 AM – 12:00 AM
|Price||£14 for adults, 12 for concessions,|
|Website||Click here to book now|