The life of William Morris came to an end in 1896 when he was 62, his doctor declared the cause of his death to be ‘being William Morris and having done more work during his lifetime than that of 10 men’. He wasn’t joking either, as Morris has distinguished himself during his lifetime as a painter, poet, craftsman, social reformer and designer.
Bringing together all the complexities then went into the make up of such an extraordinary man is no mean feat, but the refurbished William Morris Gallery is aiming to do just that. The gallery is reopening after its £5m makeover, and the spectacular setting is a Georgian Villa in Walthamstow, north east London, that is Grade II listed. The front of the building boasts full height bays and Corinthian columns on the porch.
This magnificent building, at odds with the urban sprawl that surrounds it, was the Morris family home between 1848-1856. This was the period of time when Morris was a student at Marlborough College, then Oxford University, and is also the period when he met his collaborator and life long friend Edward Burne- Jones, as well as the woman he was to marry in 1859; Jane Burden.
Water House, so named because of a moat which once surrounded it, houses nearly 600 objects, spread throughout 12 galleries, which effectively tell the story of the journey Morris completed during his lifetime. They are displayed with such precision, clarity an accessibility that is makes travelling through his life a fascinating and educational insight into the great man and how his mind worked.
The culmination of the direction he took after his interest in textiles was first fuelled when he visited a hunting lodge at Chingford that has once belonged to Elizabeth I, and his eyes fell upon a room that was hung with old tapestries that gave the impression of faded greenery.