This award-winning museum celebrates William Morris, the founding father of the Arts and Crafts Movement. A powerhouse of energy and creativity, Morris was also an entrepreneur, poet, translator, Socialist, typographer, and pioneering conservationist. No wonder the cause of his death (in 1896) was given as ‘being William Morris and having done more work than most ten men’. Morris lived in this gracious Georgian house from his teens to his early twenties and it’s been a gallery devoted to him since 1950. Still fresh from its multi-million pound refurbishment, the WMG captures the essence of its subject with just the right blend of scholarship and affection, and, through a series of beautifully re-displayed galleries, guides us through Morris’s extraordinary life, from nature-loving childhood and student days at Oxford, to his friendship with the Pre-Raphaelite artists, his enduring legacy as a designer, and his late-flowering career as a typographer and publisher.
Exhibits range from jewel-like stained glass panels to sturdy rustic furniture and Morris’ signature nature-themed textiles and wallpapers. Displays reveal some of the luxury commissions that helped make ‘Morris & Co’ a household name, while ‘The Workshop’ looks at the labour-intensive craft techniques behind the tapestries, furniture and fabrics that Morris designed, right down to the long-winded processes of making indigo dye. Well-thought out interactive displays encourage visitors to design a pattern repeat or have a go running ‘The Firm’ – all of which will leave you with renewed admiration for Morris’s talents.
Among the treasures is a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, and telling personal artifacts such as the workmanlike canvas satchel that Morris carried to political rallies, and the outsized coffee cup and saucer that the Burne-Jones’ kept for when their larger-than-life friend came to visit them.
Morris’s influence on the younger generation can be seen in the Arts & Crafts Gallery, which shows pieces by designers such as Voysey and Macmurdo, and there is also a regularly changing display of paintings and prints by Sir Frank Brangwyn RA, who started his career at Morris & Co. A lively exhibition programme offers a contemporary take on Morris’s legacy, with recent shows featuring the work of Yinka Shonibare MBE, David Mabb and Lucille Junkere.
Upgraded facilities at the WMG include a flourishing tea-room (popular with ages 0-80), and a foyer gift shop stocked with products that conform to Morris’s most famous stricture, ‘ Have nothing in your house you do not know to be beautiful, or believe to be useful’. Even the visitors’ toilets have had an upgrade and feature fashionably scaled up versions of WM wallpaper while the main wooden staircase has also been furnished with a floral Morris design stair runner.
Voted Museum of the Year in 2013, the WMG makes an inspiring starting point for a William Morris pilgrimage around London, a trail which might include Red House, designed for Morris by Phillip Webb; the Green Dining Room at the V&A (an early commission for Morris & Co), and the William Morris Society in Hammersmith (all of which also have entries in Museums & Galleries of London. To see Morris’ domestic work in an original Victorian domestic setting, visit 18 Stafford Terrace, aka Linley Sambourne House (ditto). The gardens surrounding the house where the young Morris once used to ride his pony has been a public park since 1900 and have recently been sympathetically and imaginatively revamped, with planting to reflect Morris’ interest in the natural world, and plants in particular.