Unfaithful, striking … Why William Morris’ wife was taken out of the Arts and Crafts movement | William Morris

respects his textiles, his art and his socialism, William Morris A famous leader of the Arts and Crafts movement, he is a famous intellectual who revolutionized the art of decoration and design in Britain. Meanwhile, his wife Jane was relegated to the rank of Silent Inspirer.

Now, the couple’s first joint biography will shed light on their personal and creative partnership, and reaffirm the rightful place for Jane Morris – a skilled embroiderer and talented designer – in the history books.

“Jane’s work has been underestimated and generally ignored,” said Susan Vagins Cooper, author of the forthcoming bio. How may we live. “She is seen as just a face and not a maker of her own ideas.”

Forever immortal in Pre-Raphaelian paintings From her obsessed lover Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Jane Morris was essential to the creation and success of her husband’s decorative arts firm, Morris & Company, in 1861, the book will explain.

William Morris 1887.
William Morris in 1887. Photo: GL Archive / Alamy

“They needed her softshell, her embroidery skills, and her desire to be the former face of the Morris brand,” said Vagins Cooper.

Cooper believes that Jane’s artistic contributions have been overlooked, in part because she was a famous beauty, and is known to have been unfaithful to her husband with his friend Rossetti and others. “I think there was some caution with that. It made her a more complicated character,” she said.

As the working-class daughter of a boss and a laundress, Jane had no formal education, and was seen as undeserving – and unequal to – the genius of her wealthy middle-class husband: “People want to put William Morris on a pedestal,” said Dr. Joanna Amos, of the University of Queens, Ontario.” “There is this view of Jane as someone who betrayed this British artistic lion in the nineteenth century. I think that damaged her reputation.”

Without Jane’s housekeeping and communication skills, Vagnes Cooper said, Morris & Co might not have been formed: “It was set up, basically, around her dining table at the Red House in Kent.”

One of the first decorations William Morris made was a chrysanthemum-patterned wall of the Red House, which has since cemented his reputation as a design pioneer. “Jane later told her daughter May, in a letter, that she chose the fabrics for it. She and Maurice sat together, came up with a possible pattern and then tied it together,” Cooper said.

The couple invited their artist friends, including Edward Burne-Jones and Rossetti, to help them finish the decoration of the Red House—and when the first discussions of Morris and Company took place among the men, Jane was likely present, and involved, Vaginas Cooper believes. “They were designing for the Red House, and the first designs happened there. But then they decided to make it bigger and start selling those designs.

Jane Morris with her daughter May, circa 1865.
Jane Morris with her daughter in May circa 1865. Photo: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

In particular, she thinks Jane would have come up with ideas about embroidery they could sell. “I was involved in sourcing the materials and choosing the right fabric, embroidery thread, and silk. They are absolutely essential to making the products, as well as bringing people together to start the process of setting up Morris & Co.”

For more than 20 years, she then directed the embroidery aspect of the business which, according to Vagens Cooper, became “extremely important”.

She added, “She was sewing and supervising sewing for all women, as they transformed men’s designs into beautiful pendants and decorations.”

“She probably made decisions about the color, the choice of stitches, and how the work took shape,” Amos said. But her skill at being able to make those decisions and interpret her husband’s ideas has not traditionally been recognized as a work of creative “design.”

Since all of Jane’s business was unpaid, and unlike her male founders, she had no money to invest in the company, and her name does not appear in the company’s accounts. Vagens Cooper said that only in 2012, when Jane’s letters were discovered and published, did her “invisible” work on designs for Morris & Co become known to academics.

The biography, which was published on June 9, will also show that Jane was involved in Rossetti’s artistic process when she sat down for blue silk dressHis painting of her in 1868.

Jane made the dress she was sitting in, said Vagins Cooper, “and there was a lot of arguing and going in messages between her and Rossetti about what he should look like, how he should feel. And Rossetti really bows down to her expertise.”

But it is only in a few Souvenir books Vanessa Cooper said she made it up to her friends that Jane had the opportunity to showcase her “really special” designs. “It’s very geometric and draws a lot on the contrasts of red and black, and all the backgrounds are shaded with little stripes, which almost resemble embroidery stitches.

“They look a lot like Vanessa BellAction – They have an early Bloomsbury feel. It’s very different from what William Morris was making.”