The reform of "Arts and Crafts"

The reform of

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Title: Wall hanging, "Peacock" model.

Author : MORRIS William (1834 - 1896)

Creation date : 1878

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 112 - Width 44.5

Technique and other indications: Wool (textile), twill Produced in London by Morris & Co

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 03-006435 / OAO453-1; OAO453-2

Wall hanging, "Peacock" model.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: January 2006

Historical context

The Middle Ages, a paradise on earth

First capitalist state, England knew from the middle of the XVIIIe century an unprecedented industrial revolution which places it at the forefront of the urbanized countries of Europe and which allows it to impose its economic superiority on the world (between 1850 and 1860, it produced more than 50% of coal, iron and worldwide). The Middle Ages appeared to him as a blessed period when man could fulfill his moral being in its fullness: against the modern division of labor which transforms the skilful worker into an unskilled labor force, disconnected from its object, enslaved to a machine that alienates his soul, he advocates the social cohesion of communities, corporations and other medieval guilds, where the craftsman took pleasure in manual labor. This utopian and idealized vision of a bygone past, already celebrated (and invented) by the romantic aesthetic which saw it as a reaction against rationalism, is taken up by the socialist writer and decorator William Morris: first seduced by fervor of the Pre-Raphaelites, their spirit of brotherhood and their passion for the Middle Ages (with the help of Burne-Jones, he met Rossetti, who introduced him to painting), he undertook, among other things, to remedy the weakening of product quality through an ambitious program of reform of the decorative arts by translating Ruskin's ideas into practice.

Image Analysis

The beautiful work

Refusing to split manual labor from intellectual labor, Morris wants to restore dignity to the crafts. In the early 1860s, he joined forces with Burne-Jones and a few friends to create a decorating company on the cooperative model, which spawned a vast movement, that of Arts & Crafts (" Arts and Crafts "). Resolutely turning their backs on industrial manufacture, Morris and his associates themselves design the furniture and works of art (stained glass windows, wallpapers, etc.) which will then be made by hand in their workshops by artisans. The hangings, on the other hand, are made on Jacquard looms, proof that Morris can occasionally accept certain technical advances; however, it retains traditional coloring techniques by using only natural dyes. More limited than modern chemical colors, they contribute to the "high period" aspect of these hangings, whose patterns also revisit the repertoire of the Middle Ages. Morris freely reinterprets here motifs from Sicilian textiles from the XVe and XVIe centuries he has seen at the South Kensington Museum (London's Museum of Decorative Arts), to which he is a frequent visitor. By its stylization (the peacock and the dragon are simplified and treated in profile) and the vigor of its patterns, this hanging is distinguished from the dominant production, often junk, and marked by a certain illusionism of the patterns.


Towards a new art

Morris is part of a dual approach, aesthetic and social, since it aims to improve the style and quality of everyday objects and working conditions (he refrains from employing children and offers his craftsmen a higher salary. to whatever they would get elsewhere). His reforming ideas, the ambition to reconnect the major and minor arts, the simplicity and vigor of his productions, were to inspire, in England itself, the creation of many groups (Century Guild, Art Worker’s Guild, Guild of Handicraft...) attentive to producing decorative sets where simple beauty competes with utility. At the end of the century, these ideas spread widely: foundation by the Mackintosh spouses of the Glasgow School in Scotland, or the creation of Wiener Werkstätte (1903) in Austria by Hoffmann and Moser, whose geometric and modern production inaugurates a truly new art. In France, the movement Arts & Crafts had echoes from the 1890s. A group like L’Art dans Tout (1896-1901), devoted to interior design and furnishings, was sensitive to some of Morris’s ideas and sometimes even to the shapes of Arts & Crafts (simple furniture and solid wood from Plumet or Selmersheim). Close to the concerns of social Catholicism and anarchism which accord a social role to art, it differs from the English movement in accepting that its models be reproduced by machine and industry, a condition sine qua non of a mass distribution of beautiful objects in the middle and popular classes: "For art to spread, for the nation to prosper and for the worker to live, perfect prototypes are needed, capable of being repeated in series, impeccably. , with the certainty that science always better disciplined and always more flexible guarantees to industry ”(Roger Marx, Social Art, Paris, 1913).

  • Decorative Art
  • social art
  • Pre-Raphaelite
  • industrial Revolution


Wendy KAPLAN, The Arts & Crafts Movement in Europe and America: Design for the Modern World, New York, Thames & Hudson, 2004. Roger Marx, L'Art social, Paris, 1913.William Morris, Victoria exhibition catalog and Albert Museum, London, Philip Wilson Publishers, 1996. Rossella Froissart PEZONE, L'Art dans Tout: Decorative arts in France and the utopia of a new art, Paris, CNRSÉditions, 2005.

To cite this article

Philippe SAUNIER, "The reform of" Arts and Crafts ""

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