William Morris, Walter Crane, and Socialist Art


Walter Crane

Walter Crane (1845-1915) was a well-known painter, book illustrator, and socialist. He was heavily influenced by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, as well as his study of Japanese wood-block color printing.  His decorative work and illustrations often featured garden themes, bold lines, and detailed imagery.   Along with  Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott, Crane was one of the premiere illustrators for children’s books in the nineteenth century. His trandemark style was also influential in the burgeoning Arts & Crafts movement in England.

Crane was introduced to fellow artist William Morris (1834-1896) in 1870, and the two later became close friends and collaborators. Crane’s illustrations most notably appear in the 1894 edition of The Story of the Glittering Plain printed by Morris’s Kelmscott Press.

5-21-2013 4-17-11 PM

‘Story of the Glittering Plain’ by William Morris. Illustrated by Walter Crane. Kelmscott Press, 1894.

Both Morris and Crane were ardent socialists.  They joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the first organized Marxist groups in England, in 1884. Frustrated by SDF leadership, Crane left the SDF to join Morris’s new organization, the Socialist League.

Like Morris, Crane believe that art should become a part of everyday life.  For both men, art provided a meaningful and creative force in society, and it should be shared by all classes.  Crane scowled at what he viewed as the commercialization and mass production of “false art” for profit.  He used his own artistic talent to create illustrations that brought beauty to the Socialist cause.  According to Henry Hyndman, leader of the SDF, the impact of Crane’s art was undeniable:

“Nobody, not even William Morris, did more to make Art a direct helpmate to the Socialist propaganda. Nobody has had a greater influence on the minds of doubters who feared that Socialism must be remote from and even destructive of the sense of beauty.”

Crane designed many of the header images that appeared on pamphlets for the Socialist League and Hammersmith Socialist Societ, each Socialist organizations started by William Morris.  Crane also designed a membership card for the Socialist League. The card features Crane’s illustration of a blacksmith, which was purportedly modeled after William Morris.  Do you think  the bearded worker bears a resemblance to Morris?

Socialist League Membership Card

Socialist League membership card designed by Walter Crane


Socialist League header designed by Walter Crane, taken from ‘Chants for Socialists’ by William Morris


Hammersmith Socialist Society header designed by Walter Crane, taken from ‘Useful Work Versus Useless Toil’ by William Morris

Look for additional Crane illustrations in How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris exhibit now on display in the Maryland Room Gallery in Hornbake Library.

William Morris Built the Foundation for Historic Preservation

Kelmscott Manor

Morris preserved his beloved summer home, Kelmscott Manor, using non-invasive techniques.

Did you know that May is National Preservation Month? We can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to recognize the work of William Morris (1834-1896), one of the pivotal figures in the early preservation movement in the West. Many people know Morris for his role as a designer, printer and socialist, but this opinionated Englishman was also a preservation activist, founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in the UK in 1877.

Morris began his crusade to protect old buildings after observing the invasive restoration techniques in use by architects and restorers of the 19th century. He held restorers responsible for what he called the “reckless stripping” of buildings resulting in the destruction of their original characteristics. The SPAB came to be called “Anti-Scrape” for its insistence that historic structures be preserved without altering their original structures. Of course, restorers themselves thought they were improving structures by replacing decaying elements with new materials.

For Morris, beautiful, authentic architecture provided a benefit to society. He felt that individuals had a responsibility to preserve these structures without changing them. Do you believe we have a social responsibility to save historic buildings? If so, do you approve of Morris’s no-change approach, or are you in favor of the restoration approach?

Kelmscott Press Inspires Imitators

Kelmscott Press 'Poems of John Keats'

Kelmscott Press ‘Poems of John Keats’

“…that we of this age should generally produce ugly books, shows, I fear, something like malice… a determination to put our eyes in our pockets wherever we can.”

William Morris (1834-1896) believed that books should be both useful and beautiful, and he didn’t mince words in his critique of the bookmakers of his time. Most books produced in the 19th century were printed through mass industrial processes, and assembled by wage laborers. Morris accused industrialists of removing beauty from the experience of reading. In the ideal world that Morris envisioned, workers should be able to offer their artistic contributions to the quality products they helped produce. He founded his Kelmscott Press in 1891 to reintroduce beauty and originality to book production.



A lot has changed since William Morris established his Kelmscott Press in the late 19th century, but the mass industrial approach to book production—whether in physical or digital format— has not. Today the conversation about books inevitably turns to technology: digitization, eBooks, tablets, iPhones. Do you think William Morris’s ideas about books are irrelevant in today’s tech-focused world, or is there still room for discussion about the aesthetic of books, whether printed or digital?

‘How We Might Live’ features Art Nouveau Edition of ‘The Defense of Guenevere’

Jessie M. King's illustration for 'Guenevere'

Jessie M. King’s illustration for ‘Guenevere’

How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item every month.

Visit the Maryland Room Gallery in March to view a stunning edition of William Morris’s first published volume of poetry, The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems. This 1904 edition features beautiful, nighly detailed illustrations by Scottish artist Jessie M. King.  King was known for her Art Nouveau designs and contributions to the Arts & Crafts Movement that flourished in Britain and American in the late 19th and early 20th century.

William Morris was an influential figure in the Arts & Crafts movement.  His emphasis on nature and simplicity in his designs, as well as the importance of  craftsmanship and natural materials became characteristic of the movement.  Read more about Morris and the Arts & Crafts Movement in our online exhibit, or visit Hornbake Library in person to view  How We Might Live, This Vision of William Morris.

William Morris Wayzegoose at Special Collections


Join the University of Maryland Libraries’ Special Collections for a night of revelry and merriment–William Morris style! Enjoy entertainment, food, and an exhibit featuring the works of this incredible artist. Click on the invitation to the left for details!

Love is in the Air: ‘How We Might Live’ features ‘The Boke of Cupide’!

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

'Boke of Cupide' Colophon

In February, we share the love with The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, or, The Cuckow and the Nightingale, printed by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press in 1896. Morris was fond of medieval literature, and was naturally drawn to this poem about the nature of love written by Sir Thomas Clanvowe in the 15th century. Clanvowe was heavily influenced by the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. So much so, that The Boke of Cupid was attributed to Chaucer for nearly three centuries. Morris’s colleague and friend F.S. Ellis first made this distinction in the when he edited the Kelmscott Press edition of The Floure and the Leafe, & The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, or, The Cuckow and the Nightingale.  Take a look at the special note in the colophon pictured on the right.

Read the full text of the Kelmscott Press The Boke of Cupide online, or visit the Maryland Room Gallery and marvel at the large illuminated letter designed by Morris. Does it excite your passion for typography?


‘How We Might Live’ features Faux Cross Stitched Binding

Child Christopher Binding

Child Christopher Binding

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

Visit the exhibit in January to view a unique copy of William Morris’s fantasy novel, Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair. This 1900 edition was published by published by the American fine press pioneer Thomas Mosher. Do you think the design on the binding is reminiscent of a Morris embroidery pattern? Or perhaps 8-bit video game graphics?

‘How We Might Live’ features ‘Good King Wenceslas’

Good King Wenceslas Title Page

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

Visit the Maryland Room Gallery in Hornbake Library in December to view  Good King Wenceslas, published in 1895 with  illustrations by Arthur J. Gaskin. William Morris wrote a short introduction for this classic Christmas carol.  He wrote of the importance of medieval history, but also spoke of a personal connection to the carol:

 “The legend itself is pleasing and a genuine one, and the Christmaslike quality of it, recalling the times of my boyhood, appeals to me at least as a happy memory of past days”.

Morris also praised Gaskin’s illustrations.  Gaskin was a influential artist in the Arts & Crafts movement and close friend of William Morris.  He created several woodcut illustrations for Morris’s Kelmscott Press books.  December flies by on campus, so come to the Maryland Room Gallery in Hornbake Library to view Good King Wenceslas before it is too late.

William Morris as Poet Laureate?

William Morris

William Morris

With the publication of Earthly Paradise in 1870, William Morris became an acclaimed poet throughout England. After the death of Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1892, Morris was reportedly in contention for the post of Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom. The works of Poet Laureates are recognized as having national significance, an honor bestowed by the monarch at the recommendation of the prime minister. There was just one problem. By the 1890s, Morris had become an avid and well-known socialist and political agitator. He was particularly critical of British imperialism and the violent suppression of free speech by government authorities.  And he was not shy about his expressing his opinions.  In 1887, Morris was arrested for his participation in the Bloody Sunday protests in Trafalgar Square.  Morris reportedly declined to even be considered as a candidate for Poet Laureate.

In fact, claims of Morris’s potential Poet Laureateship remain questionable.  Morris made no mention of an official offer, but alluded to the laureateship in several letters.   In an 1892 letter to James Bryce, he remarked “I could not accept a post which would give me even the appearance of serving a court for compliance sake.”  However, rumors continued to spread that Morris was a viable contender, much to Morris’s agitation.  In 1892, Morris wrote to the the Daily Chronicle, “Will you kindly contradict the report that I have been offered the Laureateship, as it is not true.” Alfred Austin was eventually offered the post and became the Poet Laureate in 1896.

Read an excerpt from Morris’s “Earthly Paradise”:
Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing,
I cannot ease the burden of your fears,
Or make quick-coming death a little thing,
Or bring again the pleasure of past years,
Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears,
Or hope again for aught that I can say,
The idle singer of an empty day

But rather, when aweary of your mirth,
From full hearts still unsatisfied ye sigh,
And, feeling kindly unto all the earth,
Grudge every minute as it passes by,
Made the more mindful that the sweet days die—
Remember me a little then I pray,
The idle singer of an empty day.

Now read Austin’s “A Dream of England”
I had a dream of England. Wild and weird,
The billows ravened round her, and the wrack,
Darkening and dwindling, blotted out the track,
Then flashed on her a bolt that scorched and seared.
She, writhing in her ruin, rolled, and reared,
Then headlonged unto doom, that drove her back
To welter on the waters, blind and black,
A homeless hulk, a derelict unsteered.
Wailing I woke, and through the dawn descried,
Throned on the waves that threatened to o’erwhelm,
The England of my dream resplendent ride,
And armoured Wisdom, sovran at the helm,
Through foaming furrows of the future guide
To wider empire a majestic Realm.

How does Morris’s work compare to Austin’s? Do you think Morris’s political views have been compromised if he accepted the Poet Laureateship? Visit the Maryland Room Gallery and evaluate Morris’s poetry and prose featured in the exhibit How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris.

‘How We Might Live’ features a Binding by Morris

Every month, How We Might Live: The Vision of William Morris, an exhibit highlighting the life and work of English designer and author William Morris (1834-1896), will showcase a new Morris-related item.

In November, visit the exhibit to view two volumes of William Morris’ Earthly Paradise.  Both feature an intricate flower and leaf motif on the binding designed by Morris in 1890.  The red and green bindings are the great way to kick off the holiday season in true Morris fashion. So which version do you prefer, the red or the green?

Earthly Paradise binding designed by William Morris

Earthly Paradise binding designed by William Morris

Earthly Paradise binding designed by William Morris