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Myths and Legends
William Morris and the Legendary

Stunning love

Morris’s mind, like that of his great friend at Oxford, the painter, Edward Burne-Jones, dwelled much on the epic past. But life called too, and the young Morris fell in love with Jane Burden, the daughter of an Oxford stable worker.

The Red House
Philip Webb built the Red House for Morris
© NTPL/Andrew Butler
Morris and his friends called Jane a “stunner” because of her striking looks, and she has become legendary in her own way as the subject of many paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who fell in love with her. His paintings of her, which emphasised her strong features, dark hair and long neck bring out her very powerful presence. So potent was her embodiment of the medieval spirit for some observers that the young novelist Henry James saw her as a “figure cut out of a missal”, a medieval prayer-book.

By the time James saw Jane, in 1869, Morris had developed his talents in many ways. He employed his friend Philip Webb to build a house for him and Jane, Red House at Bexleyheath in Kent (which has been recently acquired by the National Trust). When it came to furnishing the house, they could find little that appealed to them, and so they used their own talents and those of their many gifted friends to create what they needed themselves.

This was the origin of Morris and Company, the firm which through its many products – stained glass, wallpapers, textiles of many kinds, tiles and furniture – helped to develop a unique style of interior decoration. Morris proved to be a wonderfully fertile designer in many fields, and his nature-inspired designs have proved to stand the test of time.

Words: Peter Faulkner

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