The earnest, almost shy looking young man you can see in the first photograph here is a young William Morris (1834-1896), aged 23 years old.
Morris went on to become one of the late 19th centuryâs greatest designers. Famed for his beautiful textiles and wallpapers, many made utilising traditional materials, dyes and techniques, Morris is still very much a design hero to many people today and his interior furnishings are still in production.
This photograph was taken during the time of his life when he was forging lifelong friendships with some of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and their followers, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Morris and Burne-Jones were particularly close friends and worked together on many occasions.
The photograph appears in one of the most famous books written about Morris â The Life of William Morris by J.W. Mackail, which was published in two volumes by Longmans in 1899, three years after Morris died in 1896 at the age of 62.
We are perhaps more familiar with the images of Morris that were drawn or taken later in his life, usually sporting his trademark long beard and sometimes unkempt curly hair, but this image shows us the young designer much earlier in his career. However, Mackail writes about his hair even at this early stage of his life, saying in the book: âHis hair remained through life of extraordinary beauty, very thick, fine and strong, with a beautiful curl that made it look like exquisitely wrought metal ... it was so strong that he afterwards used to amuse his children by letting them take hold of it and lifting them by it off the ground.â The second image you can see here is also from Mackailâs book and it shows Morris at the age of 37, complete with his trademark long, curly hair.
The Assay Office Library contains a fascinating collection of books relating to William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites, including Mackail's two-volume biography. The Library also contains works about Sir Edward Burne-Jones and other artists working in the Pre-Raphaelite style.
The library is open to the public during our organised Silver Visits and is also open to researchers by prior appointment. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.