William Morris, Initial D, a design for a woodcut

England, AD 1890-96

A design for a printed, decorative initial

William Morris (1834-96) was an immensely influential writer, craftsman and social reformer. His fascination with the Middle Ages showed from an early age. He founded a decorating firm in 1861 that eventually became Morris & Co. Commissioning designs from, among others, his friends Burne-Jones and Rossetti, he produced a broad range of decorative arts from furniture and stained glass to wallpaper (Morris' celebrated textile and wallpaper patterns are still in commercial production today).

Morris set up the Kelmscott Press in 1891 with the aim of producing beautiful books, the most impressive of which was an edition (1892-96) of the works of Chaucer with woodcut illustrations by Burne-Jones, and decorations and typeface designed and executed by Morris himself.

This design is for an initial used in other Kelmscott Press books (fifty-three were produced), and demonstrates Morris' attention to detail at every stage of production. In the first of his many public lectures he stated, 'I do not want art for a few any more than education for a few, or freedom for a few', although the care and craft-based production methods made his books prohibitively expensive for the masses. Morris defined art as 'man's expression of his joy in labour', and advised, 'have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful'.

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More information


L. Parry (ed.), William Morris (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996)


Height: 90.000 mm
Width: 56.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1967-10-14-128


Bequeathed by Dr Eric George Millar, F.S.A.


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