William Morris: Art in everything, Roubaix, France – from October 8th until January 8th

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It may be a surprise to you, art nouveau lover, that this is the first time that  French museum dedicates an exhibition to William Morris. William Morris was simultaneously a manufacturer, painter, poet, draftsman, printer, socialist militant, revolutionary, architect, theoretician and, as he said himself, owner of a decorative arts company. Raised to the rank of icon in England, this British agitator, at the origin of the Arts & Crafts movement.

The museum La Piscine today lifts the veil on the immense production of this brilliant mind, a keen reader of Karl Marx, whose literary works, libertarian political commitment and his work in publishing have left a lasting mark on the History of the Great -Brittany. Aware of the exceptional character of its guest, the institution organized an exhibition in its image: lush and excessive.

Wallpapers, hangings, furniture, paintings, drawings… A hundred decorative works of art, testimonies of his formal and plastic research on Celtic culture and the medieval period, produced in reaction to industrialization and the dehumanization of craftsmanship, proudly exhibited on nearly 600 square meters. Pieces come from public collections in the UK, particularly Tate Britain and the Victoria and Albert Museum, but also from French public collections, mainly those held at the Musée d’Orsay. Through his rich creations, the exhibition above all paints the portrait of a complex and committed artist, a fervent defender of art for all in the height of the Victorian era.

Never exhibited in France, the visionary work of William Morris had a huge impact on his time. He theorised a social, political, ecological and artistic utopia and laid the foundations for what would later become known as Arts & Crafts. This movement championed art in everything and for everyone, in response to the industrialisation and dehumanisation of time-honoured techniques.

A textile designer, writer, poet, painter, illustrator, architect, manufacturer, social activist, ecologist and an incredible theoretician, Morris developed a complex body of work and campaigned for a new form of recognition for art and crafts, but also the artists and craftsman, in late 19th century Victorian England. He is famous for his literary works, socialist political commitment, publishing work and creations in the decorative arts.

In reaction to the industrial revolution which marked the Victorian era, Morris underlined the importance of all different artforms – painting, architecture, drawing, crafts and literature, etc. His aim was to restore aesthetic qualities to objects, even the most everyday, using manual skills to produce beautiful items for all social classes and promoting the value of the rarest forms of expertise, in opposition to the prosaic banality of the industrial world. His formal and historic research into the Celtic culture and the Middle Ages provided inspiration for him and his artist friends, many of whom are also present in the exhibition. These include Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, among others, who belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite movement that flourished around him.

The new ethical organisation of art, theorised by Ruskin and implemented by Morris, gave his work a social and ecological dimension which is still perfectly relevant today: experimenting with community studios, a return to the country in craft retreats, companies distributing profits to the workers, paying attention to conditions under which objects are manufactured, respecting the dignity of those manufacturing the objects and the belief that “beauty” helps give meaning to our existence.

For more information about La Piscine – André Diligent Art and Industrial Museum (23 rue de l’Espérance, 59100 Roubaix) CLICK HERE