Anarchy And Beauty: A Dull Exhibition On William Morris's Legacy

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 35 months ago
Anarchy And Beauty: A Dull Exhibition On William Morris's Legacy ★☆☆☆☆ 1
William Morris by G F Watts, 1870. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London
William Morris by G F Watts, 1870. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London
Peacock Brooch Designed by C R Ashbee 1900. Copyright: V & A, London 2014
Peacock Brooch Designed by C R Ashbee 1900. Copyright: V & A, London 2014
La Belle Iseult by William Morris, 1858. Copyright: Tate 2014
La Belle Iseult by William Morris, 1858. Copyright: Tate 2014
Festival of Britain poster by Abram Games, 1951. Copyright: V & A, London 2014
Festival of Britain poster by Abram Games, 1951. Copyright: V & A, London 2014
William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1884. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London
William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1884. Copyright: National Portrait Gallery, London
Terence Conran and His Cone Chair by Ray Williams 1950s.  Copyright: Estate of Ray Williams
Terence Conran and His Cone Chair by Ray Williams 1950s. Copyright: Estate of Ray Williams

Londonist Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

William Morris was something of a Victorian-era Renaissance man — he turned his hand and mind to designing, poetry, writing, translating and socialism. As Morris lay dying, his doctor put the cause down to living his life and doing the work of more than 10 men. This exhibition charts both Morris' influence on those around him and how he inspired others to succeed in their respective fields. It's a wide ranging topic with a lot to cover within a relatively small exhibition space.

As expected from the National Portrait Gallery, there are a lot of paintings and drawings on display from his time, but when compared to the excellent Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at Tate Britain covering the same era, this show is found wanting. The one exception is a wardrobe that has been beautifully painted by Edward Burne-Jones.

For an exhibition about William Morris, there is very little Morris in it and instead of his textiles, the focus drifts more towards his socialist views and the associated literature.

Considering how diverse his activities were, it's simple to suggest many people were inspired by Morris but the display is so varied that it never presents a coherent narrative — it may have been better to focus on a few individuals rather than produce links to many people.

There are a few excellent artefacts on display including a shimmering 'lustreware' vase by William de Morgan, but the vast majority of exhibited items are unlikely to excite anyone other than die-hard William Morris fans. There is no doubt that Morris inspired many artists, designers and writers that came after him, but this largely dull exhibition is not a fitting tribute to his legacy.

Anarchy & Beauty: William Morris and his Legacy is on at National Portrait Gallery until 11 January. Tickets are £14 for adults, concessions available.

Last Updated 20 October 2014