Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Life of Philip Webb

Philip Webb in 1873
Philip Webb (1831-1915) was born in Oxford to a family of eleven children.

When Philip Webb was eleven years old his father, a physician, passed away. Consequently Webb had little choice but to abandon his aspirations to become a fine artist and pursue a career as an architect . In 1854, Webb was hired as chief assistant at a firm in Oxford, this was also the place where he met his life-long friend and client of the Red House, William Morris.

click for a full screen image
Red Barns House
        Philip Webb met William Morris in 1856; the two would be life-long collaborators from that point on.  They started to work together on design projects due to their common "anti-industrial" mind-set that was greatly influenced by the writings of John Ruskin.  Along with architecture Webb became well known for his handiwork in stained glass, hand-painted glass, tile, carvings, furniture, wallpaper, carpets and tapestry. Webb started his own architectural practice in 1858 when Morris and himself started design for The Red House.  Webb became later known for his unconventional country houses that were unpretentious and informal.  He is also well known for designing the Red Barns House in 1868 and the Rounton Grange in 1870.  In 1877 Webb and Morris founded the "Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings."

Ophelia by John Everett Milliais
         The architect's most apparent influences apart from Gothic Architecture and The Gothic Revival are the works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was a secret society that helped to revitalize painting in Britain.  They took inspiration from early renaissance paintings, particularly from a group of painters called the "Primitives" who predated Raphael. The writings of John Ruskin, the most prominent art critic of the Victorian era, also guided their philosophy. The group insisted that paintings must be done by direct observation of nature.  The Painting Ophelia was painted by John Everett Milliais, a member of the Brotherhood.  Millias spent four months outside painting the background alone. This purist approach and love of work and craft in balance with art and design is what lead to the ideals behind The Red House and the beginning of the Arts and Crafts movement.

In 1858, Webb took on his first design commission to envision a family home for his good friend, William Morris, who was about to get married. The Red House was to be the first residential building of Modern Gothic, and its layout concept, such as the idea of having individual passageways leading up to the rooms, was later developed into the core characteristic in typical architecture of the Arts and Crafts movement.

In 1877, Webb became actively involved in the preservation work of old churches, thus becoming a key figure in the history of building conservation. The architect had gradually stopped working by the year of 1899 and enjoyed a peaceful retirement in Crawley, Sussex. Today, many examples of Webb's furniture design is owned and preserved by the National Trust.

Morris' friend and co-worker at his firm, Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a part of


"Webb, Philip Speakman." Oxford DNB Article. Accessed December 11, 2012. http://www.oxforddnb.com/

"Philip Speakman Webb by Charles Fairfax Murray." Pre Raphaelite Art (blog). Accessed December 11,
           2012. http://preraphaelitepaintings.blogspot.ca/2009/09/

"Red Barns House, Kirkleatham Road, Redcar, Redcar and Cleveland." Heritage Explorer. Accessed
          December 11, 2012. http://www.heritage-explorer.co.uk/web/he/

Monday, December 10, 2012

Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement was
about bringing life into art. Most of
Morris' wallpaper portray images of
nature, flowers, and animals. (Garden
, 1870, William Morris)
The influences of the Arts and Crafts Movement were especially significant between the years 1860-1910. The movement was sparked in Britain by the modern medieval architecture of The Red House. The movement quickly spread across Europe and into North America.

The Industrial Revolution brought poor treatment
to the factory workers. Many machines were
made to the height of children because many
started working at a very young age. 

The Industrial Revolution was a period which  brought great changes to ideas of work and craftsmanship world-wide. By the mid-nineteenth century, people were becoming concerned about the effects on the human spirit of living in an industrially produced landscape. The Arts and Crafts Movement challenged many of the core beliefs of the Victorian era. From critique of the poor treatment received by factory workers arose a voicing of anti-industrial sentiments in society. William Morris, the owner and co-designer of the Red House, was strongly influenced by the writings of art critic John Ruskin on this topic. Morris would become a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement with the realization of the Red House. William Morris, John Ruskin, and many others who followed a similar system of belief held had strong desires to return to a Pre-Rennaisance way of life. The Arts and Crafts Movement was largely a response to the poor state of many arts during the Industrial Revolution, and a reaction for promoting handcrafted artifacts. In this movement, quality was valued over quantity, and craftsmanship over technology.  

In many of Morris' paintings,
he turned his wife, Jane Morris,
into images of the romantic
ideal beauty through emphasizing
her mournful features
During the years that William Morris lived in the Red House, he and numerous friends—including Edward Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti—started and ran a company called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co (1861-1875). The main objective of the company was to create decorative interior objects, such included: textiles, wallpaper, stain glass, and furniture. In many ways, the Arts and Crafts Movement and the story of the Red House were tales of romance; both promoted the loving relationship of providing sources of joy and pleasure to the makers and the consumers.

However, even though the idea of the movement was encouraging in its way of promoting creativity, only the very wealth could afford purely handcrafted pieces in the time of industrialization. This was the main flaw behind the idea of the Arts and Crafts Movement; due to this, the idea of art making for the people was lost since it really was only available to the selected few that could afford it. In the end, as the popularity of the Arts and Crafts spread from continents to continents, it began to merge with movements that involved more general interest in design, such as the Art Nouveau--art of continuous, organic, and long line art form. 



"Handmade in Canada - The Art of Craft. 'The Arts and Crafts Movement.'" CBC Digital Archives. Video 
file, 19:14. Accessed December 10, 2012. http://www.cbc.ca/archives/categories/lifestyle/pastimes/handmade-in-canada-the-art-of-craft/the-arts-and-crafts-movement.html.

"Arts and Crafts Movement (Britain)." Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Accessed December 10, 2012.

"The Arts and Crafts Movement." Art Design and Visual Thinking. Accessed December 10, 2012.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Axonometric Drawing of the Red House

Axo drawing showing the exterior layout of the building

The Life of William Morris

William Morris was a renowned poet, designer, weaver, and manufacturer of the late 19th Century. His work set a precedent for the Arts & Crafts Movement. He was born on March 24th, 1834 to an upper-middle class family at Elm House. Elm House was a country house in Walthamstow, East London, on the edge of Epping forest where Morris would explore as a child. William Morris Sr. was a successful city stockbroker who was able to afford the young Morris a privileged upbringing. In his childhood, William Morris became impassioned with the medieval era in reading knight's tales and from his time in church. He carried this passion with him his entire life. At the age of 17 he went with his family to the Great Exhibition of London (1851), an enormous and densely packed display of the works of industrial production and ingenuity. Perturbed by the mentality and lack of craft he witnessed there, Morris refused to continue touring the exhibits, which he said were only wonderful in that they were "wonderfully ugly".

In 1853 Morris departed to Oxford to study theology at Exeter College, vaguely intending to become a high church clergymen. At Exeter College, Morris met Edward Burne-Jones, who would become a painter, designer, and life-long friend to Morris. At Oxford Morris diverted from his idealistic notions of working for social reform through church ministry and began to attend to artistic pursuits such as writing poems and stories. After spending a summer vacation touring Northern France with Burne-Jones, visiting 9 cathedrals and 24 churches, Morris decided he would study architecture.

Morris and Burne-Jones moved to London where they befriended and joined the circle of Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti. In 1856 Morris worked in the office of Gothic Revival architect George Edmund Street. In Street's office he met Philip Webb who had been in Street's office since 1854.

Rosetti met Jane Morris, a local girl from a very poor family, who was attending a play at the Drury Lane Theatre Company with her sister. Rosetti hired Jane as one of his models. From this connection Jane went on to model for Morris to whom she would be engaged. Their union provided the impetus for the Red House which Morris designed with Webb. As a model Jane would come to be regarded as the embodiment of the Pre-Raphaelite ideal of beauty. In the course of her married life she had multiple affairs including the longest with Rosetti. Jane confesses to never have been in love with Morris. At the time of Morris' proposal she was 18, in awe of his admiration and the promise of a comfortable life for herself and her family, she accepted. On April 26th, 1859 she and Morris were married.

During a river trip with friends on the 21st of August 1858, Morris and Webb began a discussion that would lead to the Red House. On the back of one of their maps, Webb made a preliminary sketch of the staircase in the Red House. By May of 1859, Webb had completed the designs for the Red House. In June of 1860 Morris and Jane Moved into the Red House in Bexleyheath Kent. The Red House fostered the development of Morris & Co. which began when Morris could not find furniture to suit his home, and began to craft his own. At the Red House Morris wrote "The Earthly Paradise", a volume of poetry which would quickly make him famous. In 1856, Morris moved to Kelmscott Manor, the headquarters of Morris & Co., since he could not make the commute to work to the Red House when he was sick.

Social and political convictions merged with aesthetic issues for Morris; in the late 1870's, he became involved with the socialist cause. To Morris, his role as a social reformer was a clear continuation of his work as an arts and crafts designer and producer.

Morris died peacefully, on October 3rd 1986 at Kelmscott Manor, following a long bout of illness. His physician declared his cause of death as "simply being William Morris and having done more work than most ten men".

Jane Morris commissioned Webb to design The Morris Cottages which were completed in 1902 in memory of her former husband.

"William Morris – Artist, Philosopher, Poet and Designer." William Morris. 

"William Morris: a brief biography." Literary Places. Accessed December 11, 2012. 

Harvey, Charles. "William Morris: Design and Enterprise in Victorian Britain." 

"William Morris - Life and painting career." Archives and Rare Books Library. Accessed December 9, 
     2012. http://www.libraries.uc.edu/libraries/arb/exhibits/William%20Morris/life_career.html. 

"William Morris and his circle." Harry Ransom Center. Accessed December 8, 2012. 

A Little Garden-Close

I know a little garden-close
Set thick with lily and red rose,
Where I would wander if I might
From dewy dawn to dewy night,
And have one with me wandering 
                                              -William Morris 
        from "The Life and Death of Jason" 1867

The term "garden-close" refers to a garden enclosed by trees or hedges. The site which the Red House is situated on was covered and surrounded by apple orchards at the time the house was first built. Morris chose the site for the setting of his new wedding home to share with his wife-to-be, Jane Burden. The house was consciously designed to keep the landscape intact while accommodating Morris' particular preferences in gardening. Morris and Webb are said to have thoughtfully planned the garden during or even before the completed design of the Red House; whereas in the case of other property, the garden would typically be designed after the house was built.

Like the house itself, the garden draws heavily from its environment created from both native species and imported species suited to the landscape, counter to the trend of heated greenhouses to support unfit, imported plant species. Morris was an ardent critic of many Victorian gardening practices, and therefore he held particular distaste for "carpet-bedding".

Though Morris is largely credited for the design of the garden, Webb also played a key role in its inception. Like Morris, Webb was as a keen naturalist. In his plans for the Red House, diagrams illustrating the garden's arrangement can be seen as well as a list of plant species to be used. No longer apparent today, it is believed the original stylistic intent of the garden was to provide Victorians a romantic image of medieval life as depicted in manuscript illustrations from the 15th century.

The house, which would otherwise have looked far more strict and bare, is aesthetically enhanced by the garden, with vegetation covering the site and climbing up the red brick walls. Originally, the Red House's conical well, which is often said to sum up the entire building, was covered by a large trellis full of roses. This strengthened the notion that the area surrounding the well operated as an exterior room to the house. Arts & Crafts historian Fiona MacArthy credits the Red House garden as having embodied the guiding principles of the Arts and Crafts garden movement years before it came into full swing.

Morris viewed the garden not only as a pleasant amenity afforded only to the wealthy, but as an essential component of human well-being in the city:

It will be a key to right thinking about gardens if you consider in what kind of places a garden is most desired. In a very beautiful country, especially if it be mountainous, we can do without it well enough; whereas in a flat and dull country we crave after it, and there it is often the very making of the homestead. While in great towns, gardens, both private and public, are positive necessities if the citizens are to live reasonable and healthy lives in body and mind. 
 -William Morris 
 from "Hopes and Fears for Art", a collection of his lectures during the late 1870s


The Gardens of William Morris (2006), by Jill Douglas-Hamilton, Duchess of Hamilton and BrandonPenny HartJohn Simmons

"William Morris." The Marxist Archive. Accessed December 6, 2012. http://www.marxists.org/archive/ 

"William Morris." W. W. Norton & Company. Accessed December 6, 2012. http://www.wwnorton.com/college/ 

Morris and Red House. Accessed December 7, 2012. http://morrisandredhouse.net/garden.htm. 

MacCarthy, Fiona. "Garden of Earthly Delights." The Guardian, July 26, 2003, Art and design. 
     Accessed December 11, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2003/jul/26/ 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Country Living Ideal

Ideals for the English were different than that of the people of different countries in Europe. The country home was very important to a family and they spent most of their time at that location. This was a private home surrounded by nature which was found outside the busy, chaotic city. The city was a place where members of the family would go only for the purpose of doing work and would immediately return; or if required, spend a few days in their town home. People did not want to be "imprisoned in a giant multi-storeyed barrack-like blocks" which would be found in the inner city - London in this case.

"In England one does not 'live' in the city, one merely stays there. England differs from all the other countries in the world in that even the royal residence is not in the capital, but far away in the country and the town palace is now used only for overnight stays." (Muthesius, 7)

From this, we can start to understand the reason for the location of the Red House. Bexleyheath, which is south-east of London, used to be a shrub land with very buildings up until the 19th century. During this time, this area was outside the inner city with much more nature than built environment. This was a great site for a country home that's close enough to the city for business purposes, but far enough to have the relaxed country setting in which to enjoy with the family.

Bexleyheath in relation to London - Google Maps

The climate in England provides for very suitable conditions for nature. 

"The extreme moisture of the atmosphere combined with a temperature made mild by the Gulf Stream and even by that fact that the country is an island has produced a luxuriant plant-life unrivalled by any continental country. The damp atmosphere preserves the green in all its lushness until late autumn and prevents dust settling and leaves withering prematurely as they do by high summer on the continent. This is why every English hedgerow, every patch of garden fronting a labourer's cottage looks so uncommonly fresh and clean." (Muthesius, 8)


This contributes to the ideal of living in the country with nature surrounding you and your family. Man and his home was meant to exist within nature. 

"[Country houses] lie fresh and trim amid the natural greenery. And together with this garden-like landscape they reflect the wellbeing of the country, the comfortable lifestyle of a people that has remained close to nature, for whom a fresh breath of country air blowing across the fields is worth more than the refinements of an artificial city life." (Muthesius, 8)

We can now also see how the artificial city life has overtaken the country in the 21st century. As of two centuries ago, Bexleyheath has been completely transformed into a suburb, losing all aspects of country living. The only nature left now is what has been preserved on the property of the Red House. It sticks out like a sore thumb, while it terminates two streets heading in its direction.

The Red House property in relation to the surrounding suburb today - Google Maps

Muthesius, Hermann. "Part I: Development." In The English House. London: Crosby Lockwood Staples, 1979. 7 - 11.

William Morris' Wallpaper Design

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
                                                                           -William Morris

Jasmine, Morris 1872

Pimpernel, Morris 1876

Blackthorn, designed by William Morris in 1892
This is an example of furniture in the
 Red House that imitates the same
 design as a typical Morris wallpaper.

The Above images are a small sample William Morris vast body of work in wallpaper design. Morris was greatly inspired by historical images he found in the Victoria and Albert Museum. His wallpaper designs are characterized by the flatness and simplification of the subject matter; Morris enjoyed nature, hence why almost all of wallpaper portrayed flowers, plants, and birds in one way or another. The Japanese wood-block-like images are carefully designed so that they seamlessly connect together when repeated on walls.

At the time when Red House was just built, the furnishing inside the house was considered very simplistic when compared to other homes around the time period. Most of the Victorian houses consisted of fancy interior decoration; the Red House, however, although incorporated sometimes more than seven different wallpapers or furniture designs in a single room, Morris was able to unify the images to create rooms fresh to one's eye.


"William Morris & Wallpaper Design." Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed December 6, 2012. 

Kulh, Lynne. "Morris." Pinterest (blog). Accessed December 10, 2012. http://pinterest.com/kuhlworld/