Though he lived in Victorian England, William Morris might seem to be have come out of the Rennaisance, a multifaceted creator who was a prolific designer as well as a craftsman, poet, illustrator, embroiderer, essayist, painter, novelist, and among many other things, a socialist political activist.
The mural painting 'We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold', created by Jeremy Deller for the British Pavilion of the 2013 Venice Biennale, which depicts a collosal Morris launching Russian tycoon Roman Abramovic's yacht into a Venetian lagoon, is a magnificent prelude to the exhibition, which offers a complete tour of the life and work of this outstanding contributor to the Arts & Crafts movement.
The show brings together more than 300 pieces, among them tapestries, tiles, furniture and wallpaper with prints inspired by nature and the rural world that the bourgeoisie of the day enjoyed so much. Works come from the Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. company, founded in 1861 and from where Morris defended craftsmanship in the face of the industrial processes that transformed production models. Out of that came a Morris committed to heritage, the environment and workers' rights, and someone who considered that a work created by hand gave great satisfaction to the creator, while mechanised work inhibited creative freedom. A rare bird in the midst of the Industrial Revolution who, at times, seems strangely contemporary.
The exhibition finishes with a sampling of the influence of his legacy, with works by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Gustav Klimt and Frank Lloyd Wright, to name a few, and where his last piece of advice resonates: 'Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.'