Perhaps the greatest difficulty in attempting to analyze the work of William Morris is the attempt to reconcile his work with his ideology: the compatibility of hand-wrought and thus expensive works versus Morris's socialist beliefs. This dissonance shows itself strongly in Morris's own Red House, or, as Christopher Wood dubs it, his "Palace of Art." The folly of the speaker of Tennyson's poem "The Palace of Art" (text) lies in his/her belief that he can somehow find peace and truth through isolation. The Red House, completely designed by Morris and his friends (with architect Philip Webb), seems to embody similar problems. Located outside of London, the house sits past a group of other cottages. The style shows heavy medieval and gothic influence, such as the lancet windows and pitched roofs.

The Red House borrows heavily from Ruskin's architectural writings, particularly his Seven Lamps of Architecture. In his "Lamp of Truth," Ruskin argues that the "use of cast or machine-made ornaments of any kind" constitutes an "Architectural Deceit" as being machine-made misrepresents the quantity of labour put into it. In addition, the house is extremely readable from the outside — one can tell where Morris places the staircase just from looking at the house — and is free from unneeded ornament.

Morris & Co. — the stained glass, textile, and wallpaper workshop — grew out of the artistic collaborations of the Red House.

Questions

1. How do Ruskin and Morris reconcile their love of the gothic and medieval arts with the feudal economic systems that allowed such arts to exist?

2. Is it fair to compare the Red House to the "Palace of Art" as possessing the same level of arrogance and detachment? In penance towards the end of the Palace of Art, the speaker says:

So when four years were wholly finished,
      She threw her royal robes away.
"Make me a cottage in the vale," she said,
      "Where I may mourn and pray.

Is the Red House more modest cottage than lofty palace?

3. Is any such house possible in the city, or does a love of the Medieval demand a country setting?

4. Does the Red House prove that, for Morris, Ruskin's theory of Truth in architecture trumps the importance of the work's accessibility to the masses?


Victorian Web Overview Visual Arts William Morris Discussion questions for William Morris

Last modified 1 April 2008