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Morris and Company: The Business of Beauty

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Art Institute / Chicago / Art

At 16, when young William Morris was on a trip to London, he famously refused to enter the Great Exhibition on grounds of taste. Victorian England was betting on industrial progress, but Morris rejected the principles of Machine Age design, which he considered austere. “Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things,” the artist, textile designer, and writer said, “the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization.” In 1861, with Pre-Raphaelite friends, Morris founded the decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., which produced his groundbreaking fabrics and wallpapers, their patterns drawing from harmonious nature and embodying a particularly British vision of witty, homey historicity. In 1875, he took control of the firm, renaming it Morris & Co., and though the company shut its doors in 1940 its influence remains omnipresent. This exhibition highlights Morris’s design tenets and favored techniques. —E.C.

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