William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc

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William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc


The XIX century is characterized by the revival of handicraft. Thus, many artistic figures of the time have spent much  time being busy with this kind of art. In addition, the restoration of old cultural monuments also played an important role in the art of the XIX. William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc worked in these areas. Both men were the representatives of the romantic current of artists. However, despite this fact, their views on work were different. William Morris had utopian views on art. He believed that handmade goods should be available to all people and in the same time, these goods should remain a masterpiece. However, William Morris soon understood that his aim was unattainable. In contrast to him, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc achieved the goal of his life. Mainly, it was the reconstruction of classical buildings preserving the inner state of the artist not following the general current. These famous artists of the XIX century made a significant contribution on art of their period and on future artists and, thus, it is highly important to study their life, work, and artistic views.

Keywords: art, craft, building, utopia, artist

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The end of the XVIII and the beginning of the XIX century represented a watershed era of political and technological revolutions that radically changed the life of Europeans. Transformations of transport and industry were in a great progress. At the same time, a new force came to power. It was in Western Europe, particularly in England and France. In connection with all these developments in England, where the consequences of the industrial revolution manifested most strikingly, many people were concerned about the deterioration of the social climate in the country. Searches for much-needed social and artistic ideals, as well as a nostalgic mood in art, which came with the Romantic era, caused the appearance of Gothic Revival. By the middle of the XIX century, Gothic Revival has become the dominant style in architecture and design. William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc became the main adepts of return to the middle ages in art. The consequence of aggravation of the interest in medieval culture was an attempt to restore the original medieval glass. Thus, it is rather important to study the activity of William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc as in their works they praised sincerity, which, in their opinion, was inherent in the Gothic style of the XIII century.

The Characteristic of Art in the XIX Century

Along with the Gothic Revival, another peculiar feature of the historically-oriented XIX century was the popularity of blacksmiths, bookbinders, carpet makers, furniture makers, illustrators, weavers, and masters of stained-glass windows. In the XIX century, there was a revival of applied arts specializing in decoration of surfaces (Palmer, 2011). It became the basis for the subsequent development of design in many countries worldwide. For example, these features marked the occurrence of Victorian Arts and Crafts Movement and later – Art Nouveau (Palmer, 2011. Therefore, the XIX century marked the emergence and resurgence of important spheres of arts.

In addition, an amateur art has also largely developed. It was connected with the fact that different hobbies and home crafts became extremely fashionable among the representatives of all classes of society. As for the artists of Art Nouveau, they focused on the exotic world of the imagination and mysticism of the nature creations (Palmer, 2011. Their style, however, was widely spread. In many ways, international exhibitions, magazines, and the development of tourism contributed to this.

Initially, the Renaissance of Gothic stained glass was in parallel with the rise of other medieval and gothic crafts. A neo-Gothic style gave the original impetus to the stained glass. During a century, it returned its value and occupied an important place in the arsenal of artists and designers. A wealthy class appeared and its representatives could afford to decorate their homes with colored stained-glass windows. This fact led to the development of the market of colored glass and other decorations. Immediately, a great number of big design firms appeared in London, Paris, and other capitals. The most important thing that happened with the art of stained glass in the XIX century consists of the fact that from the sphere of ritual and monumental architecture, stained-glass has integrated into the sphere of public and private architecture and, most significantly, into the area of decor (Palmer, 2011). Probably, William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc can be called the most influential designers of the XIX century. Their work made an essential contribution to the art of stained-glass.

William Morris

William Morris is a British artist, designer of fabrics and furniture, designer of books, designer of printing font, poet, and socialist. In the book William Morris, it is stated that “Morris was a craftsman of many materials” (Thompson & Linebaugh, 2013, p. 5). Indeed, Morris worked with glass, paint, wood, fabrics, and other materials. He was at the origins of the concept of synthesis – the key concept of the new art. He opened to the world the art and philosophical treatises of an art critic, John Ruskin (Donovan, 2007). The latter based on the ethical principle of unity of goodness and beauty claimed that the objective environment of society demonstrates morale. For John Ruskin, the concept of beauty is inseparable from the concepts of goodness, justice, and allegiance to nature (Donovan, 2007). William Morris was the founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement which took shape as an artistic style in the second half of the XIX century (Bennett & Miles, 2010). All participants in the movement were united by the belief that the aesthetically-designed human environment including beautiful buildings, skillfully load furniture, tapestries, and ceramics should contribute to the improvement of society in the interests of producers and consumers. Going after Ruskin, Morris was trying to find harmony and unity of nature, a man, and art.

Furnishing and building of the house that received the name the Red House was an effort to transfer an artistic practice of ethical and moral utopia demonstrating by John Ruskin into life (Donovan, 2007). It was also an effort of implementation of the synthesis of decorative art, architecture, and painting. This house is regarded as the first example of Arts and Crafts Movement architecture (Fig. 1). Philip Uebblom was the one who built the Red House (Bennett & Miles, 2010). Thus, Morris together with other artists wanted to transform it into a combined product of spatial arts. They wanted to make the house a harmonious environment that would be a perfect matrix of human relations ennobled by art.

In a professional plan, the goal of the movement was achieved. Performing John Ruskin’s ideas of utopia with the concepts of fairness and simplicity, the ensemble of the house follows the traditions of classical medieval craftsmanship. It is natural and quite simple in comparison with the buildings of other styles (Donovan, 2007). By the way, internal design of the house was the same. It was also restrained and simple. The work performed by Morris and his friends was impressive and extraordinary.

Developing the experiment started with the building of the Red House, William Morris founded his company. He tried to return to magnificence of the Middle Ages (Thompson & Linebaugh, 2013). As a result, Morris started producing fabrics, tapestries, wallpaper, handmade furniture, and stained glass. Initially, the company produced highly expensive things (Thompson & Linebaugh, 2013). However, with the course of time, William Morris began to produce the furniture and interior items for the middle class.

Despite an attempt to manufacture chip goods for the middle class, Morris still understood that his company that created really beautiful everyday objects worked only for the rich. He was faced with a dilemma touching all European and American artisans from the Arts and Crafts Movement (Donovan, 2007). They understood that handmade things were more expensive than the ones from the factory and, therefore, they were not available to the masses of the poor. Rejecting a machine production, William Morris was not able to make quality items available to mainstream consumers (Donovan, 2007). In such a way, he could not affect the life and artistic culture of that time. Admitting this fact, he came to the conclusion that the ideal could not be realized without the transformation of society. Therefore, William Morris rejected the belief of aesthetic utopia.

In general, the contribution of William Morris to the implementation and development of the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement is highly invaluable. After Morris’ death, masters of manual labor cherished a romantic hope that the art could change the existing way of life. Ideas of the movement, however, were aimed at harmonizing the industrial society. These ideas made a significant contribution to the development of a new direction, intended for mass mechanized production of wide consumer goods that would subsequently be referred to as design.

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc

As well as William Morris, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc is considered an outstanding personality of the XIX century.  He is an extraordinary creative personality, a gifted and versatile man passionately devoted to his work. The contribution of his work to the development of European architecture of the XIX century is enormous. His descriptions of theoretical and practical components of the construction works on architecture remain relevant. Besides, his famous works about the lifestyle of the medieval period also do not lose the popularity. Eugene Viollet-le-Duc certainly can be called a pioneer in his fields of activity.

In his youth, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc spent much time traveling. From traveling, a young man brought many drawings where the most memorable monuments were depicted (Bressani, 2016). After the works were exhibited, the artistic world paid its attention to Eugene. It should be noted that the architect Henri Labrouste made a great influence on the future works of Eugene. Viollet-le-Duc borrowed many ideas from this architect. A popular writer, Prosper Mérimée, who then held the position of inspector general of the commission of historical monuments, became interested in Viollet-le-Duc (Bressani, 2016). Soon, Eugene received an order from Mérimée to save the Madeleine Church from the collapse (Bressani, 2016). In addition, Eugene was invited to work on the restoration of the Paris Saint-Chapelle. In 1844, he won the contest of the projects on restoration of Notre Dame (Shiff, 2014). His work on restoration was highly praised. Therefore, he was soon appointed on the position of an architect of the Abbey of Saint-Denis (Shiff, 2014). In 1853, Viollet-le-Duc got a position of an inspector general of France’s iconic buildings (Bressani, 2016). When he was an inspector, he developed various projects and built numerous churches. The talent of Viollet-le-Duc extended on creation of sculptures. He was an author of the monument to Napoleon and Ajaccio brothers (Bressani, 2016) (Fig. 2). The scope of work of this man seems simply unbelievable. Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was the first who used the method of precise of the archaeological descriptions of architectural components with their measurements and accurate reproduction of drawings. These days, modern editions publish many of his drawings. In such a way, the architect received a possibility to work with popular masterpieces, and no one could compete with him at that time. Thus, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc became a pioneer of many techniques of buildings restoration, and he devoted his whole life to this activity.

Views of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc

Eugene Viollet-le-Duc had special views regarding the art. In the book Architecture and the Historical Imagination, it is noted that according to Viollet-le-Duc “art is unique, art is but one, though it assumes diverse forms in order to act on the human mind” (Bressani, 2016, p. 10). He also had a creative approach to the reconstruction of buildings. The author Richard Shiff (2014) states that “Viollet-le-Duc wished to terminate any academic exercises that encouraged standardization or the strict imitation of artistic models” (p. 71). His ideas became extremely widespread throughout Europe. It should be mentioned that many preserved monuments in different European countries were restored with such a creative approach to reconstruction (Bressani, 2016). He believed that it was not enough to repair the building. It was also necessary to recreate a finished condition of the building. If to talk about his views, Eugene preferred romanticism (Shiff, 2014). However, he was also able to recognize the existence of other trends and the changing nature of art. He appreciated the things avoiding any dogmas (Shiff, 2014). Architecture in the Gothic style received the highest estimate of Viollet-le-Duc (Shiff, 2014). Although along with this trend, he highly valued an antique style as well. Eugene also liked the buildings of the Middle Ages. They attracted him with their openness and simple functionality. Such buildings greatly inspired the architect. At the same time, Viollet-le-Duc tried to borrow forms from the past. He emphasized that the past could only give some guidelines (Bressani, 2016). Eugene did not like the luxury and he was against the pseudo-classical architectural style. However, some of his designs became the forerunners of modern and constructivism. Creativity of the architect proclaimed the peace between science and art, a builder and a designer of architectural projects. Such unity without any impact of policy was the purpose of Viollet-le-Duc (Bressani, 2016). It is worth noting that the architect was a true patriot of France. He argued for high moral humanistic principles (Bressani, 2016). During his life he helped save a large number of monuments. As a result, Viollet-le-Duc re-created sculptures and raised from ruins even the most hopeless buildings. He strengthened their walls and vaults and returned decorations and architectural pieces. Therefore, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc is truly considered a prominent reformer of the XIX century.

It also should be noted that many artists were inspired by the work of Viollet-le-Duc. He taught an entire generation of architects who then began to create their buildings. One of the most prominent followers of Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was Catalan Antoni Gaudí who created his several works under the influence on the views of Viollet-le-Duc. It is especially true for his Gothic buildings such as Sagrada Família (Fig. 3). The style of the cathedral is vaguely reminiscent of gothic. At the same time, it is something completely new and modern. As conceived by Gaudi, it was supposed to become a building-symbol and a grand allegory of the birth of Christ.

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Views of William Morris

As noted above, William Morris shared utopian views on art. He saw the main disaster of the machine age in death of the manual labor and in separation of art from the production of things. Morris proposed utopian ideas to return to handicraft production through the movement for the renewal of arts and crafts. He wanted to turn from mass production with the tasteless imitation of hand-made decor to the expressive work of artisans (Donovan, 2007). It was impossible to stop technological progress and completely destroy the machine production with cheaper products. Nevertheless, due to William Morris and his followers, the general public was imbued with the necessity of the other approach to the reconstruction of the objective environment and problems of the material and artistic culture during the industrial revolution (Donovan, 2007). Morris had the desire to introduce an element of beauty in life of the person devalued and impersonal with the industrial monotony. At the same time, he wanted to prove the superiority of individualized work and individualized household item. The most valuable in the work of Morris was the adoption of public importance of applied art for the mass production of consumer products. All the same, his factory, which made really beautiful things, was a tiny island in the world of the capitalist machine industry and also produced unique luxury items but not the things of everyday life. In such a way, a utopian goal of William Morris was not achieved.

Despite this fact, William Morris had a great affect on numerous painters and designers. For example, it is Christopher Dresser whose works were based on the views of Morris. He is now considered one of the first designers. His has many popular works including the collection of famous teapots (Fig. 4). These teapots are highly innovative and modern. They represent a unique combination of different forms and are still popular among art lovers.



Both William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc made a great contribution to the development of art in the XIX century. Notwithstanding the fact that they worked in different directions, their work was similar somehow. First of all, they were of the opinion that beauty has a real force. They wanted to introduce people the art of that period and both of them wanted to revive it. Furthermore, William Morris and Eugene Viollet-le-Duc had a desire to save the art. On the one hand, Morris wanted to do it in the form of crafts revival while Viollet-le-Duc liked to restore the buildings. In spite of different directions in their works, their theories were saturated with the ideas of romanticism. Nevertheless, there are also certain differences in their works. The main one consists of the fact that Eugene Viollet-le-Duc could achieve his goal to restore and save architectural objects for people while William Morris’ utopian ideas of renovation of arts for ordinary people did not reach the aim.