Twenty-five years ago, the V&A marked the centenary of William Morris’s death with a major exhibition of his work. It was accompanied by an exquisite catalogue, expertly edited by Linda Parry, the doyenne of William Morris studies. Equally revealing on Morris the pioneering designer, popular poet, businessman and radical political activist, the exhibition was a landmark event. This year, the V&A has been hosting a major exhibition of handbags, sponsored by Mulberry. So, in place of an onsite celebration of this most important and prolific of Victorians, the museum has published a lavish new edition of the 1996 catalogue.
It is, first off, a thing of beauty. Full-colour and handsomely presented throughout, this book is more sumptuous than its predecessor. It is also even bigger. Page after page is adorned with the glowing stained-glass windows and illuminated manuscripts, the brilliant textiles and tiles, the wallpapers, furniture, books and other products of a career that was as diverse as it was influential.
Nor is this the only way in which the William Morris of 2021 differs from that of 1996. Not least, there are some new essays. The Cambridge art historian Karen Livingstone offers an excellent survey of the global arts and crafts movement. The curator Julia Griffin provides a