Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal
24th March 2003 - A 'Dabbler in Decoration'
The artist and designer William Morris was born on this day in 1834, making him Whistler's senior by just under four months. However, despite being close in age, in political terms they were miles apart, and on a number of occasions Whistler voiced his feelings in his letters. For example, following a demonstration in London by the Socialist Democratic Federation with which Morris was connected, Whistler wrote to his friend Elisabeth Lewis (the wife of solicitor George Lewis) that:
"George ought to have power to hang the ring leaders of the mob - and
among them, do you know I fear I should begin with Master Morris!! Topsy [ie,
Morris], the dabbler in decoration - I would hang for the mischief he has made
- and for his foolish interference in Art with what does not concern him! -"
(GUL Whistler L57)
As well as on a political level, JW's disapproval of Morris stemmed from his view that Morris had succumbed to the rewards of the market-place through his designs for the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., whilst preaching the dignity of simple craftsmanship.
The political mis-trust lasted through into the 1890s (towards the time of Morris' death in 1896); on 1 May 1892 the collector John Charles Potter wrote to Whistler that "If Mr Morris had his way he would lock you & me up; end us or mend us" (GUL Whistler P648). And in 1894 Whistler confided in Otto Goldschmidt that "For my part a little healthy American lynching would be the proper thing for these scoundrels - But I should begin by seizing the preachers & philosophers who do the mischief and keep out of danger - I think our friend William Morris... is more or less one of them!" (LCMS Pennell-Whistler Col. 1/38/1)
There are no extant letters between the two artists.