Talwin Morris

A guest blog post by Sanjida Tonni,  History of Art Junior Honours student on work placement in Special Collections. This project involved processing a new accession of 86 late 19th and early 20th century books with attractive art nouveau bindings, the majority believed to have been designed by Talwin Morris.

Talwin Morris (1865-1911) was an important designer of the Glasgow Style, a movement lasting about 30 years, between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, in particular, associated with the Mackintosh and the Macdonald families.[1] The style, influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, emphasised aspects such as functionalism and simplicity, highlighting natural materials and organic forms. [2]

The Glasgow Style, valorising the stylistic individuality of the artist, was a reaction to what could be seen as damaging effects of the industrial revolution and mass production, resulting in the downgrading of the status of the decorative arts and the skills of the artist. The movement appealed to the emerging middle-class, aspiring to purchase good quality products, but without investing in frivolous, lavish and expensive designs.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and his friends and associates believed in the theories of A.W.N. Pugin (1812-1852) and John Ruskin (1819-1900). William Morris (1834-1896) was another influential thinker for the Glasgow School, but his stress on handicraft and truth to materials should be contrasted with Glasgow’s involvement with industrial production (cf. the work of Juliet Kinchin).  Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) was also influential. [3]. Their ideas, arguing for the superiority of Gothic over Classical, considered that moral integrity in architecture and design could be achieved only through ‘revealed’ construction.[4]   Indeed, the stylistic character in many Glasgow Style objects is infused somehow by an almost religious aura and moral values such as honesty and modesty. [5] This idea of simplicity and modesty, characteristic of the Glasgow Style, is evident in most of Talwin Morris’s works. [6]

Talwin Morris was born on 15th June 1865 in Winchester. From 1882 until 1885 he received training in the architectural firm run by his uncle Joseph Morris (1836-1913). He then worked from 1885 until 1890 in London with the architect James Martin Brooks (1859-1903). In 1891 he became sub art-editor for the magazine Black and White. Morris moved to Glasgow in May 1893, hired for the position of Art Director for Blackie and Son, an important Glasgow publisher of educational, scientific and children’s books. [7] He became a good friend of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but although his works combined aspects typical of the Glasgow School of Art, he never attended the Glasgow School. [8]

The bindings designed by Morris, characterised by sans serif capitals and geometrical and classical motifs, were softened through organic lines like buds and flowers. His style changes dramatically from the Victorian style and is characterised by a more Art Nouveau approach due to the synthesis and geometric simplification of the natural forms. Many of his books are not signed, and therefore can be difficult to identify.  Some motifs are characteristic of Morris’s style: dots, dashes and small buds are typical of his books and might help to identify his works when missing his signature, an elongated TM monogram. [9]

An astonishing example showing Talwin Morris’s style is A Popular Family Commentary on the New Testament, being notes practical and explanatory (fig.1). This eleven volume work has notes by the prominent American theologian Albert Barnes (1798-1870). Bindings are characterised by a dark green cloth decorated with a concave cross with tapering side, rising from the plinth which is part of the cornice. To either side, one stem, that curves up and inwards, terminates in a small drop-like leaf, and two small ellipses, partly blocked in gilt, are at the base of the cross. In the centre of the cross, a haloed dove is inside a gilt downward-pointing oval, emphasising the spiritual subject of the book. Morris’s signature, a geometrical elongated TM monogram in moss-green, is to bottom right.

 

Fig. 1. Popular Family Commentary on the New Testament, being notes practical and explanatory, (London: Gresham, n.d) University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections

Fig. 1. Popular Family Commentary on the New Testament, being notes practical and explanatory, (London: Gresham, n.d) University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections

 

As You Like It by William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is another example showing Talwin Morris’s style (fig.2). The binding, decorated with geometrical lines, resembles the style of A Popular Family Commentary on the New Testament, being notes practical and explanatory for the repetition of forms and lines. However, in this second case, the cross is overlaid by another shape and the signature is missing, but the overall composition is still very similar to the first case study. Indeed, both books, A Popular Family Commentary on the New Testament, being notes practical and explanatory and As You Like It, are characterised by symmetrical compositions and a considered use of gilding. The line of the decorations in Morris’s works are thin and the style elegant, the stylisation of the forms and the blending of geometrical and organic lines emphasise the taste of the designer — everything depicted, including the flowers and other natural elements, is reduced to the essence.

 

 

Fig.2. As You Like It (London; Glasgow: Blackie, n.d.), University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections, Sp Coll Morris 68

Fig.2. As You Like It (London; Glasgow: Blackie, n.d.), University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.

 

 

 

 

Notes

1 Janice Helland, Glasgow Style (Oxford University Press, 2003). [ Article accessed through Oxford Art Online: Grove Art Online].

2 ibid.

3. Robert Gibbs, by email on 12th April 2019.

4. James Macaulay, ‘Mackintosh, Charles Rennie’, Grove Art Online, 2003. [Article accessed through Oxford Art Online: Grove Art Online].

5. William Jr Curtis, ‘Augustus Pugin (1812-1852)’, The Architectural Review, 2012,

https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/reputations-pen-portraits-/augustus-pugin-1812-1852/8629375.article

6. ‘Special Collections: Talwin Morris’. GSofA Library, https://lib.gsa.ac.uk/specialcollections/special-collections-talwin-morris/

7. Talwin Morris : An Exhibition (London: William Morris Gallery, 1983). University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections, Sp Coll Morris Add. 2

8. ‘Special Collections: Talwin Morris’. GSofA Library, https://lib.gsa.ac.uk/specialcollections/special-collections-talwin-morris/

9. I Ibid.

Related items

Morris Collection  – both original collection and recent accession donated by Professor Robert Gibbs, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Glasgow.

Bibliography

Ferguson, Hugh. Glasgow School of Art: The History. Glasgow: The Foulis Press, Glasgow School of Art, 1995. University of Glasgow Library, Fine Arts A330.G5 FER

Helland, Janice. Glasgow Style. Oxford University Press, 2003. [ Article accessed through Oxford Art Online: Grove Art Online.]

‘Special Collections: Talwin Morris’. GSofA Library, https://lib.gsa.ac.uk/specialcollections/special-collections-talwin-morris/.

Talwin Morris : An Exhibition. London: London: William Morris Gallery, 1983. University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections, Sp Coll Morris Add. 2

Cinamon, Gerald. Talwin Morris, Blackie, and the Glasgow Style. London: Private Libraries Association, 1987. University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections, Sp Coll Morris Add. 3

Godwin, H. et al.: Morris of Reading: a family of architects 1836-1958. London: Ancient Monuments Society, 1989. Glasgow School of Art Library.



Categories: Archives and Special Collections, Reflections

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