Tag Archives: William Morris

Victorian Radicals – the Pre-Raphaelites

IMG_4389The rather garish colours and attention to detail marked the work of those seven initial members of the Pre-Raphaelite Botherhood from that of their fellows. They followed the teachings of John Ruskin who encouraged getting back to nature and depicting that in finite detail. The figures in this portrait of ‘The Long Engagement’ by Arthur Hughes show the cleric looking skywards for divine inspiration perhaps, while his fiancée looks longingly at him in hope. The dark and light on their faces is a contrast emphasising this. His lowly stipend may well have delayed their marriage considerably. Despite the poignancy of the figures, the tree trunk in the foreground is perhaps more dominant than may be expected.



IMG_4391John Ruskin’s encouragement of getting back to Nature led to an almost photographic representation of foliage and flowers. The particular and carefully placed tiny brushstrokes on each leaf and the lichen is certainly not in anyway impressionistic! The time spent on depicting the vegetation in such detail must have been considerable.


IMG_4390But it is not only aspects of nature that were treated with such precision. The folds of fabric and the sheen of this satin or silk dress means that it looks as if it could be touched and the luxury of the fabric felt. Note, too, here the carefully depicted ferns and the hairs of the dog – what a shiny coat it has!





IMG_4387It wasn’t just men who were painting so carefully. Emma Sandys focused on portraits of women and children, and here is ‘A Young Woman Holding a Rose’. Note the detail in painting each petal of the rose, and the strands of glorious auburn hair entangled with her fingers.





IMG_4371Perhaps William Morris is the most well-known member of the Arts and Crafts movement. This is his design for wallpaper. It is an admirably balanced design, with the dark leaves and stems forming their own pattern within the design, and matched by the even spread of the bunches of jasmine flowers.





IMG_4373This enlargement shows the outline sketches of leaves and flowers before they are coloured.

The ‘Victorian Radicals’ exhibition is on in Birmingham at the Gas Hall of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery until 30th October 2024 and is certainly worth visiting.

Type is Beautiful

IMG_1589This new book by Simon Loxley ‘Type is Beautiful’ brings together fifty different fonts from Gutenberg (used from around 1454) to Zulia (designed in 2013) and many in between. It starts with a chapter explaining about type design, why we need more than one style, how letter designs are translated into type, the development of different designs for headings and titles, and how type is designed and used today. Simon Loxley’s selected fifty types are not ‘the best of’ but ones that have a significance, and, more often than not, a story.



the-first-page-of-eusebius-preparation-for-the-gospelThe type used by Gutenberg for the first printing presses in Europe, in Mainz in Germany, was based on Gothic Black Letter manuscripts. It was a Frenchman, Nicolas Jenson, working in Italy, who produced a Roman type (based on the work of others) that, from the 1470s, lead the way for many years. It was not only the type design that was important, but also the type-setting. Unlike modern newspapers, magazines and books the impression on the page on the right is one of clarity and evenness; even though there are right and left justified margins, no lines are denser as the letters have been packed in, nor any lighter as the letters have been stretched out.



imagesJohn Baskerville was an English type designer, who created the letter-forms in ‘Baskerville’ which first appeared in 1754. It is a design of great elegance and style, with a roundness of form. Baskerville was concerned not only with type but also the ink and paper used in the printing process. His eponymous typeface was described as ‘letting in the light’, and the page on the right shows ‘the art of concealing care and the sense of balance which has taken infinite pains to obtain the right interlinear spacing and letterspacing, the right gradations of size.’



images-1William Morris was a polymath who, it is said by his biographer, typically spent five years on something achieving a very high standard, and then moved on to something new. When setting up the Kelmscott Press Morris knew that he wanted ‘letters pure in form; severe, without needing excrescences; solid, without the thickening and thinning of the line’. An example of the ‘Golden Type’, designed by Morris and Emery Walker, and first seen in 1891, is in the first book printed at the Kelmscott Press – ‘The Glittering Plain’.

images‘Neuland’, first seen in 1923, is a completely different typeface from those that have gone before. Rudolf Koch from Germany was a great calligrapher as well as type designer, and it was said that ‘All his founts are derived from written hands. They spring into life quite freely’. For Neuland, Koch cut the letters directly on to the punches which is remarkable. It is chunky and has great charm.

transport_specimenWe may pass them every day but road and motorway signs use typefaces and they have to be designed. ‘Transport’ is the one used in the UK. It first appeared in 1958 and was designed by Jock Kinneir from Britain and Margaret Calvert from South Africa. The design for such signs needed to be clear and easy-to-read particularly from a distance. When travelling at speed confusion between letter-forms can be dangerous!

uix80p0vdc314c6cd6sxc7d965c6deNatWest Normal RegularOWe are used to brand recognition by company logos, but NatWest bank went one further by commissioning British type-designers Freda Sack and David Quay to create a typeface especially for them. Initially asked to design a one-weight headline for the bank, it was then used for more than that. ‘Natwest’ was said to be one of the first identities that was type-led, and although literature from most banks may not be easily recognisable, because of this typeface, that of NatWest is.

This is a fascinating book giving the background to fifty different type designs from the classic to the fun, and it even includes Comic Sans – the Marmite of typefaces!

*NB The illustrations used here are not necessarily the ones in the book, as these weren’t available at the time of writing this blog.