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Cast a Wide Net: Victorian Tile

Membland tiles, design by William Morris, implemented by William De Morgan

Membland tiles, design by William Morris implemented by William De Morgan for Morris & Co.

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Victorian Decorative Wall and Art Tiles

William Morris was three years old when Victorian ascended the throne. Within a quarter of a century, he would change the direction of the decorative arts, including tile. Early Victorian tiles were symmetrical and characterized by geometric shapes, usually mass produced by such older companies as Thomas Minton and Sons., who had been producing ceramics since 1793. Inspired by critic John Ruskin and his friend, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Morris introduced natural motifs and artisan methods for tiles and the decoratives arts. The movement became known as Arts & Crafts. Victorian Arts & Crafts tiles are a subtype of Victorian tiles, characterized by natural motifs and bright colors and individual or small-run production methods.

At its core, the Arts & Crafts movement was reactionary, advocating a return to the medieval craftsmanship and quality. Morris took exception to what he considered low quality in 19th century and Victorian tiles that were products of the Industrial Revolution: mass-produced inlaid, printed, or Delftware tiles. Although this was generally true, some mass-produced tiles were quite robust.

Most tiles in the catalog are Victorian, either Morris and De Morgan designs, or have a Victorian aspect, although you will find Victorian Medievalism-inspired and later Arts & Crafts tiles (California, Glasgow) as well.

Victorian blue and white tiles, framed

A Victorian Home

"When we can get beyond that smoky world, there, out in the country we may still see the works of our fathers yet alive amidst the very nature they were wrought into, and of which they are so completely a part: for there indeed if anywhere, in the English country, in the days when people cared about such things, was there a full sympathy between the works of man, and the land they were made for: — the land is a little land; too much shut up within the narrow seas, as it seems, to have much space for swelling into hugeness: there are no great wastes overwhelming in their dreariness, no great solitudes of forests, no terrible untrodden mountain-walls: all is measured, mingled, varied, gliding easily one thing into another: little rivers, little plains, swelling, speedily — changing uplands, all beset with handsome orderly trees; little hills, little mountains, netted over with the walls of sheep-walks: all is little; yet not foolish and blank, but serious rather, and abundant of meaning for such as choose to seek it: it is neither prison nor palace, but a decent home." ~William Morris, The Decorative Arts: Their Relation to Modern Life and Progress, 1877