Talwin Morris

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Talwin Morris
Born (1865-06-14)14 June 1865
Winchester, England
Died 29 March 1911(1911-03-29) (aged 45)
Bowling, Scotland
Nationality British
Other names Talwyn Morris
Occupation Designer
Known for Book design

Talwin Morris (14 June 1865 - 29 March 1911) was a prolific book designer and decorative artist working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly known for his Glasgow Style furniture, metalwork and book designs.


Morris was born 14 June 1865 in Winchester, England to Quakers Thomas Shewell Morris (1832–1877) and Harriet Chick (d.1865 in childbirth).[1]

Upon his father's death in 1877 he moved to the care of his aunt Emily Morris (1829–1916) in Reading, Berkshire. Originally destined for a theological career, he attended Lancing College[2] in West Sussex before withdrawing from his studies.[3] Between 1882 and 1885 he was articled to the firm of his uncle Joseph Morris (architect) (1836–1913), winning a prize in 1885 from the Berkshire Archaeological and Architectural Society. Following his apprenticeship, he obtained work in London between 1885 and 1890 with architect James Martin Brooks. Despite this training he seems not to have registered with the Royal Institute of British Architects.[4]

From 1891 he took up post as sub art-editor under M. H. Spielmann for Black and White, a weekly magazine published by Cassell, designing many of its decorative initials and headpieces. By 1892 he had also designed the masthead of Cassell's Saturday Journal.[5] On 21 May 1892 he married his second cousin Alice Marsh (1861–1955), who went on to enjoy her own highly successful career as an illustrator of children's books under the name Alice Talwin Morris. His occupation on the marriage certificate is listed as 'clerk'.[6] They lived at 1 Field Court, Gray's Inn, London, a short walk from the offices of Black and White on Bouverie Street.[7]

Responding to an advertisement[8] for an Art Director for publishers Blackie and Son, he moved to Glasgow in May 1893 where he soon made the acquaintance of the artists and designers associated with the Glasgow School of Art. Although he never attended the School, Morris soon became friends with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his contemporaries, and his own work quickly began to incorporate Glasgow Style motifs.

In July 1893 he and Alice leased Dunglass Castle and began to design its interiors.[9] They also bought and commissioned pieces from Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh and Frances Macdonald McNair for the house.[10] Bookplates designed by Talwin and Alice at that time are generally thought to reflect the circumstances of their new home and life together.[11] The house was sold in July 1899 to the parents of his friends Margaret and Frances Macdonald, and the Morrisses moved to Torwood in Bowling.[12]

From 5 October-5 December 1896 he exhibited three book cover designs at the fifth exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society at the New Gallery, London. He also produced metalwork, jewellery[13] and furniture, which he exhibited at the 1902 Exhibition of Modern British Furniture at the National Museum of Industrial Art in Budapest. Also in 1902, his work was selected for exhibition alongside those of his contemporaries at the influential Prima Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna held in Turin, at which he sold several pieces.[14]

In 1902 also he introduced Mackintosh to his employer Walter Blackie, which led to Mackintosh receiving the commission to design Blackie's home, Hill House, Helensburgh.[15] In 1910 he designed the memorial of his employers the Blackie Family in Glasgow Necropolis.

Morris himself became hugely influential in Victorian book design by moving away from the popular narrative bindings of the time to a more modern Art Nouveau approach where line, curve and decoration are used to entice the reader.[16] At Blackie and Son his output was prolific, producing many designs that could be printed in different colourways across series such as the Red Letter Library and Library of Famous Books. He also designed books for Morison Brothers of Glasgow, Cassell, J. G. Cotta of Stuttgart, F. Volckmar, Mudie's Select Library, and from 1898 the Blackie subsidiary Gresham.[17] In 1906 he also supplied the cover design of the influential German magazine Dekorative Kunst.[18] Though many of his book designs are unsigned, some feature his 'signature' of a single dot followed, after a pause, by a further two dots (a stylised rendition of his initials in morse code which would comprise a long dash, followed by two shorted dashes). Others feature a stylised elongated TM monogram. During his tenure, Morris also commissioned book designs by designers such as Ethel Larcombe and Silver Studio.

Morris retired through ill-health in 1909 and died from a cardiac embolism on 29 March 1911 at just 45 years old. His one piece of formal writing, the 9th special supplement of the Press Art School titled 'The Illustration of Children's Books', was published posthumously in 1912.[19] His body lies in Dumbarton Cemetery, marked by a gravestone designed by his friend Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the behest of his widow Alice. The inscription reads "Love is more great than we conceive / and death is the keeper of unknown redemptions".[20]

From 21–22 July 1924 books in the possession of his widow Alice were auctioned at Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.[21] In 1946 his widow Alice presented examples of his architectural drawings, interior designs and sketchbooks of Blackie motifs to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Much of his design work for Blackie was sold at Sotheby's, London 1–2 June 1989 in the sale of the Blackie archives. A grille and stained-glass window for the Blackie headquarters in Stanhope Street, Glasgow (demolished in the 1960s) was sold the following month at Christie's, Glasgow.[22] Posthumous exhibitions of his work were held at the William Morris Gallery from 23 August-2 October 1983, National Art Library from June–July 1990, and at Blackwell from 26 April-11 July 2005. His work can be seen in many library and museum collections, both in the United Kingdom and internationally.


  1. ^ Arnold, H. G. & Gold, S. M. (1989) Morris of Reading: a family of architects. London: Ancient Monuments Society, p.56
  2. ^ A photographic portrait purporting to be Morris c.1892 by Salmon of Reading exists in the School's archives http://www.lancingcollege.co.uk/852/ols-and-development-office/archives
  3. ^ Arnold, H. G. & Gold, S. M. (1989) Morris of Reading: a family of architects. London: Ancient Monuments Society, p.56
  4. ^ Correspondence between Mr Gold and British Architectural Library held in biographical file on Talwin Morris at Library of Royal Institute of British Architects
  5. ^ http://capitadiscovery.co.uk/gsa/items/221139
  6. ^ Cinamon, G. (1983) Talwin Morris: an exhibition. London: William Morris Gallery, p.11
  7. ^ Cinamon, G. (1983) Talwin Morris: an exhibition. London: William Morris Gallery, p.1
  8. ^ The Times, 21 February 1893
  9. ^ Gleeson White. J. W. (1897) 'Some Glasgow designers and their work: part II', The Studio, XI(54), September, pp.227–236
  10. ^ Buchanan, W. (2004) 'Talwin Morris, Blackie and the Glasgow Style', Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Journal, 87, Autumn, p.10
  11. ^ Cinamon, G. (1983) Talwin Morris: an exhibition. London: William Morris Gallery, p.11
  12. ^ Cinamon, G. (1983) Talwin Morris: an exhibition. London: William Morris Gallery, p.1
  13. ^ Examples are held in the Victoria and Albert Museum. See http://collections.vam.ac.uk/
  14. ^ Buchanan, W. (2004) 'Talwin Morris, Blackie and the Glasgow Style', Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Journal, 87, Autumn, p.10
  15. ^ Glasgow: City of Sculpture: http://www.glasgowsculpture.com/pg_biography.php?sub=morris_t#
  16. ^ Ford, L. (2004) 'The Art Nouveau book designs of Talwin Morris', Amphora, 135, June, pp.4–8. Available: http://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/jspui/handle/1993/4449
  17. ^ Cinamon, G. (1981) 'Talwin Morris and the Glasgow Style: Part II', Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 29, Spring/Summer, pp.8–10
  18. ^ Dekorative Kunst, Band IX Nos. 5–8, February–March 1906
  19. ^ A copy is held in the British Library.
  20. ^ Mackintosh's pencil and wash design for the gravestone is held in the Hunterian Art Gallery collection, Glasgow. See http://www.huntsearch.gla.ac.uk/
  21. ^ The sales catalogue is held at University of Manchester Library
  22. ^ Cinamon, G. (1990) 'Talwin Morris (1865–1911): a checklist of works related to publishing', Private Library, 3(1) Spring, p.41