William Morris Climbing a Mountain in Iceland

PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

William Morris Climbing a Mountain in Iceland (England, c.1871)

Not for Sale Not for Sale
Pencil on paper


16.50cm high
10.00cm wide
(6.50 inches high)
(3.94 inches wide)
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Maria Zambaco, by descent to her great-niece Mrs Wyndham Milligan
Sotheby's Belgravia, 29th June, 1976, Lot 223
Private collection


Linda Parry (editor), William Morris Victorian & Albert Museum London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 1996, illustrated
The William Morris Society Newsletter, Spring 2008, page 34, reproduced on front cover
Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times, Raise a glass to smashing bumpkins, January 19, 2018
Ellen Mara de Wachter, Frieze Magazine, The Land We Live In - The Land We Left
, February 12, 2018

Exhibition History

Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie , Edward Burne-Jones - The Earthly Paradise, October 2009 - February 2010
Berne, Kunstmuseum Berne, Edward Burne-Jones - The Earthly Paradise, March 2010 - July 20100

Description / Expertise

A fine example of the many caricatures by Burne-Jones of his closest friend, William Morris, this drawing expresses both his great affection for his friend and his preoccupation with Morris's increasing stoutness. Morris's serious interest in Iceland dates from 1868 when he began translating the sagas with Eirikr Magnusson; his first visit in 1871 was a watershed in his life. It was followed by a second visit in 1873. Part of his reason for leaving England in the summer of 1871 was to allow his wife, Jane, to spend the summer with Rossetti at Kelmscott Manor, the house that the two men had leased together in Oxfordshire. At this emotional crisis in his life, Iceland inspired and revitalised Morris. The country was then very little visited and was still fairly primitive: '...The journey was ...one that had to be taken in adventurous explorer's fashion, with guides and a string of packhorses...it was a prolonged picnic spiced by hard living and rough riding.'(1) Burne-Jones was much amused by Morris's account of his adventures and drew a series of caricatures to illustrate them; others show Morris riding a little Icelandic pony, or dressed as an Eskimo and eating a fish.

Morris, a hearty eater and drinker, had begun to put on weight soon after his marriage in 1859 and was often teased on this score; there is a story of his friends taking in the seams of his waistcoat overnight, so that it seemed that he had suddenly grown extremely fat.

Burne-Jones was repelled by obesity, and occasionally his caricatures of Morris's stoutness, like his caricatures of fat ladies, seem designed to give relief to a concern which was almost obsessive. One drawing of Morris in the British museum is inscribed, `all more arse' (all Morris), a description appropriate here also.

1. J.W. Mackail, The Life of William Morris, 2 volumes, London, 1899, volume 1, page 241