William Morris Art
William Morris and the Kelmscott Press
Go to The Kelmscott Chaucer page
The Kelmscott Press.
The year 1891 marks the beginning of the last project realized by William Morris, the printing of fine books. His admiration for the medieval illuminated books and the early printed books was strong and he had wanted to produce fine books for quite some time. The revival of the art of the early printers, William Caxton and others. The book could be again an object of art. Nothing like the ones published currently in those years, poor printing, poor binding and low quality paper.
A lecture on books design given by Emery Walker in 1888 before the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, London, was probably the stronger motivation for Morris' printing project and led to the establishment of the Kelmscott Press. One month after that lecture Morris was already designing new fonts of type; his first set of type was based on the roman type based on the works of Nicolas Jenson. He worked on enlarged photographs of the Jenson’s type; he made and remade enlarged drawings, corrected and perfected them. At the end steel punches were made from those drawings and carefully revised. By December 1890 the punches for this first type were ready and the founding of the characters began; the font was call Golden. Later Morris designed other two types: the Troy and the Chaucer, being this last one approximately a smaller version of the Troy.
The first book to be printed was Caxton’s translation of The Golden Legend of Voragine. He had installed a hand press in a cottage near his house in Hammersmith and commissioned hand made paper. But the paper was not the right size and the book was too large and would take time; Morris was anxious to start printing and instead he chose a shorter story of his composition call The Story of the Glittering Plain. The first page was pressed on January 31, 1891. It was the beginning of the private press movement in England.
William Morris considered the Kelmscott Press his private project for his enjoyment and at his expenses. Twenty copies were printed of that first booklet for distribution in between his friends. Later two hundred copies on paper and six on vellum were printed for sale. The book had one border and twenty decorated initials.
Like all William Morris creations and projects the Kelmscott Press was to create beautiful object in limited quantity, his books were really expensive and made for the selected class that could afford them.
A second book followed that year, Poems by the Way printed in 300 exemplars. The work for the Story of Glittering Plain had already started, but because of his length it was the seventh book to be published. With it Morris’ stile for all his book was already established, Woodcut borders and initials designed by himself and illustrations by Burne-Jones, Walter Crane and Charles March Gere.
In its seven years of existence the Kelmscott Press produced 53 titles for a total of 18,234 volumes. The press closed two years after William morris death.
Here follows a list of some of the more important works published by the Kelmscott Press:
William Morris, The Story of the Glittering Plain (1891)
William Morris, The Defence of Guenevere and other Poems (1892)
William Morris, A Dream of John Ball and A King's Lesson (1892)
Raoul Lafevre, The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (1892)
William Shakespeare, The Poems (1893)
William Morris, News from Nowhere (1893)
William Caxton (trans.), The Order of Chivalry (1893)
Sir Thomas More, Utopia (1893)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Sonnets and Lyrical Poems (1893)
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Hand and Soul (1894)
Wilhelm Meinhold, Sidonia the Sorceress (1894).
William Morris, The Story of the Glittering Plain (1894)
Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon (1894)
Sir Percyvelle of Gales (1895)
William Morris, The Life and Death of Jason (1895)
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Works or the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896)
William Morris, The Earthly Paradise (1896)
Sir Ysumbrace: (1897)
William Morris, The Story of Sigurd the Volsung (1898)
An American Memorial to Keats (1894)
Go to the Kelmscott Chaucer page
Each decorative image and element has been meticulously hand-drawn by AlfredoM in vector format.
Resolution independent vector graphics insures high quality reproduction at any size, allowing also complete latitude for modification of each graphic element.
No special skill is required to use the images as clip art in word processing documents, to create letters, cards, invitations, posters, etc.
The design of the borders.
William Morris Art
Nothing better than this writing by William Richard Lethaby (1857-1931) describes the method used by William Morris in the creation of the black end white borders for his books:
I have watched Mr. Morris designing the black and white borders for his books. He would have two saucers, one with India ink, the other of Chinese white. Then, making the slightest indications of the main stems of the pattern he had in mind, with pencil, he would begin at once his finished final ornament by covering a length of ground with one brush and painted the pattern with the other. If a part did not satisfy him, the other brush covered it up again, and again he set to put in his finished ornament. This procedure opens up another idea of his, that a given piece of work was best done once for all, and that all making of elaborate cartoons, and accurately copying into clear finished drawing, was a mistake. There was not only a loss of vitality which would come by the interposition of more or less mechanical work, but a drawing would not come right a second time, and would always to his eye bear the impress of a copy instead of a thing self-springing under his hands. It is difficult to realize the extent to which he felt this, but… he seemed to have the idea that a harmonious piece of work needed to be the result of one flow of mind; like a bronze casting in which all kind of patching and adding are blemishes… The actual drawing with the brush was an agreeable sensation to him; the forms were led along and bent over and rounded at the edge with definitive pleasure; they were stroked into place, as it were, with a sensation like that of smoothing a cat… thus he kept alive every part of his work by growing the pattern, as I have said, bit by bit, solving the turns and twists as he came to them. It was to express his sensuous pleasure that he used to say that all good designing was felt in the stomach.
I am not sure how much of this concept of art creation is valid.
I have studied the drawing of pieces of art done by many of those great artists from the Victorian period and I have re-drawn the same pieces they did. I also studied many books on art written by great experts of the same period and great archeologists. I reached the conclusion that many of those geniuses, that in some moment of their life discovered their attitudes and became famous without the need of any schooling or training, owe their success to the wealth they inherited from their families and the place in the society that the money offered to them.
It is surprising how some of those artists, like Owen Jones and others, could create repeating geometric borders without knowing or using the basic geometric constructions that the Victorian children were learning in the elementary school. But then what is a little cheating here and there to make the ends close.
We don’t expect a great novelist to populate his pages with grammar error. Well, many people can see grammar error in drawings and paintings