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In search of perfection at the William Morris Society

Categoriesnews Arts and parksnews

Image captionImage 1: Kelmscott House at 26 Upper Mall in Hammersmith

Some of the most intricate and exquisite book decorations in the history of publishing have gone on display in Hammersmith.

A new exhibition about the Kelmscott Press – the 19th century designer William Morris’s printing operation – is being staged in Upper Mall, W6. Entry is free.

It focuses on the poet, writer, artist and publisher’s quest for the ‘ideal book’, using ornate examples of his work to chart his progress.

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Image caption: Image 2: Kelmscott Press colophon (publisher's emblem or imprint)

Named after Kelmscott House by the river on Upper Mall, the Kelmscott Press was Morris’s last great artistic venture.

He wrote in 1895: “I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty, while at the same time they should be easy to read and should not dazzle the eye.”

Whether or not the fancy typefaces and detailed embellishments created using traditional craftsman’s techniques dazzle (and most print historians argue that they do), the exhibition explores the designer’s Hammersmith connections, his pursuit of perfection and his collaboration with neighbour, Emery Walker.

Morris’s efforts culminated in producing the full works of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Kelmscott Chaucer, in 1896, months before his death.

Described by the painter Edward Burne-Jones as looking ‘like a pocket cathedral’ it inspired excellence in book design around the world.

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Image caption: Image 3: The Kelmscott Chaucer, produced by the Kelmscott Press in 1896

Morris’s Albion printing press, used in the production of the Kelmscott Chaucer, is on display in the exhibition as well as a large collection of books and ephemera, many which are rarely displayed.

The Ideal Book: William Morris and the Kelmscott Press runs until 2 April 2023 in the William Morris Society, Coach House, Kelmscott House, 26 Upper Mall, W6 9TA.

It is open Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays 2-5pm. Free.

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