The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (The Kelmscott Chaucer) William Morris Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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In 1896, not long before William Morris sadly passed away, the artist would work on a publication of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (The Kelmscott Chaucer), featuring some elaborate artworks which would sit alongside the original texts.

Artists had provided illustrations for book designs for many centuries but few were as ideally suited to this task as William Morris. His signature style of using floral patterns could easily be translated into background designs on traditional literature publications. He was also well connected within the art world and would always be able to find specialists to help out with new artistic challenges. For this particular project Morris is known to have worked alongside Edward Burne-Jones for the designs themselves, before using their own publishing company, Kelmscott Press, to produce the completed publications. Morris would have paid particular attention to the typography and printing requirements of this publication. The final project involved an illustrated book with woodcuts and the connection to famous British literature makes this quite a famous project within the latter part of their careers. A version of this project is known to be viewable at the Cantor Arts Center in the US, having been gifted to the institution by Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel J. Kendall. It must be remembered that interest in traditional British art and literature, including Morris specifically, is still very strong within the US.

There are believed to have been 87 woodcut illustrations within the overall book and fewer than 500 copies of it were initially planned. As its popularity grew, cheaper alternatives of it have become available and can still be purchased today for nominal fees. The original publication, as overseen by Morris himself, would retain a much higher valuation today and very few of the original batch can be found in existence today. Chaucer is a popular choice for students of English literature and some will be introduced to the work of Morris and Burne-Jones when viewing this masterpiece collection. To see art and literature combined together provides a charming product which would be appreciated by those interested in traditional British culture more generally. Considering the complexity of some of these woodcut designs, it is likely to have taken the pair quite some time to put these various illustrations together.

Burne-Jones' involvement on the illustrations is acknowledged upon the cover itself and sometimes his work has been mis-attributed to Morris because of their close working relationship. The two artists shared many things in common, including a love for literature and also other artistic disciplines such as furniture design and illustration. Considering how closely this project came towards the end of Morris' life, and its connection to many different aspects of British life and culture, it can be said that The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (The Kelmscott Chaucer) remains amongst his most important and interesting creations from all the different projects in which he became involved across his lifetime. It remains a fine example of what can be achieved when different creative artists and writers come together in a uniform manner.

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (The Kelmscott Chaucer) in Detail William Morris