Sunday, October 21, 2007

The mystery of Denis Volx

Denis Volx, etching

An artist named Denis Volx published a suite of 10 copper engravings to illustrate Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal in 1918, in an edition of 400 copies, and a suite of 15 etchings in 1921 to illustrate the classic of French light erotica by René Boylesve (the nom de plume of René Tardiveau). This second set of prints has no stated limitation, but in his Manuel de l’amateur de livres illustrés modernes, Luc Monod describes it as printed "à petit nombre". It is exceptionally scarce.

The Koopman collection of French illustrated books at the National Library of the Netherlands has a copy, attached to a later edition of La leçon d’amour dans un parc. My own proofs of these rare etchings by Volx came loosely interleaved in an otherwise unillustrated copy of the book published in 1921 by Calmann-Lévy. 500 copies of this text-only reprint were published. I have not been able to find any record of another copy with the Volx etchings, but as the page size is identical it seems very likely that Volx’s publisher, the bookseller A. Blaizot, commissioned the etchings with the specific intention of trying to sell them to select customers buying the Calmann-Lévy edition. My etchings are keyed into this text with discreet pencil page references on the back.

The etchings are printed in sanguine on wove paper, and are signed Denis Volx in the plate. The Koopman collection website reproduces the etched cover for the print portfolio, which I do not have. But even the super-knowledgeable librarians at the National Library seem to have been stumped by Denis Volx, for they give no biographical information about him at all, not even dates of birth and death.

Denis Volx, etching

I assumed Volx was a young artist, fresh from the killing fields of WWI, who died young, possibly at the tail end of the great influenza pandemic that followed in the wake of the conflict. I had pretty much given up hope of ever finding anything more about him, when the name leapt out at me from a page of the Dictionnaire des illustrateurs 1890-1945 by Marcus Osterwalder.

Denis Volx, it transpires, was just one of a bewildering series of pseudonyms adopted by the artist Denis Valvérane. His full name was Louis Joseph Marie Denis Valvérane according to Osterwalder, and Louis Jean-Marie Denis-Valvérane according to Bénézit’s Dictionnaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs, et graveurs.

Valvérane chose for some reason of his own to obscure his tracks by signing works in different media by different names. He signed his canvases L. Denis-Valvérane, his etchings Denis Volx, his drawings D. Valvérane, and his drawings for the press Valdès, Valdex, Val d'Es, Montelli, and Zed. This must have amused him, but it has left his reputation fragmented. This is sad, because he was obviously a talented minor artist.

Denis Volx, etching

Denis Valvérane was born in Manosque in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence on 20 September 1870, and died in Tarascon on 12 April 1943. He studied in Paris under Jean Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. He exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français from 1904, at the Salon des Dessinateurs Humoristes from 1911-1935, at the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Indépendants.

His etchings for La leçon d'amour dans un parc are very much in the "galante" tradition stretching back to Boucher and Fragonard, with a twist of late Art Nouveau. I have another very different set of plates illustrating the same text by Pierre Brissaud (1885-1964).

Pierre Brissaud, pochoir

These are hand-stencilled pochoirs, retouched by hand, from one of 98 separate suites of Brissaud’s colour plates for a 1925 edition of the book, published in an edition of 501 numbered and 20 lettered copies, my copy being copy C reserved of the publisher, Édouard Champion, and printed on Japon Impérial paper. These pochoirs, published only four years after the Denis Volx etchings, mark a dramatic shift in French taste towards a distinctly Art Deco aesthetic.

Pierre Brissaud, pochoir


Miss lokillo said...

i ve enjoyed very much your blog...

Neil said...

Thanks - please visit again.

José Garrido Herráez said...

Hello. Very interesting post.
If you want to buy a copy of some of the prints you show, I have found them in ebay. "Denis Volx Eau-forte originale".

DP said...

Is it possible that the pseudonym Vald'Es is a contraction of the two names Louis Jean-Marie Denis Valvérane and Paul d'Espagnat - comic strip artist see

Neil said...

Hi DP - That's a very interesting suggestion, and quite plausible. I've never seen any of the work published under the Vald'Es pseudonym, so can't say for sure. Thanks so much for your input.