Friday, March 7, 2008

Lifting the veil

I recently acquired a set of lithographs by the artist Pierre Jacquot, about whom I know very little – but that little, I know in surprising detail. I know that he was born in Nancy, France, on the 15th of May 1929, at precisely a quarter past four in the morning.

Pierre Jacquot, Nostradamus, original lithograph

Somewhere on the web there is a full astrological chart for Jacquot, and in that lies the clue to the intrinsic interest of my lithographs. They were created to illustrate a lavish 1980 edition of the prophetic quatrains of Nostradamus: Centuries et autre prophéties de Nostradamus, présentées et commentées par Anne et André Barbault. This was part of the series Collection Gravure Contemporaine published by the art publisher Club du Livre, under the direction of Philippe Lebaud.

Centuries et autre prophéties de Nostradamus

The book was published in a total of 390 numbered copies: 22 on Japon nacré, 55 on handmade Auvergne, and 313 on Arches. There were also a small number of hors-commerce (not-for-sale) copies reserved for the artist and others who worked on the book, marked O.

Mine is one of these hors-commerce copies. It is printed on Japon nacré, the finest paper, and like the 22 numbered copies on Japon, it comes with a separate box containing two extra suites of loose lithographs: a signed suite on Auvergne, and an unsigned suite on Arches. The 55 copies on Auvergne had suites on Japon and Arches; the 313 copies on Arches were simply bound books.

The signed justification page

The 22 numbered copies on Japon also had an original gouache, which my copy probably never possessed (the whole thing is in near-perfect condition, and looks as it has never been opened or looked at). Each copy of the book was signed in pencil at the colophon by the artist, who signs simply Jacquot.

Pierre Jacquot, The Fool, original lithograph

So my starting point for looking at these remarkable lithographs – which were separately printed by Jacques Mourlot - was to try to understand their relationship to the text of Nostradamus. I was struck immediately by the strong astrological and tarot imagery used by Jacquot. I thought this was a rather clever solution to the problem of illustrating this incomprehensible text. The images are original and enigmatic, with a haunting edge of strangeness, almost as if the artist is peering into our world from some parallel dimension.

Pierre Jacquot, The Star, original lithograph

Then, searching for further information on Pierre Jacquot on the net, I stumbled across a site reproducing the same images, but describing them as a tarot set. Evidently the 22 main Nostradamus lithographs, not counting the frontispiece portrait of Nostradamus, were also issued as a Tarot portfolio, in 120 signed and numbered copies, printed on Arches. I do not know, but am guessing that they were printed by the same printer, for the same publisher, at the same time, as the Nostradamus sets. So far as I can tell the images were never published as a conventional tarot deck, but only as a print portfolio.

The justification page of Centuries makes no mention of the existence of the Tarot portfolio. I suspect this was a case of a publisher successfully killing two birds with one stone, and that once Jacquot decided to illustrate the Nostradamus book with tarot images, it seemed a good idea to also issue them separately to the tarot-collecting market.

Pierre Jacquot, The Tower, original lithograph

I’m not going to go into a learned discussion of the origins and meaning of the tarot, as it would all have to be stolen from Wikipedia (which has an excellent and informative article). I’m just pleased to have discovered Pierre Jacquot’s work, and intrigued to know if anyone out there has further information about it.


peacay said...

You can't see it but I'm shaking my metaphorical fist at you! It's vvvv late at night and you made me go searching...and searching. I like a good mystery.

Have you tried ==jacquot tarot== searching?

It doesn't turn up much (I didn't check everything) but it does lead to Adam Mclean of the alchemy site. If I were you I would contact him (especially if these great illustrations will be for sale). He is usually a very thorough sort of academic so if there is info to be known about the artist, he will surely know.

Neil said...

Thanks, Peacay - I'll do that. The person I bought this from actually attributed it to a much younger artist, Philippe Jacquot - understandably as the book simply credits the artist as Jacquot.

Neil said...

I've found out a little more information on the Tarot portfolio. It was published in 1980 by Club du Livre (same year, same publisher as the Nostradamus). The title was Histoire, Structure et Symbolisme du Tarot, by Raymond Abellio.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if M. Jacquot is still alive? It's certainly possible.
I know nothing about tarot, but these pictures are charming.

Neil said...

It's quite likely he's still alive, Jane - wars and tuberculosis aside, printmakers are astoundingly long-lived.