Friday, September 5, 2008

Biffins de la zone

Noël Bureau, Les Athlètes
Original wood engraving, 1933

Just to cheer us all up after that last post, I thought I’d write something about the artist who provided the opening image, the modernist poet Noël Bureau.

Marcel Gromaire, Portrait of Noël Bureau
Original etching, 1930

Bureau was a quintessential dilettante – a poet, essayist, art critic, and composer of music. He moved in artistic circles in the Bohemian Montmartre that he loved, and was friends with many artists of the between-the-wars School of Paris, notably Marcel Gromaire, Tadé Makowski, Pierre Dubreuil, Édouard Goerg, Alexandre Ralli, Per Krohg, and Jean-Gabriel Daragnès. Daragnès provided a Cubist-inspired etched frontispiece for Bureau’s 1945 collection Rigeurs, the title sequence of which is dedicated to Janine and Jean-Gabriel Daragnès.

Jean-Gabriel Daragnès, Rigeurs
Original etching, 1945

Which of these artist friends taught Noël Bureau to make wood engravings is uncertain, but it was likely Gromaire, who made his own first wood engravings for Bureau's 1925 collection of prose poems, Ruptures, and also etched a portrait of the poet. One of Gromaire’s cuts for Ruptures shows a juggler, and foreshadows the subject that Bureau would make his own, the circus.

Marcel Gromaire, Juggler
Original wood engraving, 1925

The circus had, of course, been a popular subject for art since the days of Toulouse-Lautrec and Ibels. Montmartre artists such as Gustave Assire had the Cirque Medrano on their doorstep, and circus acts also featured in the shows at nightclubs such as the Folies Bergère, as this copper engraving by Hervé Baille shows.

Hervé Baille, Clowns at the Folies Bergère
Original copper engraving, 1945

Another inspiration for Bureau's naïvely exuberant wood engravings of the circus was the work of the self-taught artist Camille Bombois. Bombois was an ex-circus strongman and wrestler, who worked in a printing factory at night and painted by day, mainly circus motifs. In 1922 Noël Bureau spotted his work hanging on the railings in the Place du Tertre and championed him as a master of naïve art, an opinion which holds good today. Bombois contributed a sketch to Bureau’s Chapeau chinois in 1929. It was no doubt partly his admiration for the self-taught Bombois that gave Bureau the courage to try his own hand at the graphic arts.

Noël Bureau, Cirque
Original wood engraving, 1933

Bureau’s collection of woodcuts and prose poems, Cirque, was printed in 1933 by Marcel Seheur in an edition of 90 copies, published by Éditions de la Girafe. My copy has a warm gift inscription from Noël Bureau dated 1957, so I think one can confidently say it was not an immediate sell-out. But I think it’s great – robust and funny and full of verve.

Noël Bureau, Éléphant musicien
Original wood engraving, 1933

I have not been able to find dates of either birth or death for Bureau. The first publication I can find trace of is Projections impulsives in 1916; the last, Au profit du silence, in 1947. He certainly lived until 1957, as the inscription in my copy of Cirque attests. As a writer, he seems to have been completely forgotten. My own feeling is that he probably had private means, allowing him to behave in all the arts as an elegant amateur – for instance, he privately published his own chamber music, with a preface by Max Jacob, and I think one can assume that he also financed the publication of Cirque.

Noël Bureau, Joueur de jazz
Original wood engraving, 1933

Besides Cirque, Ruptures, and Rigeurs, I have one further book by Noël Bureau, this one published as well as printed by Marcel Seheur. The title is Marché aux puces: poèmes en prose accompagnés de 6 eaux-fortes originales. This book has one of my favourite dedications of all time. It reads: À mes collaborateurs: peintres-graveurs, imprimeurs et biffins de la zone. A biffin is a rag-and-bone man. The etchings in this book are by Gromaire, Goerg, Makowski, Dubreuil, Ralli, and Krohg. I have already reproduced Gromaire’s frontispiece portrait above (I have no idea, by the way, why Gromaire has etched the number 97 next to his initial in the plate; it’s certainly not the date). So here are the others, with no further ado.

Édouard Goerg, Marché aux puces
Original etching, 1930

Tadé Makowski, Marché aux puces
Original etching, 1930

Pierre Dubreuil, Marché aux puces
Original etching, 1930

Alexandre Ralli, Marché aux puces
Original etching, 1930

Per Krohg, Marché aux puces
Original etching, 1930


Thomas said...

Tadeusz Makowski's paintings are charming - that is the first etching of his I have seen.

Neil said...

I'm not sure how much time Makowski devoted to printmaking, though this is a highly-accomplished etching. I know he illustrated a book entitled Pastoralki by Tytus Czyewski with wood engravings in 1925, but I've never seen it. He died rather young, at 50 - they were a hard-living set who gathered around Pascin and Krohg. After his death the others formed a Société des amis de Tadé Makowski, with Gromaire as president.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thank you for introducing me to Bureau and the interesting circle around him. Thanks also for telling me something about Camille Bombois – I knew he was an artist, but not much more, except that he's one of the names I half-recognise in Guy Davenport's beautiful but maddeningly allusive poem, 'The Resurrection in Cookham Churchyard'.

designerman said...

the works by bureau - especially the first few portraits - are completely inspiring. so happy when i scroll thru your blog.

and thanks for you kind words on mine.

Anonymous said...

I am sure Eric Ravilious would have loved this book. The work by Alexandre Ralli is superb and reminiscent of the Submarine shop window in High Street. I am interested in the publisher Marcel Seheur, can you tell us anything about him?

Neil said...

Well, you're right. An amusing touch is that the Ralli is unsigned in the plate, except for the Ralli painting standing unsold in the junk shop. Sadly I can't tell you much about Marcel Seheur. So far as I can tell he was only active in the 1920s and 30s (possibly only the early 30s). He was both a printer and a publisher (though I note that Boucher allowed Seheur to print Boutiques, but insisted on supervising the printing himself at Mourlot's for Boutiques de la faire, the follow-up - to my eye there's no real difference in quality, but possibly Boucher was not satisfied with Seheur's printing). Seheur published interesting work by artists such as Boucher, Gromaire, Dignimont, and Van Houten (see my earlier post on him), but his major claim to fame is publishing editions in 1926 and 1927 of Le Diable au corps and Les Hommes abandonnés illustrated by Maurice de Vlaminck. As with numbers of Parisian publishers of this era, Seheur also published clandestine pornography, with false dates and publishing details. I suspect it was a fairly precarious living, on both sides of the legal fence.

Neil said...

I’ve ferreted out a bit more information on Marcel Seheur. His printing and publishing business was based in Montmartre, at 29 rue Caulaincourt. It seems to have operated essentially from 1924 to 1933, publishing I would guess about 50 volumes in that time. The most important of these are the two illustrated with original lithographs by Vlaminck, in 1926 and 1927, and Francis Carco’s La légende et la vie d’Utrillo, 1928, illustrated with 11 original lithographs by Utrillo. Seheur also worked with other Montmartre artists, including Marcel Gromaire, Louis Touchagues, and Louis-Robert Antral. To my mind the most artistically successful of his productions were Boutiques and Boutiques de la foire (1925 and 1926), with colour lithographs by Lucien Boucher, and Moulin Rouge (1925), with lithographs in colour and black-and-white by Georges van Houten.
Because he had his own printing press, Seheur generally printed as well as published his books, though he employed specialist taille-douciers such as Paul Haasen to print intaglio plates, such as the etchings by Marcel Gromaire in Vers un monde volage (1926). Seheur himself printed the original lithographs for Moulin Rouge, Boutiques, and La légende et la vie d’Utrillo, but Boutiques de la foire and the two Vlamincks (Le Diable au corps and Les hommes abandonnés) were all printed at the atelier of Fernand Mourlot, under the artistic direction of Lucien Boucher. Boucher also printed at least one book for Seheur, an edition of Marthe by Huysmans, illustrated by André Dignimont.
The clustering of Seheur’s publications in the latter half of the 1920s is no coincidence. This was the height of the French passion for luxuriously-printed limited edition books. Other printer-publishers such as André Devambez were exploiting the same market (see my earlier post on Devambez). They all experienced severe financial difficulties after the Wall Street Crash in 1929, when the demand for deluxe books dried up overnight. It may have been this that led Seheur into the lucrative but risky world of clandestine erotica, where money was still to be made. His books in this vein are mostly French translations of pornographic works from late-Victorian England, such as My Secret Life, Eveline, The Romance of Lust, and Teleny, a work in which Oscar Wilde is said to have had a hand. They seem to date from around 1931-32, with Teleny the last I can find trace of in 1934.
Alongside this sideline, Seheur continued to publish conventionally up until 1933. The last book I can find of his, dating from that year, is Corbière’s Gens de la mer illustrated with lithographs by Maurice Berdon (another regular collaborator), published in an edition of only 76 copies. All other books published by Seheur give his address as Paris, but this one is published from Le Vésinet, suggesting he may have sold up in Montmartre and moved out to the suburbs.
In his Manuel de Livres Illustrés Modernes, Luc Monod gives later conjectural dates for three undated works published by Seheur, of c.1937, c.1945, and c.1950. Without seeing these works – the middle one of which is Contes d’un buveur de bière, illustrated with etchings by Boucher – I can’t judge the accuracy of these dates, but their sporadic quality makes them seem unlikely. Without further proof, I would expect them to date from the decade 1924-34.
I’ve also found one further collaboration with Bureau, printed by Seheur for Éditions de la Girafe in 1931. This is a curious book entitled Les Colonies Françaises, with brief texts by 21 writers and pochoir emblematic maps by the same number of illustrators, including Dignimont, Dubreuil, Goerg, Gromaire, Krohg, Laboureur, Makowski, and Ralli. The literary and artistic directors of this project were Noël Bureau and Georges Pillement. Rather wonky photos of the charming art can be seen on the Idbury Prints site, by searching the subject index under Maps.

Unknown said...

i am offering two beautifully couloured multipage manuscripts by Noel Bureau. Anynone interested or knows someone?

Neil said...

'd be very interested to hear more about these manuscripts, Sebastian. Do you know their date and provenance? If you have photos, please email them to me. Thanks, Neil