Friday, July 31, 2009


When writing the other week about the portfolio Douze poètes, douze peintres, I should have noted that the idea of matching a group of poets and printmakers was hardly new, dating back at least to Sonnets et eaux-fortes, published by Alphonse Lemerre in 1869. Among the artists contributing to that work were Manet, Corot, and Millet; Victor Hugo insisted on being included among the artists rather than the writers.

Since that time enterprising publishers have kept coming up with similar ideas. Two notable examples in my collection are Variations sur l’amour (1968) and its companion volume Variations sur l’imaginaire (1972). Both were published by Philippe Lebaud, under his unenticing-sounding fine-press imprint Club du Livre, and each pairs 20 writers and 20 artists. All the illustrations are original colour lithographs.

André Masson (1896-1987_
Les incertitudes de Psyché
Lithograph 1968, printed by Fernand Mourlot

Unlike most livres d’artiste, the two volumes of Variations were published as bound books, with lavish leather bindings, rather than as folded and gathered sheets in a chemise and slipcase. Both were published in editions of 190 copies: 20 on Japon nacré, 30 on Auvergne, and 140 on Rives. The first 50 copies were accompanied by an additional suite of the lithographs, printed on Rives. All the lithographs in the suites and in the books were hand-signed by the artists, and all the texts were signed by the authors.

Jules Cavaillès (1901-1977)
Lithograph 1968, printed by Fernand Mourlot

André Planson (1898-1981)
Ann de Saint-Jean
Lithograph 1968, printed by Jacques Desjobert

Both of my copies are on Japon nacré (pearlised japan paper), and both have one of the 50 extra portfolios of loose lithographs. I’m not going to post all 40 images, but I thought a selection would make an interesting comparison with Douze poètes, douze peintres. Interestingly only one artist features in both Douze poètes and Variations, André Minaux.

André Minaux (1923-1986)
Les amants
Lithograph 1968, printed by Fernand Mourlot

The artists in Variations sur l’amour are Yves Brayer, Jules Cavaillès, Jean Commère. Lucien Coutaud, Leonardo Cremonini, Léonor Fini, Paul Guiramand, Félix Labisse, Édouard Mac’Avoy, André Masson, Blasco Mentor, André Minaux, Marcel Mouly, André Planson, Édouard Pignon, Michel Rodde, Georges Rohner, Maurice Sarthou, Pierre-Yves Trémois, and Ossip Zadkine.

Leonardo Cremonini (1925- )
De l'autre côte du miroir
Lithograph 1968 (dated '66 by artist), printed by René Guillard

Leonardo Cremonini
Urgence du désert
Lithograph 1972 (dated '71 by artist), printed by Fernand Mourlot

The artists in Variations sur l’imaginaire are Gilles Aillaud, Enrico Baj, Lucien Coutaud, Leonardo Cremonini, Maurice Delmotte, Fred Deux, Bernard Dufour, Joachin Ferrer, Léonor Fini, Jean Hélion, Jacques Hérold, Félix Labisse, Jacques Lamy, Stanislao Lepri, François Lunven, André Masson, Jacques Monory, Cesare Peverelli, Man Ray, and Georges Rohner.

Enrico Baj (1924-2003)
Lithograph 1972, printed by Michel Cassé

Man Ray (1890-1967)
Imagination-subversion ou l'image y nait
Lithograph 1972, printed by Clot, Bramsen, et Georges

The reason for the relatively small overlap between the two volumes (only Coutaud, Cremonini, Fini, Labisse, Masson, and Rohner) contribute to both lies in the differing themes of the texts. Whereas Variations sur l’amour was a natural choice for lyrical postwar colourists such as Jules Cavaillès, Paul Guiramand, André Minaux, and André Planson, and for artists drawn to erotic themes, such as Léonor Fini, Blasco Mentor, and Pierre-Yves Trémois, the artists responding to the thought-provoking texts in Variations sur l’imaginaire are all Surrealists or Hyper-realists.

Léonor Fini (1908-1996)
Sphinx (Pseudo-sonnet avec un intermède)
Lithograph 1972, printed by René Guillard

Lucien Coutaud (1904-1977)
Figure de l'aire rouge
Lithograph 1972, printed by Jacques Desjobert

There are biographies of all these artists on the Idbury Prints website, so I won’t repeat all that information here. I’ll just note that each book has one posthumously-published lithograph (both, happily, signed by the artist before his demise). In the case of Variations sur l’amour the death of the Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine in 1967 at the age of 77, after a long and successful career, was probably not unexpected. His lithograph Haute mâlerie must be one of his very last works.

Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)
Haute mâlerie
Lithograph 1968 (presumably executed 1966/67), printed by Maurice Pons

With Variations sur l’imaginaire, the loss was more shocking and abrupt. François Lunven was the shooting star of French art. His first works, shown at the Galerie Transart, Milan in 1970, caused such a sensation he was accorded a solo exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris the following year, but he killed himself on the eve of the show, at the age of just 29. Again, his lithograph Poète aux interstices must be one of the last works he created.

François Lunven (1942-1971)
Poète aux interstices
Lithograph 1972 (presumably executed 1970/71), printed by Michel Cassé


Jane said...

What a shame that the pairing of prints and poetry seems to be less common nowadays. I know adults who often choose the chidlren's books they buy because they (the adults) enjoy looking at the illustrations.

Neil said...

I think of all the books I've written or edited, the one I am proudest of is The New Treasury of Poetry, illustrated with wood engravings by John Lawrence. It wasn't possible to illustrate with actual pulls from the woodblocks, but the end result was still very powerful. The printers mixed a special black ink with more viscosity to carry the images. The first Stewart, Tabori & Chang edition is the one to go for.

Roxana said...

ah, to hold in my hands such a treasure as the New Treasury of Poetry - i have just looked at it on Amazon and just the cover was enough to make me imagine what the real book must be. or these Variations on Japon nacre, just imagining the incredible texture of this paper makes me envy you, Neil :-)
but talking about the Variations sur l'amour and sur l'imaginaire, such a French concept, indeed - you know, i did a part of my research on French theories of the imaginary (i don't really know how to translate this concept in English, it is not the same to say 'imaginary') and i enjoyed so much to see here how the artists themselves approached this subject.
anyway, i love those Amants!

Neil said...

Thanks so much, Roxana. If I had a spare copy, I would send it to you - but sadly I don't. I do have an interesting story, though. I was asked to give a lecture at the Savannah College of Art about poetry for children. They very kindly put us up in beautiful accommodation, in a house owned by the college. And in the bedroom, what should we find, but one of John Lawrence's wood engravings for A New Treasury of Poetry...

Anonymous said...

what a nice place & good employed time for the subject choice and sharing, so thanks for that.
what is your "position" about "giclee print" "serigraphy" and numeric carving soon & so?
i mean not about bullshit arty metaphisic (excuse my french) but in the continuation in the tradition of the other "multiple" reproduction.
i mean how it could take place or not in a market & so, with collector, traditionnal piece..
well maybe i am not so clear or its an old bore drag you are tired to talk about
anyway merci encore

Neil said...

Hi - Serigraphy (screenprint) I think is an exciting and versatile printmaking technique. New techniques, and variations on old techniques, are always appearing. So long as the hand of the artist is apparent in the result, it is an original print. So I regard pochoir, which is really a fore-runner of serigraphy, as an original technique, because although the colour is applied by artisans, it is done by hand, following a key provided by the artist. Giclée (inkjet) prints are simple reproductions. Giclée is a very accurate process for artists to produce excellent copies of their work, and some artists do issue giclée prints in signed and numbered editions, which does blur the boundaries between autographic prints and reproductions. I don't think it's worth getting upset about - but I personally don't buy or sell them. I'm not sure what you mean by numeric carving.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your answer. i am not sure myself about numerique carving, just cause i saw 3d print that do small fragile things, but soon they will be bigger & stronger enuf for bibelot (they say)
i heard artist whom i like the job saying "i do numeric drawing i can't sell you just a numeric file" and i understand what you said about "hand feeling" et i see the "blur" you talk about boundaries.
is it just a blur or new reals technics that could find their expression in the tradition? i must admit i find their job sometimes interresting & bright but in the same time i have some frustration to hear from friends i bough a signed "print", et sometimes alone i find them good all the same, my question was not about my own indetermination & my money i very rarely regret to spend but about the idea you have of such expression in the next futur