Sunday, January 17, 2016

A Vision of the End: Simon Segal's Apocalypse

The Book of Revelation (L'Apocalypse selon Saint Jean) is almost too rich in imagery for artistic interpretation, which hasn't stopped artists from trying! One very satisfying version is that published in 1969 by Simon Ségal. This project about the end of the world was undertaken at the end of Ségal's life. He was born into a Jewish family in Białystok, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire, so it is a moot point whether Ségal should be regarded as having Polish or Russian origin) in 1898. After WWI, Ségal emigrated to Berlin, moving to France in 1926 and becoming a naturalized French citizen in 1949.

L'Apocalypse: The Lamb

The expressionist art of Simon Ségal was influenced by that of Chaim Soutine, Georges Rouault, and Marc Chagall, and echoes of all three can be seen in Ségal's lithographs for L'Apocalypse. I very much admire these vibrantly colourful works, with their vivid depictions of St John's phantasmagorical vision of the end of the world.

L'Apocalypse: The Four Horsemen

L'Apocalypse: The Sixth Angel

L'Apocalypse: The Two Witnesses

Ségal's Apocalypse was published as a livre d'artiste by Les Bibliophiles de France in a total edition of 150 copies. There were also 30 suites, 8 on Japon paper and 22 on BFK Rives wove paper. I don't have the book, but I do have one of the suites. It consists solely of the 11 double-page lithographs, which in the book would have been folded down the middle; those in the suite are unfolded. Whether the suite originally  also contained the 5 full-page lithographs and the 7 en-têtes from the book, I don't know. Usually these separate suites come in a printed folder with details of the edition, but my lithographs by Ségal are housed in a home-made envelope with just the words Onze gravures de Ségal written on it in marker pen. Luc Monod's Manuel de l'amateur de livres illustrés modernes doesn't help on this matter, and in fact adds a note of confusion, because while Monod says the books were printed on chiffon de Rives, he says the 22 suites were on Arches teinté. My lithographs are on untinted pure rag wove paper watermarked BFK Rives. They were printed by Jacques Desjobert. Interestingly, Monod notes that the book was printed over three years, "de 1966 à 1969".

L'Apocalypse: The Dragon

L'Apocalypse: Demonic Spirits

L'Apocalypse: The Whore of Babylon

As I don't have the book, I can't be absolutely certain which passages are depicted in the individual lithographs, but most of them seem fairly obvious, and are reflected in the titles I have given them. So for instance the lithograph below appears to illustrate Revelation 19: 11-16, which describes a rider on a white horse. "He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God... From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations."

L'Apocalypse: The Word of God

Simon Ségal held his first solo exhibition at the Billiet-Worms gallery in Paris in 1935, but his main dealer and close friend was Bruno Bassano, whom he first met in Toulon in 1926. There was a retrospective of the art of Simon Ségal in 1956 at the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec in Albi; he died in Arcachon in 1969. Since Ségal's death there have been a number of retrospectives, including at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris in 1989, in Arcachon in 1997, at the Musée Thomas Henry in Cherbourg in 1999, and in 2010 at the Muzeum Podlaski in Białystok. There is also a good selection of the artist's work in the Musée Simon Ségal in Aups, whose standing collection was donated by Bruno Bassano. The Association des Amis de Simon Ségal was set up in 1989 to promote knowledge and understanding of this important artist's work. Simon Ségal's Autobiography was published posthumously in 1974.

L'Apocalypse: The New Jerusalem

I have another very interesting Apocalypse illustrated with wood engravings by Henry de Waroquier, about which I may post on another day. They make a fascinating contrast with Ségal's spirited lithographs.