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steinlenThe more you know about a topic, the more you realize you still have a lot to learn. A case in point, I decided to post some images from a few books in my own collection to illustrate the enormously fascinating variety of types of illustrations found in French books.

The rich French culture and language have greatly influenced the printing of books, as well as, the reproduction processes used in French books. French and foreign artists, living and working in France, have used the book as a tool for making a living, however modest at times and to acquaint a larger public with the quality of their work.

Illustrations can vary from etching and engraving to lithography, woodcut or linocut and photography or any combination thereof. Some other types of processes like the pochechoir prints (stencil), usually used for books produced in limited quantities, are beyond the scope of this post, as are true artist books made with original and limited quantities of prints or with just a single one.

steinlen2The first book that came to mind was  La Maternelle (a novel pictured above) illustrated and signed in the plate by the great French artist Theohile Steinlen (1859-1923), who with the painter Toulouse Lautrec, were considered the fathers of French Poster Art. These were the frivolous days of the Cabaret Le Chat Noir in Montmartre, Paris. 

Using the internet as a tool can be an illuminating experience at times. Checking for other book titles illustrated by Steinlen, I discover an expert site with thousands of images of Steinlen’s work including 415 images relating to books. This site did not include the book by Leon Frapie, shown above. The fact that the site did not contain an image does not necessarily make the book rare, but it did lead to my discovery of an enormous amount of illustrative work by Steinlen. I had no idea how extensive his book illustration work was at the time I acquired the book. Steinlen was vehemently anti war, he had strong socialist ideas and ideals, and illustrated works advocating the idea of Communism, as can be seen in the 1906 book En Communisme. I doubt that this work was done in order to earn a living for Steinlen who was increasingly successful.

Another type of a book, with a different set of parameters for the illustrations, is the book, Les Revendications shown below. The separate book band put around the outside of the book was customarily used by some French publishers for publicity reasons and it gets to the point right away.



ScanImage030The opening left page shows the initials JB which stands for Jean Bazaine.

Jean Bazaine was an influential member of the group of painters around the Nouvel Ecole de Paris, but during the war years he chose the tree, evidenced here, also as a new theme in his paintings.

The Centre Pompidou in a retrospective exhibition in 2006:

” Bazaine travaille beaucoup d’œuvres pendant les années 1943-49 sur le thème de « l’arbre » à cause de sa ressemblance avec la figure mais surtout pour le changement qu’il opère dans sa perception de l’espace.”

The artist explains his motivation as follows:

“Le jour lointain, où essayant de dessiner un arbre, je me suis aperçu que l’espace entre les branches n’était derrière que parce que nous le savions et pouvait aussi bien être devant, ou flotter dans l’espace, le monde a changé de forme, c’est devenu un monde en respiration, plus riche et plus insaisissable » (4). L’arbre et ses branches forment une trame secrète qui unifie l’espace et crée le va et vient entre la surface et la profondeur. L’œuvre intègre désormais le mouvement.”

Antoni Clavé, a Catalan painter, illustrated one of the Henri Pichette’s poems (shown below).

ScanImage033ScanImage032Edouard Pignon, another painter of the Nouvel Ecole de Paris, is one of those painters whose work is difficult to classify at times, but who is more important than others within the group. Originally, he wanted to be a writer, but became a painter and perhaps this was Pichette’s way of rewarding Pignon’s early dream by including his work in this important publication. Pignon was a friend of Picasso whose contribution to the book was this:

ScanImage041The illustration, reproduced for the book by mechanical means, is certainly not one of the great master’s better known works, and is missing from many lists that try to compile all of Picasso’s work used in books, to my knowledge. The work illustrates the shooting of hostages in war time. In this post, I have juxtaposed two different books roughly half a century apart, illustrated with respect to social concerns expressed in them and illustrated by some of the most influential illustrators of their times.

The author, playwright and poet Henri Pichette takes up an extraordinary position in French culture and literature. His 1947 play, “The Epiphanies” was called by the critic Roger Shattuck “the most promising poetic event of the post war decade”.

His second play featured a set designed by the American artist/sculptor Alexander Calder. Above all else, Pichette wanted to write poetry that could be seen and heard (Avant-garde: Experimental Theater in France by Leonard Cabell Pronko).

Pichette was a member of the French Resistance during WWII, as were most of the illustrators of this book. A glimpse of the unbending spirit in all of these men, can be found below in the foreword of the book that discusses a certain revolutionary spirit so present in the French character of yesterday and yesteryear, by the leading Twentieth Century French historian Henri Marrou.