The Artist and the Book

05/03/2023     Books & Autographs


NEW YORK, NY -- Artists have worked in the medium of the printed book for almost as long as the latter has existed. The 1481 edition of Dante’s Commedia featured illustrations by Botticelli, engraved by Baccio Baldini. The artist had intended to illustrate all 100 cantos, but in the event only 19 engravings were produced, and very few copies contained all of these. The modern sensibility of the artist book was largely defined in the English-speaking world by the 1961 Harvard exhibition The Artist and the Book 1860-1960, which drew extensively on the collection of Philip Hofer and his gifts to the Department of Printing and Graphic Art. The influential catalogue for this show prepared by Eleanor Garvey has long provided a roadmap for collectors, as have subsequent works such as Riva Castleman’s A Century of Artists Books (published to accompany the 1994 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art) and the 1985 Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition commemorated in From Manet to Hockney: Modern Artists' Illustrated Books.

Central to the aesthetic in both the French and American traditions is the harmonious blending of typography and illustration. A successful livre d’artiste, to borrow the French term (a fair and commonplace borrowing, as so many of the great examples of this union emanate from France) is much more than a portfolio of prints; the illustrations inform the text, and the text enhances the illustration. At its best, the result is a book in which the whole is much more than the sum of the parts.

One of the best (and certainly the most prolific) practitioners of this alchemy in recent decades has been Andrew Hoyem at his Arion Press. Hoyem belongs to the California lineage of American fine printing. After the great Grabhorn press closed in 1965, Hoyem partnered with Robert Grabhorn to continue the tradition of that press. The Grabhorn-Hoyem press, utilizing the large holding of type and equipment, produced numerous successful private press books. In 1974, this press became simply the Arion Press, and Hoyem worked closely with the distinguished literary scholar Helen Vendler to produce works that were of both scholarly and textual merit. The most radical of these is the John Ashbery Portrait in a convex mirror [lot 155] of 1894. For this Hoyem commissioned graphic work from eight artists, including Jim Dine and Willem de Kooning, and printed the work in a circular format, housed within a gleaming steel case.

He worked extensively with Dine, early on producing a 1982 version of The Apocalypse, The Revelation of St. John the Divine [lot 153], with 29 powerful woodcut prints by the artist. The Temple of Flora of 1984 [lot 157] has a mounted Dine sculpture on the cloth case, and 28 drypoints by Dine. Robert Motherwell was the illustrator of the Arion Press edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses of 1988 [lot 162]. A monumental work typographically, in part because of the sheer bulk of the text (very few private presses are equipped for such an undertaking), this bears favorable comparison with the 1935 Limited Editions Club version [lot 200], which contains six soft-ground etchings by Matisse, and is an early example of an American livre d’artiste.

The French tradition of the livre d’artiste is (far) older than the American, and much deeper, sometimes taking in the art of bookbinding to achieve a deeper interlacing of the textual and illustrative elements of a work. Though we offer no great French bookbindings in the current sale, we do offer a few remarkable works by artists of the School of Paris. A personal favorite is Roch Grey’s Chevaux de Minuit [lot 224]. Written pseudonymously by Hélène, Baronne D’Oettingen and illustrated by Pablo Picasso, the concrete dance of the typography is echoed by Picasso’s playful engraved horses as they trot and canter across the pages. This was published in 1956 in a tiny edition by Iliad, i.e. Illia Zdanevitch, an exceptional impresario of artist books.
Picasso in a very Spanish turn is illustrated in the El Entierro de Conde de Orgaz [lot 226]. Based on the painting by El Greco, this includes a signed dry-point and 12 full page etchings, along with a lithographed reproduction of Picasso’s handwritten poems in crayon. It is a tour de force of illustration.

Miro’s illustrations for Paul Eluard’s Á toute Épreuve of 1958 [lot 210] utilize collage and collagraph elements in a playful homage to Eluard’s Surrealist masterpiece. The result is one of the greatest illustrated books of the twentieth century, a magnificent synthesis of illustration and text. Though on the surface playful, the book was deeply considered by the artist, who wrote to his publisher "…I have made some trials which have allowed me to see what it was to make a book and not merely to illustrate it. Illustration is always a secondary matter. The important thing is that a book have all the dignity of a sculpture carved in marble." And that wonderfully expressive turn of phrase by Miro provides, in a nutshell, a statement of what makes artist books so important. They are not simply illustrations in combination with text. As Miro implies, at their best, the text and illustration are woven together to form a single vehicle to provide the reader with a heightened experience akin to that given by all art.

Rare Books, Autographs & Maps

Auction Thursday, May 11, 2023 at 10am
Exhibition May 6 - 8

Lots 153-233 include a remarkable selection of private press and artist books, primarily from The Margolis collection and the collection of Erica Jong and Ken Burrows.