Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Most Celebrated French Art Deco Illustrated Book of All

by Stephen J. Gertz

The original artist's mock-up for Tabubu, a novel, published in 1932, by Rosny aîné, and  considered to be one of the most, if not the most, refined and distinguished illustrated books of the French Art Deco era, has come to market.

Artist Maurice Lalau (1881-1961) began work on Tabubu in March 1928 and finished in July, 1932. Tabubu, as stunning an illustrated book as you will ever see, is characterized by page layouts of extraordinary virtuosity. The seventy-one illustrations were drawn by Lalau in shades of gray, brown, sand, pink and beige, or half-shades of blue, sometimes mottled, powdered gold or argent, with some areas highlighted with gold leaf and palladium.

The leaves of this extraordinary maquette present multiple images, occasionally variant versions. Drawings, layers, with varying degrees of goache, offer an unparalleled glimpse into the heart of the creative process of the artist. These works allow us to follow his instincts, his hesitations and his final choices. The artist is at work, and we can watch as if looking over his shoulder.

A student of Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constan, illustrator, cartoonist, and painter Maurice Lalau illustrated editions of Tristan and Iseult (1909), Anatole France's Le Miracle de la Pie (1921); Flaubert's The Legend of Saint Julien (1927); Reade's Cloister and the Hearth (1903); Corthis' Le Printemps sous l'Orage (1934); Mary's La Loge de Feuillage (1928); Agraives' La cité des stables (1935); Daudet's Le bonheur d'etre riche (1920); Paul Hervieu's Le petit duc (1910); etc. He was a member of the artistic and literary society The Cornet, founded 1896.

For the finished book, Lalau's illustrations were executed in pochoir,  a form of coloring pictures using stencils that dates to a thousand years ago in China.  It was introduced into commercial publishing in France in the late 1800s, and there it had its most exquisite expression.  The pochoir process would use from 20 to 250 different stencils, one for each color, and the result was a vibrancy with almost a three-dimensional effect. The colors pop off the page.

Tabubu's typographer (please repeat 3x, fast), Marthe Fequet, showed innovative layout and design, strongly influenced by François-Louis Schmied (1873-1941). After World War II she worked extensively with Pierre Lecuire, producing beautiful livres d'artistes.

"Rosny aîné " is the pseudonym of Joseph Boex (1856-1940), a Belgian living in France who wrote with his younger brother under the pseudonym J.H.Rosny until 1909, when the team split up. As Rosny aîné (Rosny the elder), Joseph Boex went on to rival Jules Verne as France's lord of science fiction. His masterpiece is The Navigators of Infinity (1925), an adventure on Mars; within he coined the word "astronaut."

Boex also wrote five novels with a prehistoric setting, each using modern drama and strong, believable characters to illuminate early man's existence. And then there's Tabubu, his novel set in ancient Egypt. Thank King Tut, whose discovery by Howard Carter in 1922 led to a renewed interest and international mania for all things Old Egyptian, a fashion that remained strong throughout the decade and for many years afterward.

In 1897, Joseph Boex was named to the French Légion d'honneur and in 1903 was named to the first jury of the Prix Goncourt along with his brother. Rosny aîné remained involved with the Académie Goncourt and in 1926 became its president. He died in Paris in 1940.

The novel is forgettable. The art by Maurice Lalau is not. This maquette for Tabubu is a treasure. It is being offered by Librairie Laurent Coulet for $35,500. The first edition is highly desirable and scarce. A fine copy recently sold for $16,385.

No, lest you've been thinking what I was thinking, Tabubu, despite the King Tut connection, is not the heartbreaking story of an ancient Egyptian tyke with a forbidden ow-y.

The finished product:

LALAU, Maurice (illustr.) ROSNY Aîné. Tabubu. Roman égyptien. Paris: Jules Meynial, 1932. First edition,  limited to 110 copies on vélin de Madagascar. Octavo. 112, (6) pp. Pochoir colored title page, frontispiece and ten full page pochoir plates, chapter titles, decorative head- tailpieces, and text figures,  in shades of pink, beige, gray, brown, sand or half-shades of blue, sometimes mottled with powdered gold, some areas highlighted with gold leaf; a total of seventy-one illustrations. Text printed in brown and red. Loose as  issued in the publisher's decorative printed wrappers with glassine dust jacket.

Images courtesy of Librairie Laurent Coulet, with our thanks.

1 comment:

  1. Got me interested in the authors, and want to read the sci fi and Tabubu ... guess the art by Lalau is too sophisticated for me ...



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