Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pogany's Parsifal in a Beautiful Inlaid Binding

by Stephen J. Gertz

Title page.

Willy Pogany's Parsifal of 1912 is one of the five books he designed and illustrated that immortalized his career as an illustrator, the others being The Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám (1909), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1910),  Tannhäuser (1911), and Lohengrin (1913).

This, the limited edition, was originally published in a full white vellum binding richly gilt decorated. Here,  we see it in a masterful, singular, and very attractive pictorially inlaid binding, c. 1933-34, in full crushed crimson morocco by Riviere & Son.

The upper cover possesses a gilt-ruled border surrounding a brown, black, and green morocco inlaid frame of broad leaves climbing two spears of Christ as a snake coils through the lower section of the frame, all against a hand-pointillé'd background, the whole surrounding a sunken panel in brown crushed morocco with darker brown foliage at its base within which are three lilies with ivory-morocco blossoms atop bright green leafy stems. Rising from this motif is a staff supporting the banner of Jesus in pale blue-gray noil silk with gilt tassels and ornaments, a gilt crucifix at its top. Central on the banner is a chalice of acrylic glass in relief with gilt rays emanating from it and IHS, the sacred monogram of Jesus, in gilt within an ivory hemisphere rising from within the cup. Surmounting the central panel is the dove of peace, with wings spread, in ivory morocco.

The lower cover features a gilt-ruled border inside of which are two frames in black with gilt borders that highlight twenty-six small blindstamped hearts that lie between. Blindtooled dots within the innermost frame finish the cover. Five raised bands, inlaid compartments with red, ivory, brown and black floral and heart motifs within black, gilt-ruled frames highlight the spine. 

Inlaid pictorial doublures in deer brown, the upper featuring a Jesuit staff, a forest green wreath with emanating gilt rays enclosing its cruciform top, as six ivory lilies with green leaves flower the background along with a vine of thorns outlined in black.

Upper doublure.

The lower doublure is a variant of the upper, with a vine of thorns, three ivory lilies atop a single, long, leafy stem, the swords and helmet of a warrior for Christ in gray morocco with bright sheen highlighting in white, the swords' hilts in brown.

Each doublure is framed by turn-ins inlaid with green, dark brown, black, and deer brown in a foliate trellis. All edges gilt, and pale straw moire silk endpapers finish the binding. 

Though the binding is stamp-signed "J. and E. Bumpus of Oxford,"  it was, in reality, bound by Riviere & Sons. Bumpus of Oxford St, a London department store that sold books, won acclaim for accomplished bindings that they never created;  they farmed out their binding work to Riviere, amongst others, who, at this time, deep into the Great Depression, needed all the commissions they could get and was willing to surrender a formal attribution for their work).

Lower doublure.

I date this binding to c. 1933-34 on the following: Bayntun bought Riviere & Sons in 1939. Acrylic glass, the material used for the binding's chalice, was introduced into the marketplace in 1933; it may have taken a year for the new, miracle material to work its way down to artisans seeking novel materials to work with. Acrylic glass was used for this binding earlier after its appearance in the 1930s rather than later, we presume, simply because of its exotic (for its time a cool, and fine science novelty; this entire binding employs the finest materials available, even integrating fine silk into its front cover). Using acrylic glass later into the 1930s, after it became commonplace and inexpensive, would not have been considered by Riviere; it had, by then, lost its novel luster. This binding may very well represent one of the earliest uses by artisan of acrylic glass. True glass has rarely been used by binders; it shatters easily; acrylic must have  seemed the perfect material, at last. To the client, it was surely considered a modern marvel, a miracle of the age, and yes, prestigious. Acrylic glass was the nest big thing, the future, now. Everybody was happy. Plastic did not yet acquire the taint of being, well, plastic.

Text page. All have pictorial borders.

William Andrew ("Willy") Pogany (born Vilmos Andreas Pogány) (August 1882 – 30 July 1955) was a prolific Hungarian illustrator of children's and other books. Pogany's best known works consist of illustrations of classic myths and legends done in the Art Nouveau style. He also worked as an art director on several Hollywood films, including Fashions of 1934 and Dames.

The publication of Pogány's Parsifal was one in his trilogy of masterworks focusing on Wagner's Germanic tales, including Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, books that demonstrated a firm commitment to ongoing innovation resulting in the gorgeous suite of illustrations, including color lithographs, monotone and marginal illustrations and the delightful tipped-in color plates (produced with a four-color process) included in Parsifal.

Here, the themes of medieval chivalry, erotic love and moral test are lavishly illustrated  by Pogány with an outstanding use of iconography, form and color. And in this binding the Holy Grail has never looked so desirably... questible.

[RIVIERE (Binder)]. [POGANY, Willy (Illustrator)]. ROLLESTON, T.W. Parsifal. Or, the Legend of the Holy Grail Retold From Ancient Sources with Acknowledgment to the Parsifal of Richard Wagner. London: Harrap & Co., n.d. [1912].

One of 525 copies signed by the illustrator, this being copy no. 396. Tall octavo (10 7/8 x 7 1/8 in; 275 x 181 mm). Unpaginated. Sixteen mounted color plates within decorative borders, numerous full-page illustrations, each text leaf with elaborate pictorial borders, the text in calligraphy.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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