Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Five Stories of Stein Debuts In San Francisco

By Nancy Mattoon

Félix Edouart Vallotton,
Gertrude Stein
, 1907, oil on canvas.
(All images courtesy of Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco.)

In Gertrude Stein's writing every word lives and, apart from concept, it is so exquisitely rhythmical and cadenced that if we read it aloud and receive it as pure sound, it is like a kind of sensuous music. Just as one may stop, for once, in a way, before a canvas of Picasso, and, letting one's reason sleep for an instant, may exclaim: "It is a fine pattern!" so, listening to Gertrude Steins' words and forgetting to try to understand what they mean, one submits to their gradual charm.
Mabel Dodge Luhan, Speculations, or Post-Impressionists in Prose, 1913.

Bachrach Studio, Gertrude Stein, c. 1903,
Photograph dry-mounted on board.

A new show at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum echoes those perceptive words from Mabel Dodge Luhan, Gertrude Stein's (1874-1946) influential friend and one-time publisher. Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories is "the first major museum exhibition to fully investigate [the] fascinating visual legacy and life of Stein." It is "an art-filled biographical exploration" of Stein’s multi-faceted and labyrinthine identity.

George Platt Lynes, Gertrude Stein, Bilignin,
1931, toned gelatin silver print.

Stein's influence in the art world stretched well beyond literature to encompass ballet, opera, painting, sculpture, fashion design, interior design, and even cooking. She was a taste-maker and social networker before such categories even existed. Five Stories examines "Stein’s identities as a literary pioneer, transatlantic modernist, Jewish-American expatriate, American celebrity, art collector, and muse to artists of several generations."

Francis Rose, Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein,
, 1939, tempera and gouache on cardboard.

The first of the five stories, Picturing Gertrude, notes that "she became one of the most painted, sculpted and photographed women of the twentieth-century." Her image over the decades was somehow both à la mode and extremely individualistic. She was alternately a Gibson Girl, a New Woman, a Bohemian priestess, a schoolmarmish matron, and mannish cross-dresser. This story "presents portraits of Stein from her childhood to maturity and includes works by Felix Vallotton, Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Carl Van Vechten, Jacques Lipchitz, Jo Davidson and others."

Cecil Beaton, Gertrude Stein 1935,
gelatin silver print.

Story Two, Domestic Stein, focuses on the relationship between Stein and her lifelong partner, Alice B. Toklas. As the exhibit press release notes, "There was no Gertrude without Alice and no Alice without Gertrude." The associate curator of the show, Tirza True Latimer, remarks, "You might say Toklas—who edited and typed Stein's manuscripts, managed her social and professional life, groomed her appearance, created her domestic settings, and archived her papers—invented the Stein we have come to know. In turn, Stein, with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, invented Toklas."

Unidentified Artist,
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas,
Aix-les-Bains, France
, c.1927, Photograph.

The third story of the quintet, The Art of Friendship, deliberately takes the focus off Stein's most famous friends, such as Matisse, Picasso, and Hemingway, to highlight her role as mentor to a lesser known group of young, mostly gay artists, writers, and composers. Stein has been called "a collector of geniuses," and was an early champion of such diverse figures as Carl Van Vechten, Cecil Beaton, Sir Francis Rose, Samuel Steward, Frederick Ashton, Sir Gerald Berners and Virgil Thompson.

Cecil Beaton, Sir Francis Rose and Gertrude Stein,
Bilignin, 1939, gelatin silver print.

Celebrity Stein is the title of the fourth story, which concentrates on the perception of the writer in her native country of the United States, and her adopted homeland of France. In 1934, Stein and Toklas undertook a seven-month lecture tour across the U.S. According to the show, "the American press followed them every step of the way, yielding far more coverage, headlines, and news photographs than Stein had ever elicited abroad." The other aspect of this story covers the lives of the two women as expatriates in France during both World Wars. During World War I, Stein and Toklas were instrumental in distributing Red Cross supplies throughout France. Their tenure in Nazi-occupied France during World War II is much more complicated and controversial. Stein's refusal to leave Vichy France is seen by some as both monumental self-importance and a complete denial of her Jewish heritage.

Carl Van Vechten, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas
Departing Newark Airport with Zuni Fetishes
November 7, 1934, gelatin silver print.

Story Five, Legacies, looks at the visual survival of Stein as a literary legend and "an icon of queer culture." It includes caricatures, cartoons, and photographs as well as fine artworks inspired by her literary importance, "magnetic personality," and open lesbian lifestyle. Works here include images of Stein by Andy Warhol, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Red Grooms, Glenn Ligon, Deborah Kass.

Deborah Kass, Let Us Now Praise Famous Women #3,
1994-5, silkscreen, ink and acrylic on canvas.

Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories will be on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum from May 12 through September 6, 2011. An online photo gallery is available at the Museum's website to give virtual visitors a taste of the show's flavor.

Monday, May 30, 2011

You Will Be Devoured By Seven Horrible Demons

by Stephen J. Gertz

"...Seven horrible demons of cat-like appearance...
devour her heart, her entrails, and her tongue."

"I shoulda stood in bed"
 - Boxing manager Joe Jacobs, aka Yussel the Muscle, 1934.

And so, perhaps, should have poor Teresa, a servant in the household of a noble and pious priest and the tragic subject of Nueva Relacion, Y Curioso Romance, a Romancero (a popular Spanish folk ballad) from 1770. This classic moral tale recounts the sad, the sorry, and sanguinary end that Teresa (and all who transgress) meets when she fails in her Christian duty to bless the poor.

One day, God, dressed as a poor man seeking alms, knocks on the door. Teresa, not the most pleasant of servants at any time under any circumstance, is having a bad hair day and refuses His entreaty. We've all had experiences like that. Yesterday, you gave the homeless guy who hangs out at the end  of the freeway exit a buck. Today, I dunno, maybe the transient thought of an ex provoked acute  headache, neuritis, and neuralgia, and you drove by him.

Maybe it was as simple as John Huston's American in Tampico rebuffing Bogart's mooch in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with "From now on you have to make your way in life without my assistance" after being successfully hit-up by Bogie twice before and now panhandled a third time.

In any event (and it is quite an event), Teresa pays dearly for being too close with centavos for supplicants. She falls prey to "seven horrible demons of cat-like appearance who devour her heart, her entrails, and her tongue." Readers who follow the travails of those slogging through Hollywood will immediately recognize the typical result of a screenwriter's notes-meeting with studio execs but, difficult as it may be to believe, this is worse. Digested by external demons?  Raskolnikov had it easier. Ultimately, Teresa the disagreeable became demon-dung, a waste-disposal issue, a cruel wage for a hair up her heine at the wrong time.

And so we are left with the moral of the story. The next time you're in Tampico just give the persistent beggar a peso, and another, and another, no matter what. He might be God and as we've learned from the Old Testament:

"Ya don't monkey around with Fred C. Dobbs!"

Nueva Relacion, Y Curioso Romance, Donde se da Cuenta de la Amorosa Conversacion Que Tuvo un Sacerdote con Dios Nuestro Señor: Al qual se le Aparecio en Trage de Pobre a su Propia Puerta, Pidiendole una Limosna: Y el Desastrado Fin Que Tuvo una Criada Suya, con lo Demas Que Vera el Curioso Lector. Barcelona: en la Impremata de Bernardo Pia, en los Cotoners, n.d. [1770].

First edition of an extremely rare item with OCLC/KVK recording only four copies in libraries worldwide. Bifolium. 4 pp, large woodcut engraving at head of caption title, text in two columns.

Palau y Dulcet (2. ed.) 260112.

Engraving courtesy of James Eaton of Alastor Rare Books, with our thanks, who is currently offering this rarity.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Early American Butterflies Alight In South Carolina

by Nancy Mattoon

Watercolor Painting By John Abbot, c.1813.
Latin name: Papilio polyxenes (Fabricius)
English: Black Swallowtail
(All Images Courtesy of Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina.)

The Thomas Cooper Library of the University of South Carolina has digitized one of the earliest collections of original watercolor illustrations depicting the butterflies and moths of North America. The Abbot Watercolors Collection consists of 149 paintings of butterflies and moths, mounted and matted, and housed in six blue half morocco cases with gilt-lettered backs. The paintings were created by pioneering artist and naturalist, John Abbot (1751-1840), between 1813 and 1828.

Latin name: Danaus plexippus
English: Monarch

The London-born Abbot was one of the earliest Europeans to record the natural history of North America. Abbot was the son of a noted British barrister, and was expected to follow in his father's footsteps by taking up the law. But, as a boy, he developed a fascination with the animal kingdom, and showed an extraordinary artistic talent. Recognizing that his son had no interest in becoming a lawyer, Abbot's father hired French painter and engraver Jacob Bonneau to teach the boy the fundamentals of book illustration.

Latin name: Eumorpha pandorus
English: Pandorus Sphinx

Abbot's interest in natural history led to friendships with noted London ornithologists and entomologists. He began to collect insect and bird specimens, and made a modest living by selling paintings of them on commission. By 1770 he had earned enough respect to have two of his illustrations of Lepidoptera accepted for display in the London Society of Artists yearly exhibition. Around this same time, Abbot began to express an interest in traveling to North America to document the avian and butterfly species found in the New World.

Latin name: Hypercompe scribonia
English: Great Leopard Moth

John Abbot was fortunate to find a wealthy and influential mentor in London jeweler Dru Drury (1725-1803), an avid insect fancier, who ultimately accumulated one of the most comprehensive private collections of entomological specimens in the world. Drury not only purchased specimens collected overseas, but also funded expeditions throughout the world, with the express purpose of finding new species for his collection. The publication of Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731-1743), the first printed account of the flora and fauna of North America, inspired Drury to send Abbot on a collecting trip to Virginia in 1773. Before leaving London, Abbot formed another business partnership with London jeweler John Francillon (1744-1816), who would act as his agent and sell his paintings to naturalists other than Drury.

Latin name: Hyalophora cecropia
English: Cecropia Silkmoth

Arriving in Virginia in the Fall of 1773, Abbot soon found that the chaos of the Revolutionary War made pursuing his work impossible. He relocated to Georgia within two years, where he remained until his death in 1840. His production of illustrations in the New World was amazingly prolific. He created over two thousand paintings for Francillon alone, many of which are now housed in The Natural History Museum of London. In 1797 Abbot’s drawings were published in The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia by Sir James Edward Smith (1759-1828). The two-volume work, one of the earliest butterfly guides to North America, included one hundred and four hand-colored engravings of Abbot’s paintings, along with Abbot’s notes and observations, written in both French and English.

Latin name: Eacles imperialis
English: Imperial Moth

The paintings in the collection of the Thomas Cooper Library were commissioned by American naturalist John Eatton Le Conte in 1813. Le Conte took the completed illustrations to Paris in 1828, where he began work with Jean Alphonse Boisduval on Histoire générale et iconographie des lépidoptères et des chenilles de l'Amerique septentrionale. Le Conte and Boisduval used some of the Abbot watercolors for the 1833 edition of this work.

Latin name: Citheronia regalis (Fabricius)
English: Royal Walnut Moth

According to the Thomas Cooper Library website, "Boisduval apparently gave the drawings to French lepidopterist Louis M.A. Depuiset (.pdf), who in turn gave them to Charles M. Oberthür, a former student of Boisduval. Four years after the death of Oberthür in 1924, a rare book dealer named La Chavalier purchased Oberthür’s library. The drawings were owned privately for the next thirty-nine years, and the identity of the owner(s) is not known." In November of 1963, Sotheby’s and Company of London sold the watercolors, listed only as 'property of a lady,' to the rare book firm H.P. Kraus of New York City. The University of South Carolina purchased the illustrations from H.P. Kraus in 1964 for the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Five Must See Modern French Bindings

by Stephen J. Gertz

FRESNAYE, Roger de la (artist). RIMBAUD, Arthur. Les illuminations.
Paris: H. Matarasso, 1949
Woodcuts, letterpress.

Binding by Georges Leroux (1922-1999), 1951.
Black morocco with overlays of yellow leather,
inlays of ivory leather, gold- and black-tooling,
gold-stamped lettering; gilt edges.

VIDAL, Pierre (artist). LOUYS, Pierre. Les aventures du roi Pausole.
Paris: A. Blaizit, 1906.
Hand-colored lithographs; letterpress.

Binding by Charles Septier (f. 1933-58), c. 1950.
Dark yellow morocco with inlays of red and green leather,
gold-tooling, gold-stamped lettering, raised spine bands; gilt edges.

BONNARD, Pierre (artist). VERLAINE, Paul. Parallèlement.
Paris: Ambroise Vollard, 1900.
Lithographs in rose ink, wood engravings, and letterpress.

Binding by Jacques Anthoine-Legrain (1907-c. 1970), date unknown.
Dark red morocco with inlays of cream and gray morocco,
gold- and silver-tooling, gold-stamped lettering; gilt edges.

MIRÓ, Joan (artist). Éluard, Paul. A toute épreuve.
Geneva: Gérald Cramer, 1958
Color and black and white woodcuts, collagraphs, and collage; letterpress.

Binding by Henri Mercher (1912-1976),  c. 1959.
Black morocco with inlays of gray leather, white-tooling,
white-stamped lettering; gilt edges.

SCHMIED, François-Louis (artist). MARDUS, J.C. Le paradis musulman.
Paris: F-L Schmied, 1930.
32 woodcuts in black and white and color and one printed a third time in color.

Binding by Henri Noulac (1866 - 1931), 1930.
Tan leather with color-leather inlays; slip case: speckled paper slip case
and cover guard edged in leather.


Images courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, with our thanks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Early Books of Artist Raymond Pettibon

by Stephen J. Gertz

PETTIIBON, Raymond. Pig Cupid.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt, Raymond Pettibon: The Art 1978-1998, 31.
"Why do I dream of undertow when I don't even know what it is?

Comics, books, film noir, pulp fiction, TV, politics, advertising, violence, the famed and the infamous: Artist Raymond Pettibon inhales pop-culture and, gas exchanged, exhales its carbon dioxide into a teeming mosh-pit. It is no accident that warnings of global warming began to increase in volume when he established his career as Southern California's  - and, ultimately, the world's - prince of Punk Art (though he rejects labels). For better or worse, when Pettijavascript:void(0)bon puts pen and ink to paper the temperature rises. His books have become rare and highly desirable.

PETTIIBON, Raymond. Capricious Missives.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1983. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 9.
"Even toothless she can still bite off a boy's head."
PETTIIBON, Raymond and Michael Gira. Selfishness.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Orht 32.
"I want her to dream about what I did to her when she passed out."

Charles Manson, Ronald Reagan, various and sundry speed freaks on a high wire,  hippies, punks,  baseball players, surfers, and, good grief, it's Gumby, etc., populate his images, an idiosyncratic ensemble exploding from Pettibon's cerebral popcorn popper onto paper with an occasional un-popped kernel breaking a tooth. Who said art wasn't risky?

PETTIIBON, Raymond. The Navigator's Wives.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 27.
"I am still working on my public face!"
PETTIIBON, Raymond. Cars, TV, Rockets, H-Bomb - You Name It.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 21.
"Perhaps the fact that I hadn't had sex in 3 whole days left me vulnerable."

William Blake, Henry James, the Bible,  Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa - Pettibon co-opts their work and others' and reprints or reshapes it, his personal warp jump-starting their text and driving it into another direction, disturbing, ironic and ambiguous. The work in toto is provocative and vital.

PETTIIBON, Raymond. Jane's Book of Fighting.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 24.
"She even had a little moustache."

Raymond Pettibon began life in Tucson Arizona in 1957 as Raymond Gill. He earned a degree in economics from UCLA and was working as a math teacher when his brother, Greg, established the seminal Punk band, Black Flag, in 1977. Raymond provided the group's name and designed their logo. He changed his surname. He created posters and handbills for the L.A. punk scene. He designed record covers for Black Flag's label, SST (Super-Sonic Transport, in homage to the now dearly-departed Concorde). By the early 1980s, he had established a reputation as the music movement's visual brother and had begun to produce small, simply produced books published and distributed through SST.

PETTIIBON, Raymond. A Can at the Crossroads.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm).  Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 20.
"I saw Christ. I was drunk but still lucid to be searching."
PETTIIBON, Raymond. New Wavy Gravy.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 29.
"Of course he became a Christian."

The books from the early 'eighties through 1985 were released in limited editions of 500 copies. Despite their $1.25 price the books, however, did not sell well at all. It was Remainder City at Pettibon-central in Venice Beach, CA and, according to the artist, he destroyed the bulk of the print run for each volume, only 100 copies, slightly more or less, of each title escaping the compost heap.

PETTIIBON, Raymond. Tripping Corpse #6.
Lawndale, CA: SST, 1985. Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100).
Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm). Original stapled pictorial wrappers.
Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 36.
"It doesn't matter where they were raised or by whom.
By the time they get to Venice Beach they all look like this."
PETTIIBON, Raymond. Lana. Lawndale, CA: SST, 1984.
Limited edition of 500 (i.e. 100). Octavo (21.6 x 14 cm).
Original stapled pictorial wrappers. Hand-numbered in red ink.
Ohrt 16.
"OK, OK, I never even met her. But even just pretending with her is so
much more intense and fulfilling than the real thing with anyone else."

Sit down, dear book collector-punkster or innocent bystander. If you had originally bought any one of these little books at their cover price of $1.25 they have now appreciated in value to upwards of $450 each in fine condition. If you had any of the originals and, over the years, tossed them or lost them you may now genuflect, hari-kari huff a can of Black Flag, the Punk pesticide of choice, and experience the  grim, writhing  death that greets all book collectors when we realize how we have blundered, big-time. Having in ignorance and  without an in to the oracle at Delphi forsaken an Antiques Roadshow bonanza, we can only, as the tetramethrin kicks in and fricassees our neurons, lamely express a cosmic, aching and disconsolate "Who knew?" before life drips into eternity's inkwell and blots out, dark matter that didn't see the light soon enough. Sic transit gloria collectori de libri...

All images courtesy of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, with our thanks, who recently offered the above titles in his Catalogue Five, April 2011. They sold within moments. Sic transit gloria Pettibon.

Of related interest:

New Book Documents the L.A. Punk Scene.

Our apologies for the slightly blurred images; the hi-res wasn't high enough.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Health And Disease In "The Floating World" On Show In San Francisco

By Nancy Mattoon

Ten Realms Within the Body.
Kuniteru Utagawa III, Artist,
c. 1885

(All Images From UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection.)

Four hundred rare images of the Japanese woodblock prints, commonly referred to as ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world," have been digitized by the libraries of the University of California, San Francisco. The UCSF Japanese Woodblock Print Collection is the largest collection of such woodblock prints related to health in the United States. While the most common ukiyo-e prints contain images of famous Kabuki actors or geishas, this collection is unique in depicting the history of medicine in Japan in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. This time in history, known as the late Edo and Meiji periods, was one of great change, when Japan was opening to the West after almost two hundred and fifty years of self-imposed isolation.

Advertising For: "Three Drugs From Rakuzendō
For Low Energy, Heart-burn, and Constipation

Eitaku, Artist,
Late 19th Century.

The collection is defined by five broad subject areas. The topic of 80 of the prints is the treatment and prevention of three contagious diseases: smallpox, measles, and cholera. A closely related area shows the intervention of various deities, both Buddhist and Shinto, to bring about a cure for those deadly maladies. Foreigners were seen as carriers of disease, so the collection includes prints depicting their arrival by ship, and the confined Dutch settlement of Nagasaki. Women's health, and specifically, pregnancy, make up a fourth area, including images of the gestating fetus. Finally, the largest part of the collection is made up of advertisements for drugs, cosmetics, and other health products from the 19th century. There are also miscellaneous prints depicting medical and psychological problems from dizziness to nightmares, and prints about nutrition and bodily functions.

Treatment Method for "Baieki,"
Popularly Called "Korori" [cholera].

Isshō Hanabusa, Artist, Early 19th Century.

According to the library's online exhibition, "The woodblock prints in this collection offer a fascinating visual account of Japanese medical knowledge in the late Edo and Meiji periods. Collectively, they record a gradual shift, by the late nineteenth century, from the reliance on gods and charms for succor from disease, to the adoption of Western, scientific principles as the basis for medical knowledge. They show the introduction of imported drugs and vaccines and increased use of printed advertisements to promote new medicinal products."

Household Gods: Daikoku and Fukuroku.
(Daikoku on a ladder,
shaving the top of Fukuroku's head.)
Toyokuni Utagawa III, Artist, 1857.

The method of creating these prints is as interesting as their subject matter. As described in commentary to the show, "Ukiyo-e prints were products of a remarkable collaboration between print publishers, designers, master block carvers, and printers. The publisher was the impresario who brought together the other, highly specialized team members. Having obtained a detailed sketch from the artist, he supervised the carving of multiple cherrywood blocks: a finely detailed key block, rendering the outlines of the design, and as many as a dozen separate blocks for printing each of the colors. The printer then stepped in, applying color to the blocks and printing them in succession, carefully registering the edges, and rubbing the paper (placed facedown on the block) to evenly transfer the colors to the page."

Advertisement For: Iodide Iron Pill.
Sadanobu Hasegawa, Artist, No Date.

In spite of this labor-intensive process, the finished prints were not expensive. They were either sold directly by the publishers in runs of several hundred, or distributed cheaply, or for free, to traveling vendors, who in turn gave them to local merchants, artisans, and tradesmen. The prints, however, were never meant to last. Like today's health brochures and mass market advertising supplements, they were expected to be read and discarded. Their ephemeral nature makes it all the more impressive that such a fine collection of prints has been assembled and made available to 21st century viewers.

Advertisement For: "Medicine For Clear Vision."
Yoshitsuya Utagawa, Artist,

The UCSF woodblock print collection was begun in 1963 as part of the library's East Asian Collection. UCSF Provost and University Librarian, later Chancellor, John B. de C. Saunders, M.D., founded the collection, which was expanded over the next 30 years by Librarian/Curator Atsumi Minami. Ms. Minami's dedication to the collection is evident in its comprehensiveness and fine quality. According to the libraries website, she frequently "traveled to Japan and China and purchased items from various smaller, private collections, acquiring the woodblock prints as well as hundreds of rare Chinese and Japanese medical texts, manuscripts, and painted scrolls." The prints are housed in the Library's Archives and Special Collections, and are often featured in exhibits in the library's gallery. Luckily for online visitors, this fascinating virtual exhibit is always just a mouse-click away.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Pop-Up Book of "Exquisite, Sentimental Beauty"

by Stephen J. Gertz

The Land of Long Ago (1898).

It's rare when  a 113 year old pop-up book in pristine condition lands my desk. It's even rarer when a 113 year old pop-up book in pristine condition lands on my desk, jumps into my lap, and opens to reveal  eye-popping pop-up tableaus that dazzle with the quality of their color printing, and warm with their lovely vintage charm.

Beauty and the Beast.

I am beholding what is regarded as among the most beautiful achievements of the genre, an Ernest Nister production.

Mister Nister was a printer and publisher based in Nuremberg, Germany. He established a London office in 1888 under the direction of the writer Robert Ellice Mack and, specializing in children's literature, soon issued pop-up, movable, transformation, and panorama books, as well as standard children's fare, operating until c. 1917.

The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.

"Though primarily involved with his successful color-printing business, publisher and printer Ernest Nister (1842-1909) specialized in colored toy and movable picture books. Operating in both Nuremberg and London in the 1890s, this entrepreneur developed a distinctive style firmly lodged within nineteenth-century aesthetics.

"However, Nister's images outshine those of his contemporaries by epitomizing an exquisite, sentimental beauty. His artistic vision guides all the works regardless of pop-up mechanics and even of illustrator. In fact, we are uncertain to what extent Nister contributed his own illustrations to these books. In many cases, he imposed his own monogram on images in his imprint, dropping the artist's signature in the course of the production process."

Puss In Boots.

Detail: Note the finely granulated texture to the print, the hallmark of lithography.

"Nister used a wide range of movable techniques to intrigue children. The popular late nineteenth-century blind format of Changing Pictures, for example, capitalizes on a child's fascination with peek-a-boo. We are surprised to find Jack climbing the beanstalk behind Little Bo-Peep. Nister also animates his pages with simple slats, dimensional scenes, and remarkable pinwheel mechanics. With these basic paper tools, he creates fantastic transformations.

Sleeping Beauty.

"The 'long ago' of [The Land of Long Ago] speaks to a 'never never' land of fairy tales. The casting of such stories into a remote historical past cuts them loose from any connection to reality" (University of Virginia, Pop Goes the Page: Movable and Mechanical Books from the Brenda Forman Collection).

Little Red Riding Hood.

The pop-up plates were printed via chromolithography, a multi-color printing process originally developed in Germany in the nineteenth century that used heavy oil-based inks, devoted one stone for each color, and layered the colors to achieve a rich, textured effect that is easily confused with an actual oil painting, unless you look very closely and observe the finely granulated imprint of the stone's surface upon the paper.

Some objected to chromolithography because it could reproduce a painting so well as to be deceptive. But artists were pleased; the process was the finest for reproducing their original color images as accurately as possible.

Little is known about the artist, E[velyn] Stuart Hardy (b. 1870). She was the sister of illustrator Paul Hardy, a writer and illustrator of children's books in color and black and white, military subjects in black and white, and various editions of English classics, including Jane Eyre.

The books of Ernest Nister were extremely popular in America, published, heavily promoted, and sold by E.P. Dutton. Edward Dutton kept a close eye on publishing trends in Europe and, recognizing their profit potential, contracted with Nister to exclusively distribute and sell his books in the United States.

High production values and comely imagery withstanding, what remains most impressive about this copy is that it was never, apparently,  enjoyed by the child it was originally designed for; an untouched copy sitting under someone's bed or in their closet for over a century. Movables of this vintage are generally found in various stages of destruction; the books were routinely played with by kids until they ended life as confetti  (the books, not the children).

[POP-UP BOOK]. WEEDON, L.L. HARDY, E. Stuart (illustr.). The Land of Long Ago. A Visit to Fairyland with Humpty Dumpty. With Pen-and-Ink Illustrations by E. Stuart Hardy. London - New York: Ernest Nister - E.P. Dutton, n.d. [1898].

First edition. Oblong quarto. Six chromolithographed pop-up plates. Black and white text illustrations throughout.

Quarter red cloth over full color pictorial boards.

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

Of related interest:

Waldo Hunt and Pop-Up Books: A Brief Overview.

Movable Books Pop-Up at the Smithsonian.
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