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  • À belles mains. Livre surréaliste-Livre d'artiste. Mélusine ed. by Andrea Oberhuber
  • Judd D. Hubert (bio)
Oberhuber, Andrea , ed. À belles mains. Livre surréaliste-Livre d'artiste. Mélusine, No. XXXII. Lausanne, Éditions L'Âge d'Homme, 2012. Pp. 336.

This issue of Mélusine pursues the research initiated in 1982 on the surrealist book, without giving the last word on such a complex subject. Demonstrating erudition worthy of La Revue d'histoire littéraire de la France, the contributors propose new ideas and points of view. By the sheer abundance of technical terms, the articles would have astonished the avant-garde poets and artists in question, who were so very fond of entertainment. Some contributors examine the illustrated book, the artist's book and the book-object in general as surrealist publications, while others focus on a single book or even on the non-book imagined by André Breton.

In her introduction, editor Andrea Oberhuber describes the evolution of the modern book in relation to Surrealism. She examines the diverse relations between poets and artists and traces the origin of book-objects, which go back to the copyists of the Gothic era. We can even go back further, to colored Romanesque accordion calendars. (And why not consider prehistoric caves, such as Lascaux and Chauvet, as vast books, whose "pages" our ancestors turned as they walked about?)

Elza Adamowicz classifies these collaborations of words and images into three categories: analogical or almost mimetic collaborations; collaborations where there is no connection between words and images; and those books where the poet (Paul Éluard) or the artist (Joan Miró) uses the text or illustrations to deploy their own lyricism or graphic art. Ideally, the dialogue between poet and painter produces a book-object—the book as art object, where text, images and layout are subordinate elements. Miró's À toute épreuve, with text by Éluard and printed by Gérald Cramer (Geneva) come close to this ideal, which harks back to the early printed book. The same is true of L. Curmer's edition of Paul et Virginie. I would add that Miró, Masson, Matta and Hérold produced their beautiful artists' books after World War II, hence after the "militant era" of Surrealism.

Judith Schuh limits herself to pre-war surrealist books, giving a complete list. She argues that in terms of the book as art object, André Breton and his circle did not propose anything very new, but preferred to conform to publishers' guidelines in order to promulgate their revolutionary views. With a few exceptions, in particular Nadja published by the NRF, they dealt with avant-garde publishers such as GLM, Corti and Le Sagitaire, whose books were quite expensive and only attracted a select group of readers. For their part, surrealist painters were less concerned with publishers than with galleries. Like Picasso, Juan Gris, and Braque, André Masson published three of his books with Kahnweiler, who also exhibited his paintings. Starting in 1946, galleries, art publishers and [End Page 185] societies of bibliophiles published large illustrated books by Masson, Matta, Miró, and Hérold.

Sophie Lemaître and Eddie Breuil discuss two of Breton's book projects—one unrealized, and the other completed thanks to his team— and theorize why Surrealism came late to book-objects. With the help of Soupault and Aragon, Breton had conceived "Le Livre des peintres" as a thick volume containing essays, reproductions and poems. In spite of his repeated efforts, the project failed. In its stead, he founded the review Littérature, which proved a success. Thanks to Breton, and especially to Éluard and Aragon, GLM published an edition of Les Chants de Maldoror, said to be definitive. Eddie Breuil gives refined analyses of the illustrations accompanying each section. He even rehabilitates Man Ray's drawing, showing that Ray was addressing himself to Breton rather than Lautré-amont's text. Ray would have preferred to include a photograph as in Violette Nozières. And it seems that Breton played a more important role in the edition of Maldoror than Breuil suggests, since Violette Nozières, printed in Brussels in 1933, could be considered a first version of Les Chants de Maldoror...


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