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  • The Post-Liberation Resurgence of the Livre d'artiste in FranceA Quantitative Analysis
  • Rodney T. Swan (bio)

This paper establishes that the livre d'artiste experienced a hitherto unrecorded resurgence in France in the decades following the Second World War. The reasons for the resurgence are complex, but its overarching driving force was the postwar creative environment fostered by the French government and the cultural authorities, as they sought to generate national unity from a divided nation and to regain France's past artistic leadership. A loose confederation of artists, writers, and publishers responded to this call and generated an unprecedented outpouring of livres d'artistes in the years following the war.

The resurgence was fuelled partly by an outpouring of post-liberation publications by the artists who remained in France during the German occupation, together with works produced by artists who voluntarily exiled themselves from France to escape the occupation but who now returned to a conducive nation. There was also the emergence of a number of livres d'artistes that the publisher Ambroise Vollard had commissioned before the war, but which remained unpublished at the time of his accidental death just days before France declared war on Germany. Another was the significant backlog of livres d'artistes that artist Henri Matisse created during the occupation but published afterwards, to which were added the prodigious postwar output by Pablo Picasso. Added to this was publisher Tériade's continuing development of his handwritten manuscrit moderne, conceived and tested during the occupation, which gathered pace as other artists and publishers joined in after the liberation. This paper highlights the central role of the artistic veterans of the prewar years, who left little room for the emerging younger generation to succeed them.

The research for this paper is underpinned by quantitative analyses of key bibliographic data of the livre d'artiste. An important challenge here was the absence of an academically robust and experimentally tested definition [End Page 303] of the livre d'artiste, although much has been written on the topic. This paper describes the methodology adopted to design and validate such a definition, which was then applied to identify the livres d'artistes that were published in France, 1874–1975. A wide range of bibliographic data from the nominated livres d'artistes were recorded in a specially created computerised database which then formed the basis of the quantitative analysis.

The specific technique used here is "exploratory data analysis" (EDA), which enables information from the data to be extracted from many different perspectives and removes the need to apply complex statistical models. The data used for EDA is usually compiled as a list or group of numbers which, in the first instance, is transformed into a graphical form for analysis. An examination of the sequence of numbers that was used to compile the graph can assist in the analysis of this graphical output of the data. Thus, displaying data such as the numbers of livres d'artistes published in a year as a histogram or graph along a single axis showing different time periods provides sufficient detail to make reasonable observations and conclusions.1

Some of the preconditions for the resurgence of the livre d'artiste were established just days after the liberation of Paris. On 29 August 1944 General Charles de Gaulle called on all the French people, including their cultural leaders, to join in the battle to restore France's economic, political, and cultural foundations.2 To help rebuild the nation's cultural leadership, French artists, writers, and publishers made considerable efforts to publicise the role and longevity of the illustrated book. In what was a period of heightened book activity, publisher Albert Skira reminded the French of the long legacy of their illustrated books with his landmark Anthologie du Livre Illustré par les Peintres et Sculpteurs de l'École de Paris.3 Henri Matisse endorsed Skira's anthology by contributing a composition, "Comment j'ai fait mes Livres", describing how he created his illustrated books and referring to his wartime livres d'artistes, many of which were yet to be published.4 There was also the monumental five-volume set of Léopold Carteret's Le...


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pp. 303-319
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