Cortege and Fables

Fables, as conceived by Amboise Volllard, was published in 1952 with Marc Chagall’s manic etchings paired with several of La Fontaine’s moralistic animal stories. At first glance, the relationship between La Fontaine’s text and Chagall’s images is rather standard; the traditional margins are respected, the text is Roman an serifed, printed in dark black ink and italicized. Leading was used to create the typical, centered look given to most poems. Chagall’s etchings were printed intaglio, and compose one half of the story’s folio. Vollard thoughts, however, ran much deeper. La Fontaine’s Fables, when first published, were intended for adult audiences-France at the time was morally weak, and the Fables were meant to counteract that trend. Of course, in time, the audience for the Fables grew younger until it consisted entirely of children. Vollard sought to combine, in essence, this contradiction of the history of the Fables. In his interpretation of Fables, Vollard chose the youthful contemporary artist Marc Chagall to illustrate the fabulist’s work. Chagall’s etchings for the book are sinister and foreboding, and eerily well matched to what we now consider children’s stories. For la Fountaine’s La Deux Mules, Chagall produced a frenzied etching, all in monochrome. The only colors in the book – black and white – emphasize the original moralist message of the Fables, and the dichotomous way morality in general is viewed. In the etching of the mules, the black creeps into the outline of the vain robbed and fallen mule, a physical representation of the sin he tainted himself with. The other stands erect, humble, and white.

Cortege by Pierre Lecuire is unique and rare in that its publisher was also its writer- and its artist, and its advocate. Cortege is entirely the product of Lecuire’s mind, making the text – a metacommentary by Lecuire about the book itself- rather fitting. Lecuire writes that his “book is a procession” and the text is meant as a visual pause for the parade of pochoir images. The margins for the text of Cortege are not so neat and large as those of Fables, and the images themselves extend beyond the page – there are no margins. The color used by Lecuire is vivid and dynamic, deeply bold and compellingly abstract. The text, which, especially in comparison with the images, occupies a familiar mise en page in order to balance the barrage of color of the images, creating a harmonious folio.

For both Fables and Cortege, the intended audience was a mix of art collectors and book collectors. The historically conservative book collector demographic struggled initially to accept the vitality of the images of both books, and art collectors did not typically purchase books.

Distinguishing characteristics of the livre d’artiste, instantiated in both Fables and Cortege, include the use of rare and fine materials, limited number of editions, hand coloring/printing, large formats, fine bindings, and a collaborative nature. Artist books are usually the product of a team of individuals, of many visions, making them a unique and inclusive art form.

Jazz and A Toute Epreuve are important historical landmarks of the artist book, or deluxe book. Cortege and Jazz are often linked because of their similar format and tone, especially in their shared use of pochoir printing. This style of book has influenced artists books irrevocably.All of this began with Matisse’s JazzA Toute Epreuve is similarly influential in that in compromised the traditional mise en page. The images and text loop around one another, interacting and emphasizing each other through their placement on the page and the bright, primary colors colliding with the black, Roman text. Both books changed the way in which mise en page and how images and text interact with one another are viewed by contemporary publishers.

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