{ feuilleton }


• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


À Rebours illustrated


Not a comprehensive post by any means but a few items worthy of note for readers of Joris-Karl Huysmans’ Decadent classic. The Vera Bock cover is from a 1937 American edition which turned up here last year. Thanks to Jescie for drawing my attention to the presence of my Haunter of the Dark collection on the same site. Vera Bock is an unusual choice of illustrator for this particular novel, there’s more of her work and details of her career at A Journey Round My Skull.


Auguste Leroux’s edition (above & below) is from 1920 and can be downloaded at the Internet Archive although the copy there seems to have had many of its full-page plates stolen. The artist produced an illustrated Memoirs of Casanova a few years later and he seems here to have concentrated on the more salacious aspects of Huysmans’ story, as with this brothel scene which is missing from the scanned edition. His depiction of Des Esseintes looks too middle-aged for me but the rendering of the unfortunate jewelled tortoise could hardly be bettered.



Browsing the archives at Gallica turned up this extraordinary Art Nouveau edition from 1903 illustrated and embellished on every page by Auguste Lèpere. This would be an excessively lavish treatment for most books but for a story of aesthetic obsession it seems quite appropriate. Gallica also allows the downloading of many of their documents although that function kept failing my attempts. But this volume really does need to be seen in its entirety.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Arthur Zaidenberg’s À Rebours



Posted in {art nouveau}, {art}, {books}, {design}, {illustrators}.

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13 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Anne S


    I recently put up a cover of A Rebours on my Eye Candy site. Not by any means as spectacular as the ones here, but different. It’s a Dover Books edition.

  2. #2 posted by Anne S


    Correction – it was a cover for La Bas. Old age is catching up with me.

  3. #3 posted by John


    Hi Anne. I have a Dover edition of À Rebours which is a match for your book, both used Odilon Redon art on the covers. And I have a copy of La Bas in the Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult series which wasn’t a bad run of books on the whole.

  4. #4 posted by charles "chaz" peltz



    It seems to me that the Leroux illo of Des Esseintes was, in fact, based on a famous photo of Huysmans lui-meme used as the photo cover of the Dedelus Baldick biog of Huysmans. I still think the best depeiction of Des Essentes is the portrait of Robert de Montesquiou used on the cover of the 1960′s Penguin edition of A Rebours.

  5. #5 posted by John


    Yes, that photo of Huysmans posing before a crucifix gets used a lot. I was thinking more that Leroux’s rendering makes him look a little too old. In the story he’s described as still a relatively young man which is one reason why Dorian Gray would have had his sympathies swayed by the book when it’s introduced (unnamed) into Wilde’s novel.

    I agree that the Boldini portrait of Montesquiou makes a great cover. Philippe Jullian’s biography of the latter has some sharp things to say about Huysmans’ plundering of Montesquiou’s aesthetic youth, and Montesquiou himself wasn’t very happy to be identified with Des Esseintes. But without Huysmans and Proust we’d be a lot less interested in him today.

  6. #6 posted by Thombeau


    In an odd coincidence, my local library just called today to say that the copy I had reserved LAST SUMMER just came in! Apparently it had been filed incorrectly. Unfortunately, it’s not this spectacular volume, but I look forward to finally reading it none the less.

  7. #7 posted by @~


    Excellent :)
    I wondered if there were any specifically illustrated copies of Huysmans’ books, rather than ones that appropriated Redon or Beardsley etc. for the covers, but I’ve never come across any so Cheers!
    As a read I personally much preferred La Bas to A Rebours.

  8. #8 posted by John


    I’m sure there’s more to find, these are some of the ones which turned up after a not very thorough search. There’s also the Arthur Zaidenberg edition I wrote about earlier.

  9. #9 posted by @~


    I forgot about the Zaidenberg edition. I looked at those works on an artists of the decadence site a while ago. Wasn’t that keen on them. I’d much rather have an edition with Leroux’ illustrations.

  10. #10 posted by charles "chaz" peltz


    Many years ago,in Paris, I was shown the edition with the Lepere illustrations – someone’s private collection. Believe me, that’s the one to go for provided you can ever find one and at a price not requiring a mortgage!

  11. #11 posted by KK


    Any idea where one might find a font resembling the Lèpere edition? Its gorgeous.

  12. #12 posted by John


    KK: It’s one of the typefaces designed by Georges Auriol which happens to be named after him. Details here.

  13. #13 posted by lechantdupain


    Cette édition de 1903 est un très bel ouvrage. Cela fait longtemps que je suis la publication des articles au fil de ce blog, et je profite de l’occasion pour vous féliciter pour tout ce travail de mémoire et de recherche, accompli avec talent !
    Avec mes salutations cordiales






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