I don’t use bookplates, and don’t know anyone who does, but the conjunction between art and literature is a fascinating one. Exlibris (Bucheignerzeichen) (1909) by Walter von Zur Westen explores the history of the bookplate, and would no doubt answer some of my questions about the form if it wasn’t in German throughout, and also typeset in the semi-legible Fraktur style that used to be de rigueur for all German texts.
We still have the illustrations, however, and these range from woodcut engravings to contemporary works in pencil and ink, with many of the later contributions being from established artists whose names are familiar today; among the examples below are works by Symbolists Max Klinger, Fernand Khnopff and Felicien Rops. There’s also an especially fine example by Charles Ricketts. The latter are a reminder that bookplate commissions were a common thing for 19th-century artists, although their efforts are seldom seen outside collections such as this. Much of Zur Westen’s history is devoted to the German regions but later chapters cover other European countries and the United States.
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The Temptation of St Anthony (1883) by Fernand Khnopff.
This should really be more Symbolist Temptations since Odilon Redon belongs among these artists. Redon may have devoted more of his time than anyone else to the saint’s travails but other artists also took up the theme. Fernand Khnopff seldom depicted religious subjects but his painting—an early work—is remarkable for the way it reduces the phantasmagoric pageants of previous centuries to a simple face-to-face confrontation.
The Temptation of St Anthony (1878) by Félicien Rops.
Félicien Rops, on the other hand, can always be relied upon to be vulgar and blasphemous in equal measure. The Devil lurking behind the cross was probably added to balance the composition but that silly expression makes the picture seem more comical than shocking. Similar skull-faced cherubs may be found in other Rops prints.
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More illustrated Baudelaire. This edition of Les Fleurs du Mal dates from 1917 but the illustrations by Tony George-Roux have a distinctly Symbolist quality even though Symbolism as an art movement was pretty much over by this point. Baudelaire died twenty years before the first Symbolist manifesto was published but that manifesto named him as one of the leading poets of the movement so the connection is a fitting one. There’s a touch of Félicien Rops in some of these plates.
Tony George-Roux (1894–1928) was French, and if he produced more work along these lines I’ve yet to find it. The illustrations, engraved for this edition by Charles Clement, aren’t the best reproductions so I’ve added an additional plate at the end found on another site.
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Back at the fin de siècle with this study by Octave Uzanne of book cover design in the 1890s. L’art dans la décoration extérieure des livres is over four hundred pages of very varied designs, from covers for popular novels to the state of the art by usual suspects Aubrey Beardsley, Charles Ricketts et al. Léon Rudnicki provides the cover and some interior illustrations. The examples below include pieces by Symbolist artists Félicien Rops and Franz Stuck, as well as one of Alphonse Mucha’s designs for Judith Gautier’s Mémoires d’un Éléphant blanc. The complete book may be browsed here or downloaded here.
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