Covering Genet

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While writing Monday’s post I came across this series of new cover designs for the most recent Faber editions of Genet’s novels. I hadn’t seen these before but I liked the way they look as a set. Jonathan Pelham is the designer. At first glance the covers infringe one of my personal rules for cover design, that you should try and create something that couldn’t easily be used on another book by a different author; this is more of a challenge when a design is minimal or tending towards abstraction as these are. But Genet’s covers from British publishers have veered from the featureless (the Anthony Blond hardbacks of the 1960s) to the bizarrely random (the 1971 Penguin edition of Miracle of the Rose with a detail from Max Ernst’s Europe After the Rain—see below), so anything that looks this smart and consistent is a plus. I still like the series of paperbacks that Panther published in the early 1970s (also below) but they only did three of the books, with the Rubens typeface being a carry over from the Grove Press hardbacks designed by Roy Kuhlman. The new editions from Faber also feature new introductions by Neil Bartlett (Funeral Rites), Terry Hands (Miracle of the Rose), Jon Savage (Querelle of Brest), and Ahdaf Soueif (The Thief’s Journal).

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02021

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The Elephant Celebes (1921) by Max Ernst.

Happy new year. 02021? Read this.

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Desert Sunset (1921) by George Elbert Burr.

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The Great Tower (1921) by Giorgio de Chirico.

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Evening Glow at Yanaka (1921) by Kawase Hasui.

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Construction (1921) by Gustavs Klucis.

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Three Musicians (1921) by Pablo Picasso.

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Illustration by Willy Pogány for The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles (1921) by Padraic Colum.

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Sketch of Figural Movement for Dance (1921) by Oskar Schlemmer.

Fanned to sleep

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“The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.” — Jorge Luis Borges

As with writers, so with other artists. Post-Surrealism, and especially post-Max Ernst, we view these kinds of pictures through different eyes. In 1874 this was merely a fanciful illustration in The Ladies’ Floral Cabinet, a magazine that peppers its cultivation and arrangement advice with sentimental images of childhood. “Fanned to sleep” says the subtitle, although it might be “Fanned to Eternal Rest” given that Death’s-head hawkmoth hovering over the child’s head. The Internet Archive has several thousand pages of this particular journal so I’ve yet to see anything similar, but the engraved illustrations are all high quality, and may be ones I find myself ransacking in the future. Via @MlleGhoul.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Zemania

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Invention for Destruction (1958).

In addition to Jean Kerchbron’s Golem my weekend viewing involved a fresh immersion in the semi-animated fantasies of Karel Zeman, one of which, Invention for Destruction, I’d not seen for many years. It hadn’t occurred to me before how closely Zeman’s technique on these films matches some of my own recent illustration when it applies original drawn elements to settings constructed from old engravings. For Zeman, combining actors with animated models and pictorial backgrounds was an economical way of bringing to life the worlds of Jules Verne, Rudolf Erich Raspe and others while retaining the feel of the original book illustrations. These films are also closer to the Max Ernst school of engraved collage than they may at first seem. The mansion at the beginning of Invention for Destruction could easily have been an illustration of a single building but Zeman offers a hybrid construction with unrealistically conflicting perspectives; later on we see a desert cavalry of camels on roller skates. It’s no surprise that Jan Svankmajer admires Zeman’s films. And having recently watched all the Svankmajers it’s good to know there are several Zeman features still to see.

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The nightingale echo

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Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale (1924) by Max Ernst.

Another discovery from Charles Henri Ford’s View: Parade of the Avant-Garde. Sidney Janis devotes several pages to one of the earliest Surrealist paintings by Max Ernst, Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale. After describing the picture in detail he makes this comparison:

In 1935, Dalí painted a Nostalgic Echo, obviously of this very picture by Max Ernst. Eleven years divided the two paintings; still the lapse of time has not interrupted a continuity of idea which takes place between them. For now we have the next sequence of events. Ernst’s adolescent with the knife appears again in the Dalí, her gesture identical but free of her earlier emotional tension. We find her contentedly skipping rope, her contour and movement echoed in the belfry as a ringing bell. And here it is the nightingale that is menaced. It alights, and as it does, a shadow moves toward it in the form of a snare. This shadow-snare is thrown by the girl and the rope. Finally, the nimble-footed man no longer leaps the rooftops—he is brought to earth to brood in the shadow of his own senility. Relegated to a humble corner of the foreground portal, he is a sorry sight, while in the belfry-tower which repeats the image of the portal, the feminine form triumphantly dominates the aperture, swinging against the sky. The play of ideas in the two pictures is like a Surrealist game in which one participant carries on where the other leaves off.

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Nostalgic Echo (1935) by Salvador Dalí.

Dalí’s paintings frequently quoted other artists but seldom, if ever, the work of his contemporaries so I’m sceptical that Nostalgic Echo is a response or a sequel to the Ernst. But paranoiac-critical-Sherlock Holmes would agree that the comparison is a suggestive one.

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Nostalgic Echo (detail).

A more obvious echo for Dalí is Giorgio de Chirico’s The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (below), where we find a similar girl at play among plastered walls, arched portals and elongated shadows. Three paintings, and three stages in a narrative whose events rearrange themselves depending on the order in which they are viewed.

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The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914) by Giorgio de Chirico.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Max Ernst’s favourites
Viewing View
Max Ernst album covers
Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie
Max and Dorothea
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier