Moravagine book covers

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First publication, Grasset, 1926.

I should have liked to open all cages, all zoos, all prisons, all lunatic asylums, see the great wild ones liberated and study the development of an unheard-of kind of human life…

Recent reading was Moravagine (1926) by Blaise Cendrars, a novel that resists easy summary. It’s a Modernist work to some extent although the prose (a good translation from the French by Alan Brown) is never unorthodox in style; it’s also scabrous, amoral, misogynist and deeply misanthropic. The narrative is a picaresque affair narrated by a young doctor who frees the mysterious Moravagine from an asylum where he’s been imprisoned for many years. “Moravagine” is an adopted name whose origin and meaning is never addressed, although a French reader would find a rather unavoidable pun on “death by vagina”. Moravagine himself is an otherwise unnamed member of the Hungarian royal family, a dwarfish intellectual psychopath with a bad leg who goes on the run with the doctor, first to pre-revolutionary Russia, then to the United States and South America.

Reviewers have compared the book to Beckett, Céline and Burroughs although it’s much lighter reading than the first two, and the prose is more coherent than Burroughs in cut-up mode. Since we’ve been hearing a lot about the First World War this year it’s tempting to read the book as a kind of Dadaist reaction to Cendrars’ own experiences in the war, even though the entirety of the conflict is dispensed with in two pages. Cendrars appears as a character in the later chapters; he lost an arm in the war so he has his narrator lose a leg while Moravagine loses his reason altogether. At the end of the book he’s found imprisoned in another asylum where he believes he’s an inhabitant of the planet Mars, and where he spends his last months writing a huge, apocalyptic account of how the world will be in the year 2013.

All this, of course, presents a challenge for a cover designer. I have two Penguin editions, both with very different covers, neither of them unsuitable. Curiosity impelled me to see how the book has been treated since 1926. There aren’t many editions but their difference shows the difficulty of trying to encapsulate the contents of this strange novel in a graphic form. The selection here has avoided text-only treatments in favours of those using some form of illustration.

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Le Livre de Poche, 1957.

In an early chapter Moravagine describes fleeing the imperial household by strapping himself to a horse. Without knowing this narrative detail the painting here seems bizarrely arbitrary.

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Editora Ulisseia, Portugal, 1966.

The horses again, with Moravagine strapped underneath one of them. I’d guess the illustrators of these two books didn’t read very far.

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First UK edition, Peter Owen, 1968.

Peter Owen commissioned the first English translation which is still in use today.

Continue reading “Moravagine book covers”

Weekend links 26

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The interior of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County “Old Main” Building, 1874. Reblogged over the past few days on numerous Tumblr postings, none of whom had bothered to find out any details about the picture. I’m with Silent Porn Star on the contextless reblogging issue.

Keith Richards et Mick Jagger à Londres, TV interviews with the Glimmer Twins from 1968 with some remarkable footage in the second half of Jagger filming the penultimate shot of Performance. That French video site requires further exploration. Also there is a short film from 1961 with Jacques Lasry demonstrating the Cristal Baschet. Related: Jacques Doyen & Jacques Lasry play their Cristals while Arlette Thomas and others read French poetry. I wrote something about the mystery of the Cristal two years ago this week.

• Two great album cover blogs from Jive Time Records: Project Thirty-Three is “a shrine to circles, dots, squares, rectangles and triangles, and the designers that make them come to life on album covers” while Groove Is In The Art “celebrates the era when psychedelic graphics and pop art met the mainstream”.

• At A Journey Round My Skull: Night Hallucinations: illustrations by Jaroslav Šerých for Tales of the Uncanny (Prague, 1976); Snark, Strangeness and Charm, Mahendra Singh’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll and others.

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Laurence Chaves illustrates De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater at Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

Austin Osman Spare: Fallen Visionary at the Cuming Museum, Southwark, London in September, “will be the largest showcase of [Spare’s] work in a public museum since his death in 1956.” Jerusalem Press are publishing an expensive monograph to accompany the exhibition.

Freeing “Pale Fire” From Pale Fire; “the next big Nabokov controversy”. Probably not but the thesis is an interesting one.

Quintessential ‘topiary’ in Gandalf’s Garden: Barney Bubbles, head shops and Op Art graphic design.

• Monster Brains discovered some more paintings by Thomas Häfner.

• Spaceweather’s Northern Lights gallery.

The passion of Krzysztof Penderecki.

• More Bookshelf porn.

White peacocks.

Sussan Deyhim: Daylaman | Desert Equations (for Brion Gysin) (with Richard Horowitz) | An interview at WorldStreams.

Several links this week via Adrian Shaughnessy’s Twitter feed. Thanks!

The fantastic art archive

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Previous posts about fantastic, surreal or visionary artists.

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The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade by Jean Benoît

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Ernst Fuchs, 1977

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Ernst Fuchs, 1930–2015

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The art of Aleksandr Kosteckij

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The art of Fabrizio Clerici, 1913–1993

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The art of Victor Linford, 1940–2002

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Heimkiller and High

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The Man Who Paints Monsters In The Night

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Hans by Sibylle

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The art of Jean-Michel Mathieux-Marie

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Gilles Rimbault redux

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Albert Goodwin’s fantasies

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The art of Roland Cat

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The art of James Gleeson, 1915–2008

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Sidney Sime paintings

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The art of Joanna Chrobak

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Giger’s Tarot

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Giger’s Necronomicon

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The art of Thomas Cole, 1801–1848

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Raymond Bertrand paintings

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Raymond Bertrand’s science fiction covers

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Visionaries: The Art of the Fantastic

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Starowieyski in Switzerland

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The art of Luis Toledo

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Jacques Brissot’s Hay Wain

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The art of Jindrich Styrsky, 1899–1942

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The art of Robert Venosa, 1936–2011

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Initiations in the Abyss: A Surrealist Apocalypse

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The fantastic and apocalyptic art of Bruce Pennington

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The art of Leonidas Kryvosej

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The art of Johfra Bosschart, 1919–1998

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The art of Aloys Zötl, 1803–1887

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Sibylle Ruppert revisited

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Sibylle Ruppert, 1942–2011

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In the Land of Retinal Delights

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Gilles Rimbault revisited

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The art of Martin Wittfooth

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The art of Carel Willink, 1900–1983

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Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult

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The art of Ran Akiyoshi, 1922–1982

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The art of Gilles Rimbault

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The art of Michael Hutter

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Boy, O Boy by Julie Heffernan

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The art of Jim Leon, 1938–2002

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Surrealist echoes

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The art of Laurie Hogin

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The art of Christian rex Van Minnen

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Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism

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The art of Oleg Denysenko

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The art of François Schuiten

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The art of Sibylle Ruppert

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The eyes of Odilon Redon

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Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists

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Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009

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The art of Boris Indrikov

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The art of Mati Klarwein, 1932–2002

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The art of Pierre Clayette, 1930–2005

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The monstrous tome

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A Midsummer Night’s Dadd

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The art of Ian Miller

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The art of Leonor Fini, 1907–1996

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The art of Michel Henricot

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The art of Heidi Taillefer

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Set in Stone

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Against Nature: The hybrid forms of modern sculpture

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The art of Jean-Paul Faccon

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The art of Andrew Severynko

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The Hound of Heaven by RH Ives Gammell

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The art of Jean Carriès, 1855–1894

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Visions and the art of Nick Hyde

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The art of Julie Heffernan

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Custom creatures

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The art of Harold Hitchcock

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The art of Agostino Arrivabene

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The art of Takato Yamamoto

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The art of NoBeast

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A Madmen’s Museum

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The art of Andrey Avinoff, 1884–1949

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Imaginary maps by Francesca Berrini

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The art of Jacques Sultana

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Fantastic art from Pan Books

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The art of Jean Benoît

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The art of Bertrand

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Pierre Matter’s cyborg sculpture

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The art of José Hernández

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Czanara’s Hermaphrodite Angel

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The art of Sergei Aparin

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The art of Nicola Verlato

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The art of Stephen Aldrich

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The art of Rudolf Hausner, 1914–1995

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The art of Erik Desmazières

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The Codex Seraphinianus

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Surrealist women

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Leonora Carrington

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Two American paintings

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The art of Thomas Häfner, 1928–1985

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The art of Arnau Alemany

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The art of Jean Louis Ricaud

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The art of Gérard Trignac

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The Museum of Fantastic Specimens

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The art of Franz Xavier Messerschmidt, 1736–1783

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The art of Ernst Fuchs

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The art of Jean-Marie Poumeyrol

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Las Pozas and Edward James

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The art of Jean-Pierre Ugarte

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The art of Ljuba Popovic

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The art of Stanislav Szukalski, 1893–1987

More archive pages:
The archive page archive

Angels 4: Fallen angels

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The Treasures of Satan by Jean Delville (1894).

Some more favourite paintings today. Jean Delville produced a splendidly strange portrayal of Satan as an undersea monarch lording it over a sprawl of intoxicated, naked figures. When Savoy Books decided to put together the definitive version of David Lindsay’s equally strange fantasy novel, A Voyage to Arcturus, I felt this was the only painting adequate to the task of filling out the cover. That was in 2002; a year later Gollancz used the same painting on the cover of their Fantasy Masterworks paperback edition of the book. Lindsay’s book has been plagued by bad cover art for years so we managed to raise the bar for future editions. Delville was one of the great painters of the Symbolist school, all his work is worth looking at.

There are numerous representations of Lucifer but Franz Stuck’s is especially striking and apparently caused viewers to cross themselves before it when it was first exhibited.

Gustave Doré’s tumbling figure is from his illustrated edition of Paradise Lost, a book full of armour-clad, spiky-winged angels. Some of those wings have even found their way into my work via the miracle of Photoshop.

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Lucifer by Franz Stuck (1890).

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Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré (1866).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Thomas Häfner, 1928–1985

The art of Thomas Häfner, 1928–1985

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Lucifer (no date).

…I find nothing fantastic in so-called fantastic art, it is an aspect of reality in search of sanity beyond the normal bounds. I believe that fantastic art is related to the protective dream, that it prolongs the healing dream and finds symbols that change dread into wonder, strangeness and beauty.

As in all figurative art, fantastic art must of course be judged not only by its intentions but by the quality of the execution, and by standards that have been almost totally lost in the turbulence of changing fashions, movements and politics on the art market. This has led to a noticeable helplessness among the critics, who seem to ignore a growing tendency toward the fantastic in the hope that it will fade away and die. I do not believe it will.

Thomas Häfner

Who was Thomas Häfner? Good question, because he’s virtually invisible on the web. The painting above is scanned from David Larkin’s excellent Fantastic Art (Pan/Ballantine, 1973) and was also used as a cover image for an edition of Blaise Cendrars‘ scurrilous masterpiece, Moravagine. The Demon Woman below is a watercolour original for sale on eBay. Häfner was a member of a group of German artists who called themselves the Young Realists, formed in Düsseldorf in the mid-Fifties. Significantly, another group of young imaginative painters was active at the same time in Vienna, the Fantastic Realists, who included the great Ernst Fuchs among their number. “Realism” here can be considered as referring to a style that favoured the hard-edged realistic approach of Surrealism; Häfner’s content certainly wasn’t realistic.

These people remain neglected or unknown because art critics like to pretend there’s only one story being told in the development of art at any given time when there are usually several, often with conflicting agendas. So we’re always being informed that the dominant movement in fin de siècle Paris was Impressionism and hear little of the Symbolists who were equally—if not more—popular, productive and influential during that period.

(This laziness carries over to other areas; Debussy is continually described as “an Impressionist composer” when one of his most famous works, Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, was based on a Symbolist poem by Mallarmé. There are no fauns in Impressionist paintings.)

The prevailing trend in the mid-Fifties was the thin gruel of Abstract Expressionism, the complete antithesis of the kind of art being produced by Häfner, Fuchs and company. There’s a reason for the elevation of this type of work over others. Critics such as Clement Greenberg saw abstraction (which, ironically, grew out of Surrealism) as being a politically acceptable direction after the turmoil of the Second World War. The Nazis liked realism in their art, while the Soviets under Stalin and the Chinese under Mao had declared Socialist Realism to be the official art of the Communist Revolution, therefore realism of any variety was reactionary and bad. Further irony comes when the CIA agreed with this argument and secretly promoted Abstract Expressionism outside America. This has led us to the situation we have today where a Willem de Kooning painting, Woman III (1952–53), was recently sold for $137.5 million which means collecting this kind of work is now a game for billionaires. It really would be the final irony if the kind of realistic art that Clement Greenberg despised was elevated to a new popularity by over-priced Abstract Expressionism as collectors with fewer assets were forced to look elsewhere. Critics can protest all they like but these days it’s money that speaks with the loudest voice in the world of art.

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Demon Woman (no date).

Update: added some additional works:

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Marionetten (1964).

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Szene mit Schädeln (1970).

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Phantastische Waldszene (1971).

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Masken in zerfallener Umgebung (1974).

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Die Harpye (no date).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive