February 21 - April 28, 2007
Illustrating the Good Life:
The Pissarros' Eragny Press, 1894-1914
Curated by Alice H. R. H. Beckwith
A book is, more than most things, a compendium of human values.
Some of these appeal to the intellect, some to the emotions, some to the eye, and some even to the sense of touch.
One cannot pick up a beautiful book without inhaling this elixir of creative effort,
which is at the same time so stimulating and so gratifying to the senses.
—Bruce Rogers (1870 – 1957)
In February of 2007 the Grolier Club will present a groundbreaking exhibition devoted to the work of a uniquely poetic, yet relatively unknown, fine press. On view from Feb. 21 – April 28, 2007, Illustrating the Good Life: The Pissarros’ Eragny Press, 1894 – 1914 will present the first comprehensive overview of this legendary press in the United States. Curated by Professor Alice H. R. H. Beckwith of Providence College, the selection will include numerous titles never before exhibited, often shown in multiple copies to fully explore these beautifully illustrated volumes and, for the first time, shed light on the interaction of text and illustration that was central to the Pissarros’ aesthetic philosophy.
Founded by husband and wife Lucien (1863 – 1944) and Esther (1870 – 1951) Pissarro in 1894, the press was named after the Pissarro family's home town in France. Lucien was a wood engraver and, as the son of one of the most politically radical founders of French Impressionism, held socially progressive views. His handcrafted, exquisite illustrations and type were integrated with a select group of texts in the Eragny Press’s limited edition publications, for which the Pissarros created unique bindings.
The Pissarros began their press in England during a period in which the visual arts, literature, and politics all became interrelated in the Arts and Crafts Movement, exemplified by the work of William Morris, whose active voice called for social change. Morris’s aesthetic in turn derived much from the teachings of John Ruskin who held up the medieval craftsman — skilled, independent, and hence creative and happy — as a model for all “Good Lives.” This was how the Pissarros wanted to live: with respect for one’s self, for others, and for the natural environment.
The books from the Eragny Press advanced this vision of the “Good Life” common to both Arts and Crafts and Neo-Impressionist art, resulting in uniquely beautiful and arresting examples of book-making. This exhibition of heretofore unknown letters, drawings, prints, woodblocks, and books from public and private collections, reveals the impulses behind the Pissarros’ choices of authors and themes, and the dynamic interchange of ideas between England, the Continent and the United States. Their books take readers into landscapes, love songs, poetry, daily life, and fairy tales from England, France, Belgium, China and the Ancient Near East, conveyed as much through graceful design and illustration as through texts.
The books in the Grolier Club exhibition are clustered in nine thematic groups: “The Book Beautiful,” “Daily Life,” “Harmony of the Printed Page,” “Tools and Techniques,” “Adult Fairy Tales,” “Reinventing Tradition,” “Love Songs and Poetry,” “Voices of Women,” and “Eragny Influence in the United States.” Within each group the books are organized to reveal the Pissarros’ technical innovations used in their ever-more-colorful illustrations and decorative ornaments, as well as to identify their social messages and the increasing diversity of their patrons and publishing choices.
An illustrated catalogue will be available at the Club, and from The University Press of New England (UPNE).
Location and times: Illustrating the Good Life: The Pissarros’ Eragny Press is on view at the Grolier Club from. Feb. 21 –April 28, 2007. Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 AM – 5 PM. Open to the public free of charge.
For more information e-mail Megan Smith at the Grolier Club.
Illustrating the Good Life: The Pissarros’ Eragny Press is one of a number of events being held in connection with "Birth of the Bestseller: The 19th-Century Book in Britain, France, and Beyond," a conference in New York, March 29-31, 2007. The conference is sponsored by the Bibliographical Society of America, and more details may be found on the BSA website.
The catalogue is made possible in part by the New York Council for the Humanities,
a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and by grants
from the Florence Gould Foundation and the Thomas Poynton Ives Fund.
Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition and publication do not necessarily represent those of the New York Council for the Humanities or National Endowment for the Humanities.