Wifredo Lam : Livres d’artiste [1]

 

Wifredo Lam with Pablo Picasso, Vallauris, 1954

The Cuban-born artist Wifredo Lam (1902–82) was a pioneer in incorporating non-Western ideas into his creations. A special exhibition is on display in the Wren Library until 14 June 2018, which celebrates Lam’s collaborations with several of the leading French-language poets of the twentieth century to produce livres d’artiste.

Of mixed African, Spanish and Chinese ancestry, Wifredo Lam quickly developed a distinctive style influenced by Cubism and the Surrealist movement, often involving elaborate hybrid figures. His work with the poets Aimé Césaire, Ghérasim Luca and René Char led to a series of editions printed to the highest standards in very limited numbers, and in most cases the copy in the Wren Library is the only known example in the UK. These special editions were recently presented to Trinity College by Nicholas Kessler (1937–2018).

In this, the first of two blog-posts on Lam’s collaborations with writers and poets, we examine some of his works with Antonin Artaud and Aimé Césaire.

Behind the Mirror

Derrière le miroir, N° 52: Lam (Paris: Maeght, February 1953) Pam.a.95.12

Derrière le miroir was a monthly publication which served as the catalogue for each exhibition at the Galerie Maeght: 253 numbers were published between 1946 and 1982. This issue was published in February 1953 and consists of a single folded sheet reproducing three new lithographs by Lam, together with a list of his exhibited paintings and a collection of endorsements of his work by notable artists and writers including Pablo Picasso, Herbert Read, Aimé Césaire, René Char, Georges Braque and André Breton.

Lam’s drawings had been used as illustrations in books in earlier years. His first experiment in printmaking was an etching produced in 1945 to illustrate a book by Pierre Loeb, Voyages à travers la peinture, published in 1946. The prints of Derrière le miroir are among his earliest works to employ the lithographic technique, and use bold blocks of colour in a manner which he was soon to abandon.

Artaud in Mexico

Antonin Artaud (1896–1948) was a major figure in the theatre of the avant-garde. After staging various notorious but financially compromising productions in Paris in the 1920s and early 30s, in 1936 he travelled to Mexico, where he investigated local forms of spirituality, recording details of his travels and of his experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. While in Mexico he wrote Le théâtre et les dieux, an attack on the present state of theatre, asserting that the day of surrealism had passed and developing a new urgency for his formulation of théâtre de la cruauté, the Theatre of Cruelty.

Antonin Artaud, Le Théâtre et les dieux, eaux-fortes de Wifredo Lam ([Paris]: Aubry-Rueff, 1966). Kessler.c.58 (copy no. 61 of 110)
The colophon to this edition is signed by Lam and by the publishers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lam immediately saw the implications which Artaud’s text on Mexico held for his own exploration of the complex cultural history of his native island, an encounter which was by this time creating in his paintings a great metamorphic theatre of sensuous animal-gods. Artaud’s text also contains a message to which Lam must have been sensitive, when he writes of Balthus, ‘He paints like someone who would know the secret of lightning’.

The essay was reprinted in May 1966 in an edition by Aubry-Rueff for which Lam produced 5 etchings, each with aquatint in colours. The aquatints were printed by Georges Leblanc in a studio first established in Paris in 1793.

Brunidor

The collector and financier Robert Altmann (1915–2017) fled Nazi Germany and established himself in Havana in 1941, where he met Wifredo Lam. Soon after this encounter he set up Brunidor Editions, which published lithographic prints to a high standard in New York and later in Paris, where Altmann became closely involved with the Lettristes. Lam contributed to Altmann’s first portfolio in 1947, alongside Max Ernst, Joan Miró and others. His third portfolio was published in Paris in 1961, and includes one of Lam’s brightest and most explosive lithographic prints alongside the work of four other artists. Among these is an arresting piece by Isidor Isou, the founder of Lettrism, and a rare lithograph by Ghérasim Luca, the poet of Romanian origin with whom Lam would later collaborate on his largest book project, Apostroph’Apocalypse. A rare set of these lithographs has been lent for display in the exhibition by Archiv AcquAvivA, Berlin.

Aimé Césaire

Wifredo Lam and Aimé Césaire in Havana, 1967

Aimé Césaire, one of the great poets of the 20th century, published his masterpiece, the Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land) in 1939 in Paris, before returning to his native Martinique. Wifredo Lam, who was sailing with André Breton towards the Americas, met Césaire in Martinique in April 1941. Lam was deeply moved by the poetry of Césaire and they became friends. In 1942 Lam drew the frontispiece for the first edition of Césaire’s poem in book form, published in Cuba in a translation by Lydia Cabrera, with a preface by Benjamin Péret. In 1945 Pierre Mabille published a long study of Lam’s massive painting La Jungle in Tropiques, the journal published by Aimé and Susanne Césaire in Fort-de-France.

Césaire’s Cahier was first published in 1939 in the magazine Volontés. The exhibition includes the original offprint of the magazine printing, in one of very few surviving copies, inscribed ‘To Wifredo Lam, in token of friendship and admiration, this poem of our revolts, our hopes, our fervour—Fort-de-France, May 1941, A. Césaire’. Lam was so struck by the power of Césaire’s text that he determined to have a Spanish-language edition published in Havana. The illustrations Lam provided for the 1943 Havana edition, translated by the anthropologist Lydia Cabrera, included an anthropomorphic horse figure. These illustrations act as the first published commentary on Césaire’s long poem.

Also on display are the autograph manuscript and signed typescript of Césaire’s poem ‘Simouns’, dedicated to Lam. This poem on the desert wind, Simoom, conceives the fires of liberation in an imagined Africa. The manuscript of an essay by Césaire, ‘Wifredo Lam et les Antilles’, records that ‘painting is one of the rare weapons left to us against the sordidness of history’.

‘passages’, from Annonciation (1969, 1982)

Lam and Césaire spent many years in planning a collaborative publication. In 1969 Lam had created a series of nine etchings richly coloured in aquatint, and in 1979 he showed them to Césaire. This inspired Césaire to write a set of ten poems, which were eventually published in a portfolio together with seven of Lam’s etchings in 1982, shortly before Lam’s death.

A second blog-post will discuss Lam’s collaborations with Ghérasim Luca and René Char.

Further Reading:

https://europeancollections.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/wifredo-lam-and-aime-cesaire/#more-12444

http://pluton-magazine.com/2018/06/12/wifredo-lam-a-cambridge-university/

 

 

Christopher Columbus and the Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books

A new book by Edward Wilson-Lee, Fellow of our neighbouring Sidney Sussex College and a regular reader in the Wren Library, tells the scarcely believable – and wholly true – story of Christopher Columbus’s bastard son Hernando, who sought to equal and surpass his father’s achievements by creating a universal library. Here we take a sideways look at Christopher Columbus and his son through a selection of books in the Wren Library.

La Casa de Colón

Georg Braun, Civitates orbis terrarvm (Cologne: Apud Petrum à Brachel, 1612). U.15.19

This splendidly illustrated account of the great cities of the world, printed in five large volumes in 1612–18, devotes a single plate to the three cities of Seville, Cadiz and Malaga. The perspective of Seville shows Hernando’s house, ‘La Casa de Colón’, next to the Puerta de Goles. The text was compiled by Georg Braun, and the engraved plates, hand-coloured in this copy, are largely the work of Franz Hogenberg.

As a youth, Hernando Colón spent years travelling in the New World, one of them marooned with his father in a shipwreck off Jamaica. He created a dictionary and a geographical encyclopedia of Spain, oversaw the first modern maps of the world, visited almost every major European capital and associated with many of the great people of his day, from Ferdinand and Isabella to Erasmus, Thomas More and Albrecht Dürer.

“Their words have gone out to the end of the world”

Psalterium, Hebrecum, Grecum, Arabicum, & Chaldaeum, cum tribus latinis interpretatonibus & glossis (Genoa: Impressit Petrus Paulus Porrus, in aedibus Nicolai Iustiniani Pauli, 1516). A.14.6

One of the first ever biographical notices of Christopher Columbus is printed rather unexpectedly in the margins of this scholarly edition of the Book of Psalms, printed in Genoa in 1516. It is apparently the first polyglot work ever published, and presents the Psalter in eight columns with the Hebrew, a literal Latin version of the Hebrew, the Latin Vulgate, the Greek Septuagint, the Arabic, the Chaldean (in Hebrew characters), a literal Latin version of the Chaldean, and scholia in the right-hand column. The editor, Agostino Giustiniani, generally made brief notes in the final column relating to textual questions, but an exception is made for Psalm 19, at the fourth verse:

Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

A lengthy biographical notice about Christopher Columbus is attached to this verse and spreads over the following five pages (for the full biographical notice see here). Columbus had earlier used this psalm to substantiate his claim that his discoveries were not random events but rather a key part of God’s plan. Through this widely-read edition of the psalter, his discoveries became part of the meaning of the psalm, the fulfilment of its prophecy. Unfortunately the note is riddled with factual errors, and it would not have been pleasing to Hernando that it opens with the damaging allegation that Columbus was vilibus ortus parentibus—born of low stock.

Columbus in the service of Pope Innocent VIII

Chronica delle vite de pontefici et imperatori Romani, composta per M. Francesco Petrarcha (Venice: Per Maestro Iacomo de pinci da Lecco, 1507). Grylls 6.190, f. 88.

The earliest reference to Christopher Columbus in the holdings of the Wren Library appears in this history of the lives of the popes, printed in Venice in 1507. The book is spuriously attributed to Petrarch, who died in 1374. The account of Pope Innocent VIII, who like Columbus was Genoese by birth, reports that it was during his pontificate that Columbus discovered the New World. This echoes the inscription on the tomb of Innocent VIII at St Peter’s in Rome which states ‘Nel tempo del suo Pontificato, la gloria della scoperta di un nuovo mondo’ (‘During his Pontificate, the glory of the discovery of a new world’). But in fact Innocent VIII died on 25 July 1492, a week before Columbus first set sail across the Atlantic.

Columbus in Hexameters

Ivlii Caesaris Stellae Nobilis Romani Colvmbeidos libri priores duo (Rome, 1590). III.9.57

The ‘Columbeidos’ is the earliest attempt by any poet to treat Columbus’s discovery of the New World as heroic fantasy. It was written in Latin in the Vergilian epic style by the grandly named poet Guilio Cesare Stella (1564–1624) and takes up more than 1700 lines of Latin hexameters. The poem is dedicated to Philip II, King of Spain and Prince of the Indies. It was first printed in London in 1585, and this Roman edition dates from 1590.

A Utopian Library Catalogue

Thomas More, De optimo reip. statv deqve noua insula Vtopia libellus uere aureus, nec minus salutaris quàm festiuus (Basel: Apvd Io. Frobenivm, 1518). Grylls 7.12, pp. 12–13.

Hernando Colón bought a copy of this book, the second edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, in Ghent in 1520, and read it in Brussels in 1522. Many aspects of the book were reflected in Hernando’s life: voyages of exploration, maps, printing, language, and the search for forms of perfection hitherto unknown. This edition includes a map of the fictitious country designed by Hans Holbein’s brother Ambrosius, and a short poem printed in the Utopian language and using the Utopian alphabet, written by the founder and first king of the country, Utopus. The printer (Froben of Basel) went to great trouble to have a special set of type cast for this poem, and it seems that it inspired Hernando to devise his own secret alphabet of very similar ‘biblioglyphs’ to describe the books in his beloved library.

Tennyson’s Columbus

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ballads and Other Poems (London, 1880). G.18.65, pp.138-9

‘Columbus’ is one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s later poems, written in 1879–80 and first published in Ballads and Other Poems (1880). His son Hallam records that it was composed at the request of ‘certain prominent Americans that he would commemorate the discovery of America in verse’. Tennyson derived his view of Columbus as a religious enthusiast with a visionary mind from Washington Irving’s Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. The poem presents the aged navigator, now ignored and living in poverty, defeated by the selfishness and lust that had triumphed over Columbus’s ideals in the Spanish court. The poem has been understood as conveying Tennyson’s own fears about the decay of society in his later years.

Further reading:

Edward Wilson-Lee, The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library (London: William Collins, 2018)

From the Crewe Collection: Goya Etchings

Among the greatest treasures in the Crewe Collection are three volumes of etchings by Francisco Goya (1746-1823), currently on display in the Library for the first time. It is likely that Richard Monckton Milnes acquired these in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. These volumes were accepted in lieu of inheritance Tax by H M Government from the estate of Mary Evelyn, Duchess of Roxburghe, and allocated to Trinity College in 2016.

Los Caprichos (Crewe 156.8)

Goya issued this first collection of prints in 1799. The set of 80 pictures offers a deeply satirical condemnation of the social norms of his day, and is far darker than the title of ‘Caprices’ would lead one to expect. The plates were produced with a combination of etching and aquatint, and this first edition was overseen by the artist himself. Five further etchings are bound at the end of the volume.

 

Capricho No. 5
Tal para cual (Two of a kind)

Los desastres de la guerra (Crewe 156.9)

Goya’s second collection of prints, ‘The Disasters of War’, was created between 1810 and 1820, as a reaction to the Peninsular War and the resultant famine which affected Madrid in 1811-12. Goya described the series of 82 plates as depicting ‘the fatal consequences of Spain’s bloody war with Bonaparte, and other forceful caprices’. Almost all of the images are deeply disturbing, and they have inspired reactions from many artists in later generations. Although Goya had printed a few proofs of all the plates in his lifetime, they were not issued as a set until many years after his death, in 1863. This set is a fairly early copy of the first edition.

Plate 4: Las mujeres dan valor (The women give courage)

La Tauromaquia (Crewe 156.10)

Goya produced the 33 prints of La Tauromaquia in 1815-16, at the age of 69, while working on the Desastres de la Guerra. The plates depict the various techniques of bull-fighting, with a particular focus on its more violent aspects. In several of the pictures the spectators are shown in shadowy form in the background. The prints were made for Goya in 1816 in an edition of 320 copies, and complete sets are now much rarer than the Caprichos and the Desastres.

No. 4: Capean otro encerrado (They play another with the cape in an enclosure)

For those of you who are able to visit the Library in person, the pages of each volume will be turned each week in order to display different prints. Digital images of the all three volumes can be found in the Wren Digital Library.