The Images Of Women In French Artists’ Books

The Images Of Women In French Artists’ Books

Author: Giulia Perin

A Definition

“The term livre d’artiste, an exquisitely French invention, defines a limited edition, a hand-made publication that typically associates words with original graphic art, made and printed under the strict supervision of the artist. […] For a livre d’artiste, the artist, the author, the editor, and the printmaker often have to work together, planning the relation between text and image, choosing the typographic character, the paper, the printing method, and the binding to get a top-notch product. […] The nature of the material, the time spent, and the costs have little to do with the eventual success of the work.”


In 1772, Denis Diderot publishes Sur les femmes, a brief essay, in which he expresses some of his thoughts on the female world. “…it is especially in the passion of love, in jealousy outbreaks, in the rapture of motherly tenderness, in the instincts of superstition, in the way they share popular epidermal emotions that women amaze, beautiful as the seraphs of Klopstock, terrible as Milton’s devils. I saw love, jealousy, superstition, fury in women at such a level that men will never feel.”

A new edition of this artwork by Diderot, enriched by some wood engravings made by the French painter and engraver René Georges Hermann-Paul, was published almost one century and a half later, in 1919. The protagonist of the philosopher’s words as well as of the images by Hermann-Paul, which combined create a livre d’artiste, is the female figure, whose presence in artistic productions over the course of these two centuries is constant. Women of contemporaneity, of the past, of near realities or fantastic dimensions, the heroines of the 19th and 20th centuries crowd into the pages of some of the most celebrated artists’ books produced in France.


In 1925, Marcel Jouhandeau made the book Brigitte ou la belle au bois dormant with some lithographs by Marie Laurencin. Jouhandeau wrote a letter about this work on 3 February 1925 to Max Jacob: “Kahnweiler took two novels from me, one of which will be illustrated by Marie Laurencin. […] Their titles are Brigitte ou la Belle au bois dormant and Ximonès-Malengorde.” Then, referring to the artist who would illustrate the text: “I often see Marie Laurencin. Her intelligence, the quality of her fantasy, the apparent measure of such a wild life, the respect with which she surrounds me as an exception seduce me and bind me.”


The woman told by Charles Perrault’s words in Cendrillon of 1697 is a fairytale princess who will come back to life through the images by Jules Pascin, in a new modern edition illustrated by the artist in 1929. Overall, the book illustrated by Pascin, well-known as the Prince of Montparnasse, a Bulgarian artist who soon becomes one of the most esteemed artists in Paris, contains five original engravings, each published in one edition of merely 88 impressions. The plates were then staked out with two horizontal and vertical lines. Cendrillon represents by all means the first original example of the famous erotic art by Pascin.

Gide And Others

Isabelle by André Gide, a text illustrated with the burin engravings by Jean Gabriel Daragnès, presents the story of a modern woman, of her lovers, of her fears and passions. This extraordinarily beautiful work was published in Paris in 1924 by Henri Jonquières and C. Editeurs, Collection “Les Beaux Romans”. Les soeurs Bronte ou les filles du vent of 1930, published by the Editions des Quatre-Chemins, was written by the Surrealist poet René Crevel and illustrated by Marie Laurencin. The woman told by Remy De Gourmont and illustrated with some burin engravings by Jean-Emile Laboureur in Le songe d’une femme still belongs to the Surrealist world. In this illustrated version of the Roman Familier by De Gourmont, published in 1925, Laboureur immortalizes the female figure in a series of extremely refined images. The bodies of women, so celebrated, criticized, or simply described, are always the focus of attention, in an infinite motion of decomposition and reconstruction, based on the author’s fantasy.

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