In a letter to his notary Ernest Duplan, dated 12 June 1862, the French writer Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) confessed his opposition to seeing his books illustrated: ‘Never, as long as I live, shall I allow anyone to illustrate me, because the most beautiful literary description is eaten up by the most wretched drawing’.
Despite this position, after the writer’s death, there was a proliferation of luxury editions of his stories and novels. Enhanced by compositions devised and executed by renowned illustrators, engravers and bookbinders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these books were intended for a bibliophile audience who sought to fill their personal libraries with unique editions, often containing letters or notes handwritten by their authors, or watercolours and original drawings by the artists who contributed to them.
As a collector of diverse taste, Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was also interested in publications of this kind, by a great variety of authors. In the case of Flaubert, the Museum holds ten editions, which serve as the basis for this small display in honour of World Book and Copyright Day, celebrated on 23 April.
Displayed at three points in the Museum, this selection is organised according to the themes that inspired the writer: Antiquity, Christian and medieval imagery, and the 19th century—his own time. Along this route, the role played in Flaubert’s literary creative process by artistic and documentary sources from the periods he revisited in his narratives is evoked. By highlighting this connection, it is possible to see that, despite rejecting the illustration of his works, the writer was always influenced by the power of the image.
Ana Maria Campino – Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
Gustave Flaubert, ‘Par les Champs et par les Grèves’ (detail). Printed on paper; illustrated with original watercolours and etchings by Henri Jourdain. Unique copy printed for the buyer of the original drawings. Paris: L. Carteret, Éditeur, 1924. Printed on paper. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
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