Esthetic Languages of the Book in Fin-de-Siècle France: Japonisme, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau in the Private Library of Henri Vever

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Abstract

The private diaries written between 1898 and 1901 by the French jeweler, art collector, and bibliophile Henri Vever (1854-1942) provide fresh evidence about how important late-nineteenth century esthetic ‘languages’ (japonisme, Symbolism, Art Nouveau) were appropriated by artists committed to renewing the decorative arts; the diaries also address the meaning and status of books. For Vever, his extensive collection of Japanese pattern albums served, above all, a utilitarian function, as design primers and sources of information about printing and engraving techniques for craft modernizers. At the same time, included in the physical space of his ‘Japanese library’ and in line with Symbolist esthetics, Japanese books were, to Vever, suggestive bibelots, whose evocative powers were enhanced through inclusion in harmonious decors. Vever’s experiments in Art Nouveau book design, finally, reveal his additional conception of the book as both surface to be decorated and space of artistic collaboration underscoring the equality of all arts.

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Figures
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    Henri Vever in Noyers (Eure), ca. 1895. Henri Vever Papers, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Gift of François Mautin, 1988.
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    Reproduction of Camille Corot, La Jeune Mère (c. 1854-6), in Collection H. V.: catalogue de tableaux modernes de premier ordre, pastels, aquarelles, dessins, sculptures dont la vente aura lieu galerie Georges Petit, Paris-1 & 2 février 1897 (Paris 1897), n.p. Photogravure enhanced with etching.
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    Henri Vever, La Bijouterie française au XIXe siècle (1800-1900), vol. 3 (La Troisième République, 1870-1900) (Paris 1908), pp. 370-1. Illustrated with photogravures.
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    Artistic Japan (English language edition of Le Japon artistique), n. 5, September 1888. Eberly Family Special Collections Library, The Pennsylvania State University.
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    Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) (publisher: Nishimuraya Yohachi; block cutter: Tomekichi Egawa), book, Edo period, 1823, woodblock printed, ink on paper, paper covers (vols. 1-2: 5 3/16 × 7 3/16 × 3/8 in.; vol. 3: 5 1/16 × 7 3/16 × 3/8 in.). Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Purchase, The Gerhard Pulverer Collection—Charles Lang Freer Endowment, Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the Harold P. Stern Memorial Fund in appreciation of Jeffrey P. Cunard and his exemplary service to the Galleries as chair of the Board of Trustees (2003-2007), FSC-GR-780.240.1-3.
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    Cover illustration by Léon Rudnicki for Edmond Haraucourt, L’effort (1894), color lithograph. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
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    James McNeill Whistler, Henry Thompson (artists): Charles Meunier (binder). A Catalogue of Blue and White Porcelain forming the Collection of Sir Henry Thompson (1878). Accession number 92.1090. H: 10 ¼ × 8 1/16 in. (26.04 × 20.48 cm.). Book bound between boards covered with calfskin, goatskin, porcelain, gold and patterned silk. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
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    Cover illustration by Eugène Grasset for Histoire des quatre fils Aymon, très nobles et très vaillans chevaliers (Paris 1883). Eberly Family Special Collections Library, The Pennsylvania State University.
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    Jules Chadel (designer) and Henri Noulhac (binder), binding for Henri Vever’s copy of Anatole France, Les Opinions de Jérôme Coignard (1893), in Émile de Crauzat, La Reliure française de 1900 à 1925, vol. 2 (Paris 1932), n.p.
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