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Willa Z. Silverman

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.