The Library has just acquired the first illustrated edition of Emile Zola’s famous novel of working class life, L’Assommoir. The novel first appeared in serialized form between 13 April 1876 and 7 January 1877, and sold well. Building on this popularity, the Paris publishers Marpon and Flammarion issued an illustrated edition in 59 parts in 1878. Each part had one illustration, keyed to a particular page. More than ten artists contributed artwork, which was published as a wood engraving. (More than five wood engravers were involved.)
The artists were notable in their day, and, for some, their reputation endured. Among those, the best known today is Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). He contributed four drawings to the project. Illustrated above is that adjacent to page 283, in which the heroine of the novel, Gervaise, and her lover Lantier listen at a café to Mademoiselle Amanda, declared by Lantier to be a “high class singer.” (Click on image for larger view.) Other pages contributed by Renoir are also scenes, indoors or out: page 136, La loge des Boche; page 192, Le père Bru piétinait dans la neige pour se réchauffer.; and page 368, Les filles d’ouvriers se promenant sur le boulevard extérieur. “Elles s’en allaient, se tenant par les bras, occupant la largeur des chausses.” Each work exhibits his painterly, impressionistic line, contrasting sharply with the acute lines of other illustrations by such artists as André Gill (1840-1885) or Maurice Leloir (1853-1940).
The result of this collaboration of artists, wood engravers, printers and publishers was a large, deluxe book with each illustration printed twice: once on a thick stock used also for the text (“papier de Hollande”) and once on China paper, whose soft surface caught shadings of ink more vividly than thick paper. The parts were bound in a red morocco half leather binding by Paul-Romain Raparlier, evidently on the commission of the London bookseller Henry Sotheran. (The names are stamped on the upper left corner of each front endpaper.) The Princeton copy is number 41 of a limited edition of 130 and has the booklabel of Eduardo J. Bullfinch, a lawyer and businessman in Buenos Aires in the first half of the twentieth century.
Call number: (Ex) Oversize 2007-0689Q