Fables of La Fontaine
. University of Washington Press . Seattle
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Here is the first of two extra copies of this book. In 1855 the French caricaturist Honoré Daumier and other artists proposed to illustrate anew the fables of la Fontaine. Their project was never realized, but it inspired The Fables Project, out of which this book comes. Painter Koren Christofides brings together more than sixty artists from the USA, Europe, and Asia to create original artwork for La Fontaine's fables. These illustrations -- by painters, printmakers, photographers, ceramists, sculptors, conceptual artists, fiber artists, and art historians -- celebrate an extraordinary intersection of contemporary art with the fabulist tradition. There are sixty-five fables here, including both the familiar and the less known. The introduction by Constantine Christofides describes the volatile social context of seventeenth-century France as well as the literary tradition, stemming from Aesop, that underlies La Fontaine's fables. Koren Christofides, the project's initiator and director, gives a curator's account in her preface of the present-day artists' exhibition from which the book's illustrations were chosen. Each artist chose a fable and was required to illustrate it in an 8 x 11 format. This book itself is 8½ x 11 and has xxii + 150 pages. Let me list first some of the more provocative and unusual illustrations: Dean Goelz's The Fox Brings the Wolf to Trial Before the Monkey (21), which features the same human face in all three white animals; Valerie du Chene's Sponge Donkey, Salt Donkey (27), which seems to hinge on a joke using the phrase trou d'eau; Jesse Bransford's The Crow Who Wanted to Imitate the Eagle (33), with overlays including a space capsule; Gene Gentry McMahon's The Cat Transformed into a Woman (35) with a bride clenching her teeth around a caught mouse; and Nathaniel Vaughn's The Cat, the Weasel, and the Little Rabbit (79), with a maze of habitations. Good traditional representations of the fables include Shirley Scheier's The Frog and the Rat (51), which combines colored and black-and-white figures; Norman Lundin's 2P (55), stately, simple, and traditional; Linda Beaumont's The Ears of the Hare (57), with a spectral monster facing the bunny; and Elin O'Hara Slavick's The Animals Sick from the Plague (69), a terribly simple presentation of the hanged donkey with a patch of grass in its mouth. Constantine Christofides is professor emeritus of comparative literature, French, and art history at the University of Washington. Christopher Carsten, a poet and translator, is on the faculty at the Institute for American Universities.