Fables Mise en Verse, Jean de La Fontaine; Estampes Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Peintre du Roi, Tome Premier
La Fontaine, Jean de
. Diane de Selliers aediteur . Paris
Language note: French
PQ1808.A1 1992b (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
Language note: French
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Here is an impressive two-volume work presenting all (?) of the illustrations of the Desaint & Saillant et Durand four-volumes of La Fontaine that appeared between 1755 to 1759. The 1755 edition stands out as one of the highpoints of illustration of La Fontaine's fables. The present pair of books is quite simple, consisting almost entirely of the texts and illustrations. I was happy to find these books because they offer Oudry in a format only slightly smaller than that in the original edition. De Selliers' informative Avant-propos points out that the publication of this book began in 1751, and that the first volume was published three days before Oudry's death in 1755. Etienne Wolff's essay praises Oudry above all for his command of animals, of landscape, and of buildings. He admits that Oudry may not have done as well with lions as with other animals. I am surprised to find de Selliers and Wolff saying little about the colored character of these illustrations. A note on the verso of the title-page indicates that the present illustrations are from a contemporary hand doing gouache and that this exemplar stems from Brussels. De Selliers speaks of Oudry's original black-crayon sketches being washed with China ink and having gouache highlights before being committed to copper. For me, the choice of a colored exemplar for this edition defines it and weakens it. Colored renditions define this edition because they have a distinctive impact different from the impact of Oudry's work in black and white. The choice weakens this edition by cheapening the effect of Oudry's illustrations. Some illustrations take on a garish quality. Many obscure the details of Oudry's careful work by their coloration. If I compare, for example, the original and the colored versions of XXXVII (UP), I find the black-and-white cock better defined than his colored counterpart. The varied colors suggest something clown-like. Perhaps the very movement into color often suggests something of the cartoon. I gather that Oudry was drawing sketches for tapestries. Perhaps color was integral to his conception, but I find it hard to presume that color is integral to the 1755 edition. That said, many of these pictures are simply beautiful, like SS (105) and the fourth plate for MSA (133). Wolves and other animals tend to be red-eyed here (e.g. 91, 177, and 241). Are elephants' ears really that red inside (263 and 279)? Bachelier's woodcut fleurons profit from the addition of color here. Beware! Six illustrations are pulled out of sequence and offered between pages 10 and 38 of Volume One: XVIII 2 (FC); CCXXVIII 2 (Le Corbeau, la Gazelle, la Tortue et le Rat); LV 2 (Les Loups et les Brebis); XII 2 (Le Dragon A Plusieurs Queues); CLXXXII 2 (Jupiter et le Passager); and CLXXII 2 (Le Singe et le Léopard). I am afraid that I still cannot find one beloved illustration: CLXXXIX 2 (Les Deux Rats, le Renard et l'Oeuf). There is a T of C at the back and a ribbon. The covers are plain red cloth but the box features two colored illustrations. I had to think hard about whether a derivative edition like this was worth $350. Two months after deciding yes, I was able, to my immense surprise, to obtain an original 1755-1759 edition. Six months after that I was able to purchase a second copy of de Selliers' work for just $50 on eBay. This subsequent copy has numerous pencil marks below illustrations, perhaps referring to a catalogue of the plates.