In 1995 we trained down from Paris to Versailles early one Sunday morning. There was a market of antiquities, but very few items for us. Almost in desperation about the slim pickings, we did notice and buy a 12-volume, stunning rendition of the complete poems, novels and plays of Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), illustrated, in pochoir style, by that deco dazzler, Umberto Brunelleschi (1879-1949), and published in 1949. This was to be Brunelleschi’s swan song; and de Musset’s career steered a course straight to doom, as befits a Romantic-era notable. But this glowing paper product has much more than that to contribute.
The first episode will pertain to the three (of four—one being sold) poetry volumes, which, like the whole collection, takes as its watchword the title of one of his novels, namely, Confessions of a Child of the Century. Our strategy for presenting this treasure of vintage graphic design will be to note features of the “Confessions” as linked to a glowing pochoir. The opening vision ushers in a poetic dialogue touching upon a “Spanish Chestnut.”
Much of de Musset’s and Brunelleschi’s input here is erotic, but we’ll emphasize the sheer visual artistry. Here the maid of the Spanish Chestnut indicates the depth of talent in that aristocratic menage.
The first volume of the poetry covers affairs in Spain and Italy. Here is depicted a stern but handsome Italian couple.
Here we have a French subject given a lot of skilful love.
Pensive days at the chateau.
A poet and his muse.
“A Wasted Night.”
French woollen craft.
A French radical.
A lover left behind.
De Musset was, in addition to audaciously pushing the envelope, with efforts like Spectacle on a sofa, appreciative to those resolved to more quiet lifts. And Brunelleschi was more than adequate in bringing those energies to visual frisson.
A transaction with culture shock.
This illustration covers the poetic dialogue, “What Do Young Girls Dream?”
The poet’s homage to the notorious George Sand.