Extraordinarily Elegant and Tastefully Sensuous
MUSSET, ALFRED DE.
LES NUITS.(Paris: J. Meynial, 1911). 292 x 197 mm (11 1/2 x 7 3/4"). 73,  pp. ONE OF 120 COPIES ON VÉLIN D'ARCHES, of a total edition of 160.
SPLENDID MIDNIGHT BLUE CRUSHED MOROCCO BY P. AFFOLTER (stamp-signed on front turn-in and dated 1912), covers ornately gilt and inlaid in an Art Nouveau design featuring an outer border of cresting gilt tools and a large central panel within a frame of plain rules and sinuous flowering vines, brown and gold inlaid morocco lyres at corners, raised bands, spine gilt in five compartments, two with titling, the other three with a floral frame, the elongated central compartment additionally with an inlaid lyre, turn-ins gilt with frame of plain and dotted rules and curling cornerpieces, aqua silk jacquard endleaves in a diapered floral pattern, iridescent blue moiré flyleaves, all edges gilt. Original dark blue paper wrappers bound in. In a matching (just slightly rubbed) marbled slipcase with fleece lining and morocco lip. Added color illustrated title page, division titles, and wood-engraved border decorations by Adolphe Giraldon, and with frontispiece, four vignettes, and four plates, all printed in color, by Luc Olivier Merson. Ray 320 bis. Faintly browned rectangle on fly title from bookmark, mild offsetting from plates onto blank pages opposite, otherwise A SUPERB COPY with no signs of use, the lovely binding unworn and especially lustrous.
This is a greatly elegant item that combines beautiful poetry with beautiful design and execution in illustration and binding. Alfred de Musset (1810-57) was still in his teens when he began publishing his popular tales, and he found success in poetry, fiction, and drama. He is generally recognized, with Hugo, Vigny, and Lamartine, as one of the four great French Romantic writers, although he is perhaps most notorious for his tortured and tortuous love affair with novelist George Sand. The four love poems included here--"La Nuit de Mai," "La Nuit de Décembre," "La Nuit d'Aôut," and "La Nuit d'Octobre"--are set in the form of a dialogue between the poet and his muse. Giraldon's Art Nouveau-style decorations are most pleasing, and even better are Merson's depictions of passionate lovers, which capture the essence of Musset's work. As Ray observes, Merson "interprets Musset's poems as if they were classical eclogues, achieving a suave harmony." Luc Olivier Merson (1846-1920) was a leading painter of the Belle Epoque, whose works ran the gamut from murals at the Pantheon to the design of French banknotes. According to Ray, "Merson was a favorite with bibliophiles, and his books are often found in sumptuous bindings by the masters of the time." Duncan and De Bartha characterizes Affolter as one of the "most noted binders" in turn-of-the-century Paris, and his work here certainly supports that accolade. The motifs in the binding are very much in harmony with the illustrations and decorations in the book, and the work is expertly finished. While there is no way to be sure, the similarities between the decorations on the inside and the outside of the book suggest the possibility that both are the work of the same designer, and Duncan & De Bartha says that Giraldon designed bindings for a number of Paris bookbinders, including Affolter. Whoever is responsible, the volume could hardly be a more successful example of tasteful sensuousness. (ST11918)