(London: Printed for T. Payne, Pall-Mall, by J. McCreery, 1810). 195 x 122 mm. (7 5/8 x 4 3/4"). 2 p.l., lxxxvii, 188 pp. FIRST EDITION.
Harmless contemporary black straight-grain morocco, covers with gilt fillet border, raised bands flanked by plain gilt rules, gilt titling, all edges gilt. WITH AN EXCELLENT FORE-EDGE PAINTING OF THE ACROPOLIS. In a fine amber morocco pull-off box by Sangorski and Sutcliffe. Verso of title page inscribed in ink: "Eliz[abe]th Gould's Book / The Gift of / Ja[me]s Mason Esqr. / April 9th 1819"; two later owner signatures; front pastedown with engraved bookplate of Edward Laurence Doheny, front free endpaper with that of Carrie Estelle Doheny; verso of rear free endpaper with bookseller ticket of J. W. Robinson. Weber I, 152. Joints lightly rubbed, boards rather faded (and with varying color, apparently partly because of refurbishing), minor foxing to endpapers and first and last quires, otherwise an excellent copy, clean and fresh in a sound binding, with a bright and well-preserved fore-edge painting.
This copy of Mason's two libretti based on Euripides' tragedies "Medea" and "Alcestis" comes with a fore-edge painting that reflects its classical contents, and with illustrious provenance. "Cornelia" transports the story of Medea's revenge on her faithless husband to Roman Britain, while Alcestis' story of self-sacrifice and redemption retains its original setting and cast of characters. These are the work of British writer James Mason (1778/9-1827), who also wrote political pamphlets advocating parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation, as well as several plays, an epistolary novel, and translations from the classics. The fore-edge painting by the Dover Painter salutes the Greek origins of the operas with a striking depiction of the Acropolis, rising majestically on its hill, surrounded by open countryside with blue mountains in the distance. The foreground is populated by two tourists, sitting on what appears to be part of a ruined column and admiring the view, as well as by four brightly dressed Greek peasants. Our painting shows a sophisticated sense of design as well as a delicacy of painterly strokes, and the whole scene looks very convincing. The intricate gradations in the shading, seen especially in the fields and sky, are remarkable, and the highly skilled use of shadows establishes a strong sense of three-dimensionality. Apparently the artist found this composition pleasing and useful: he painted the same scene, with very minor variations, on another copy of this work in our inventory (see Item #ST12252 on our website), and no doubt on other copies of the same book. The fact that his work was formulaic and repeated in basic form does not diminish the aesthetic achievement of the artist. It is easy to recognize here the work of the so-called "Dover Painter," as it shows his distinctive style of applying small dabs of paint; this method is especially effective in producing convincing texture for skies, trees, shrubs, and grass. "Dover Painter" is the name given by Jeff Weber to the person who painted in the 1920s and '30s, probably for the famous London bookseller Marks & Company. A number of his works found their way into the library of Edward and Estelle Doheny, which was certainly the most outstanding collection to be sold at auction during the 1980s, and which was particularly rich in fore-edge paintings. This copy is further distinguished by apparently having been the gift of the author. (ST13598b)
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PJP Catalog: 72.169