(s.l. s.n., 1777). 202 x 134 mm. (8 x 5 1/4"). Two volumes.
VERY PRETTY EARLY 20TH CENTURY PLUM-COLORED CRUSHED MOROCCO, GILT, BY E. LUDWIG OF FRANKFURT (stamp-signed at tail edge of rear board), covers framed by gilt fillets, bead-and-lozenge roll, and gilt dots, raised bands, spine compartments with central rose sprig surrounded by curled tooling and small circlets, gilt titling, turn-ins with cresting acanthus leaf roll, leather hinges, marbled endpapers, top edge gilt. With extra engraved title page by Vidal in both volumes, engraved portrait of La Fontaine after Rigaud in first volume, four vignettes (including two on the title pages), 43 tailpiece vignettes, and 80 FINE ENGRAVED PLATES AFTER EISEN. Cohen-de Ricci 569, 571-72; Lewine, pp. 280-81; Graesse IV, 75; Rochambeau 90. See also Ray 26 (describing the 1762 edition with our same illustrations). Spines evenly sunned to hazel brown, small snag to edge of one board (touching gilt of frame), extremities lightly rubbed, occasional mild marginal smudging, other trivial imperfections, but a fine copy internally, clean and fresh with generous margins, with excellent impressions of the plates, in a lustrous binding.
This is a handsomely bound pirated edition of the famous 1762 Fermiers-Généraux edition of La Fontaine's "Contes et Nouvelles," which is one of the very finest illustrated French books of the period, and a work that Ray calls "the collector's book 'par excellence.'" Cohen-de Ricci begins nearly six full pages of description on that edition by pronouncing that, "among the illustrated books of the 18th century, the original edition . . . as a whole is the most beautiful and the most agreeable." Our copy has the same plates as the 1762 edition, except that they are in reverse. The original group of images is generally accepted as the finest work of Charles Eisen (1720-78), Louis XV's Court painter, and drawing master to Madame de Pompadour. Bryan says that "almost all the important books published in France in his time contain his exquisite plates," which "he engraved with a light point and with striking originality." He "took his inspirations direct from nature, but add[ed] something of the ideal, after the manner of Watteau and Boucher." The substantial group of plates here, in Ray's words, is "the liveliest and the most adroit that [Eisen] ever drew. Thoroughly at home with the varied action of these lusty stories--their love passages, their intrigues, their practical jokes--he is also expert in choosing the moment in each that will best serve his purpose as an illustrator." The elegant bindings are the handiwork of Frankfurt artisan E. [Ernst?] Ludwig, who provided discerning German bibliophiles with fine hand-bindings during the first two decades of the 20th century. Many of the works he bound were strictly limited, bibliophile, or fine press editions; he is known to have created at least one binding in the style of Cobden-Sanderson for a Doves Press book. Our bindings have a distinctly French flair, and are well suited to a fine 18th century printing. (ST16483)