All posts in “books”

Manson F. Backus: Print Collector, Book Collector

Did you know that the Bullitt Library is accessible to the public and often highlights books and resources related to our exhibitions for visitors to view? Visit the latest book installation related to Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb, on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum during the library’s public hours: Wednesday–Friday, 10 am–4 pm. Graphic Masters closes August 28, so hurry up and see it soon!

A Collector’s Collection

Several of the etchings by Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669) in the exhibition, Graphic Masters, are part of the Seattle Art Museum’s Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection. Manson Franklin Backus (American, 1853–1935) was a well-known, successful Seattle banker and philanthropist that, toward the later part of his life, became a learned collector of art objects. He traveled extensively to Europe and beyond amassing a large collection, over twenty-five years, of fine prints, other types of art, and a substantial library to support his learning.

Self Portrait with Saskia by Rembrandt

His engraving and etching collection was regarded with much esteem in the region. He regularly loaned prints to exhibitions at the Seattle Fine Art Society—an organization that would ultimately become the Seattle Art Museum—and then to the museum itself. In 1935, upon his death, his collection of more than 300 etchings and engravings was bequeathed to the Seattle Art Museum. Selected works from this collection have been exhibited over the years, notably in Manson F. Backus Memorial Exhibition: Etchings and Engravings in 1935; a three-part exhibition—Manson F. Backus Memorial Collection of Etchings by Masters—shown in 1937; and more recently, European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle, the companion exhibition to Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London in 2013.

“. . . a collector of etchings must be something of an artist in appreciation. . . . and judging by the prints on the walls of the entrance hall and the library of Mr. Backus’ Highlands home, his appreciation has been wide and sure.”
—“Second Hobby, Done Well, Is Found In M.F. Backus’ Etching Collection,” Seattle Sunday Times (February 1, 1931)

A Collector’s Library
In 1935, upon Backus’ passing, in addition to the print collection bequeathed, his extensive library on artists, technical aspects, and the collecting of prints was received by the Seattle Art Museum Library. The collection ranges from important titles of the 18th and 19th century, to titles that were likely purchased not long before his death. Each contains his distinctive bookplate that states: “Ex Libris, Confido in Deo [Trust in God], Manson Franklin Backus” and depicts a coat of arms with three doves and a chevron. We are pleased to be able to present a small sampling from the approximately 160 volumes that were willed to the library.

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Among his library are a number of fine editions, but none is more unique and interesting than Etchings: A Collection of 50 Invitation Cards Sent by Eminent Artists and Etchers to Art Patrons, a bound volume of collected invitation cards and etchings. Included within is an etching by William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764) and original sepia drawings by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, R.A. (English, 1793–1867) after Rembrandt and Meindert Hobbema (Dutch, 1638–1709). Not a lot of information is known about this work. An advertisement tucked into the volume confirms that the firm of George Bayntun in Bath, Somerset, England, bound the work, and that this was done sometime around 1900, but the person who compiled the collection is unknown. Additionally, no other edition of this work is known.

Hogarth print

—Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

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The Late Caprichos of Goya: A Gift to the SAM Libraries

During the exhibition, Graphic Masters: Dürer, Rembrandt, Hogarth, Goya, Picasso, R. Crumb, the SAM Libraries is showcasing an exceptional work in the Lockwood Foundation Living Room near the exhibition entrance.

We are honored to present an important recent gift to the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library: Late Caprichos of Goya: Fragments from a Series (New York: Walker & Co., in association with the Department of Print and Graphic Arts, Harvard College Library, 1971). This limited edition illustrated book, with photomechanical lithograph reproductions and six original etchings, was donated in 2015 by Stuart and Beverly Denenberg.

Why is this work on Francisco José Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746-1828), published in the 1970s, so special? In short: exceptional scholarship in a beautifully-produced volume, containing extremely rare prints. Written and compiled by Eleanor A. Sayre (American, 1916-2001), one of the first female curators at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, this work has been described as “a book of exceptional quality . . . and importance.” The Late Caprichos of Goya: Fragments from a Series was published in an edition of 150 copies, with the Bullitt Library’s copy being number 79. It is the only known publicly-accessible copy in the Pacific Northwest.

The rare prints that are included in this work were created from three double-sided copper plates Goya made in the 1820s. Thirty years after Goya’s death, the plates were purchased in Spain by an English diplomat, John Savile Lumley (British, 1818-1896), from Goya’s grandson. They eventually made their way to the London firm of P. & D. Colnaghi where they lay in a drawer for over a decade, until they were bought by Harvard librarian and print scholar, Philip Hofer (American, 1898-1984), in the 1930s—notice the PH embossed in each print at lower right.

Witch on a Swing

In the 18th century, according to the Royal Spanish Academy Diccionario de la lengua castellana (Madrid 1791), the word, “capricho” meant “In works of poetry, music, and painting, it is that which is done by the power of invention rather than by adherence to rules of art. It is also called fantasy.”

Goya completed these caprichos in 1825, a quarter century after the original series of 1799. Those earlier prints can be read as political and clerical critiques, and made Goya an important moralist to those contemporaries who truly understood their meaning. Goya published the original series during the reign of Carlos IV, hoping that enlightened men and women would see and heed his criticisms, and that some public good might result from the work. For this later series, which is believed to be only the fragmentary beginning, there are—unlike the original series—no titles or details which may have caused trouble. In her commentary, Sayre wonders: “We shall probably never know how great a risk the old artist intended to take.” He was then 80 years old and died three years later.

Maja, after Goya

goya-installation-3

To see the book and these late caprichos in person, visit the Lockwood Foundation Living Room, just inside the exhibition. While there, take time to peruse some of the great resources selected by the SAM Librarians in the pop-up library.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Photos: Natali Wiseman.
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19th-Century European Depictions of Africans: A Book Installation

During the run of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, whose work addresses ideas about identity and representation, the Bullitt Library is featuring a book installation that considers ways in which people of Africa were depicted in 19th-century book illustrations. The works in this installation, considered “costume books,” depict African subjects with an emphasis on clothing, published with the intent of educating an otherwise unacquainted audience. This tradition, derived from European 16th-century illustrated costume books, was created to satisfy a demand for information on dress and manners of both homeland and foreign lands. The depictions of non-European subjects, though beautiful in their presentation, are problematic in that they project a distinctly Western perspective and a lack of drawing from firsthand observation.

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu…

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Published in Paris by the firm of Firmin-Didot et Frères between 1876 and 1888, Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu… by Auguste Racinet (French, 1825–1893) was considered the most wide-ranging study of clothing of its time. Here, Racinet depicts “Senegalese tribesmen and women, from the lands by the River Senegal in Western Sudan” who “are a handsome people who take great care of their appearance.” And although Racinet’s work is an exceptional example of chromolithography, images like the ones shown are derived from a long illustrative tradition whereby images of “exotic” peoples were based on written accounts or secondhand drawings.

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Another work published by Firmin-Didot et Frères is Costumes Anciens et Modernes, a 19th-century reproduction of Cesare Vecellio’s (Italian, 1521–1601) Habiti Antichi et Moderni di Tutto il Mondo, an early costume book published in Venice in an expanded edition in 1598. Firmin-Didot’s version is written in Italian and French and covers the same geographic regions covered by Vecellio’s work.

In this example, we see an ordinary African woman: “Africana di Mediocre Conditione/Africaine de Condition Inférieure.” Referring to Vecellio’s original depictions, one scholar has noted that the images of African costumes, in particular,

“…were participating in ‘translations’ of African dress into costumes for European paintings and theatre. During this process, they accumulated new meanings. The dressed figures were copied from art objects with varying degrees of removal from immediate African encounters and combined with texts from published travel narratives to create mythic bricolages of Africans.”

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

The Clothing of the Renaissance World: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas: Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni

19th-Century European Depictions of Africans

Costumes Anciens et Modernes

Additionally, when a comparison is made between Vecellio’s original image and Firmin-Didot’s replication of this particular subject, we see the result is a distinctly more Europeanized version.

This book installation is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm.

—Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

Images: Le Costume Historique: Cinq Cents Planches, Trois Cents en Couleurs, or et Argent, Deux Cents en Camaïeu… 1876-1888, Paris: Firmin-Didot, Auguste Racinet, French, 1825–1893, SPCOL GT 513 R23 v. 2. The Clothing of the Renaissance World: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas: Cesare Vecellio’s Habiti Antichi et Moderni, 2008 London; New York: Thames and Hudson, Margaret F. Rosenthal, American (birth date unknown), Ann Rosalind Rosenthal, American (birth date unknown), GT 509 V42 C57 2008. Costumes Anciens et Modernes = Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il mondo, 1859-60, Paris: Firmin-Didot, Cesare Vecellio, Italian, 1521-1601, Ambroise Firmin-Didot, French, 1790-1876, From a private collection. Photos: Natali Wiseman.
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Hey, we’re starting an art book club!

SAM staff members tend to be avid book lovers, and when we’re not talking about art, you’ll likely find us talking about books. The books we’re reading now, the books on hold at the library, and the books we stayed up too late last night finishing. The books we couldn’t put down, and the books we just… couldn’t get through. We compare reading lists, meet in lunchtime book clubs, and make mass trips to the library to pick up the next haul. And yet, we still can’t seem to get enough—so I’m bringin’ it to the internet, to talk about books with you.

Introducing: SAM Book Club. Once a quarter, I’ll be selecting a book about art to talk about here on SAM Blog. Fiction or nonfiction, old or new—it’s all fair game! About a month before each SAM Book Club post we’ll let you know what we’re reading this quarter so you can get a copy and read along, then meet back here to discuss it in the comments.

To inaugurate SAM Book Club, we’ll be reading I Am Madame X, by Gioia Diliberto—the fictionalized account of Virginie Gautreau, the stunning subject of John Singer Sargent’s painting, Portrait of Madame X (1883-4). I’m looking forward to learning about the rule-breaking, scandal-raising, modern woman behind Sargent’s most infamous work, and her life in belle époque Paris. So, dear readers, hit up your local library, grab a copy, and meet me back here on May 24 to talk about I Am Madame X!

Happy reading!

—Carrie Dedon, Curatorial Assistant, Modern & Contemporary Art

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The Seattle Art Museum in Fiction

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” — Albert Camus

It all started when a museum visitor asked our public relations department about a book title he was trying to track down. His email stated, “I don’t know the book, don’t know the author, but a few pages into it I did know Seattle Art Museum was the setting of a murder mystery themed around art… and it was a wonderful read.” His request was sent to SAM’s Bullitt Library where we quickly realized we had no compiled list of fictional books where the museum was mentioned—but, we probably should! So, we set out to construct a list and discover how fiction expresses SAM’s truth.

After combing through novels featuring the museum, it became apparent that SAM is most often the setting for intrigue and romance. If you consider that our Brotman Forum has a car hurtling through the air, intrigue certainly represents an aspect of SAM’s truth, but I think the romantic side is more subtle. The artist, Pablo Picasso, said “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” Considering Picasso’s idea of art, SAM’s romantic truth may be in every installation. The emotions each exhibition brings forth give the audience the opportunity to allow an exploration of their own feelings, making it a perfect place to find true love.

Seattle Art Museum is often mentioned in passing in novels that take place in the Seattle area. The museum is such an iconic feature of the city that authors often mention it to set the atmosphere of the scene. In fact artist Jonathan Borofsky’s Hammering Man—a work owned by the City of Seattle but situated directly in front of the museum—is often described in scenes of downtown Seattle. Conducting a search of SAM in fiction gives many results. By reading through each one, I was able to establish the context and importance the museum actually had in the plot of the book.

Old Scores by Aaron Elkins

A series that particularly features the Seattle Art Museum is the Chris Norgren Mysteries series by Washington-state author, Aaron Elkins. In this series, a Seattle Art Museum curator often finds himself involved in art’s shady underworld.

Noteworthy novels that feature SAM in order to establish an atmosphere of exciting intrigue or provide a backdrop for dramatic romance include: Long Overdue by Jeff Ayers, which features both SAM and the Seattle Public Library, includes a rambling lunatic who accuses SAM of running a mind-jamming device from the museum, and Dating Can Be Deadly by Wendy Roberts, uses SAM as a popular date night spot for a potential killer.

A Glancing Light by Arron Elkins

Weeding through this list, I was able narrow it down to an introductory top twenty list. If you’re looking to further your experience of SAM’s truth with fiction we have compiled a list of novels that either feature SAM or just briefly mention the museum. This list is by no means exhaustive, but this top twenty list sets out to reflect fiction’s truths about SAM. The list features a short synopsis of SAM’s role in each book and is presented in alphabetical order here. I was unable to read all of the novels listed, so I encourage people to submit their reviews to give more context, and suggest any additional titles to add.

Suggestions may be sent to libraries@seattleartmuseum.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

—Jenatha Bruchon, Library Intern, Seattle Art Museum Libraries

P.S. As for the book our visitor was after, it was Old Scores by Aaron Elkins.

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Masks in the Bullitt Library’s Collection

The Seattle Art Museum’s current exhibition, Disguise, examines 21st-century evolutions of the African mask and explores contemporary forms of disguise. For this latest book installation from the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library, we drew upon unique works in our Special Collections related to masks. They run the gamut between the restraint of an early 20th-century collection catalogue and the intensity of an early 21st-century work that delights the senses.

Masks Alone

les_arts_sauvages1

Portier, André and François Poncetton. Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique. Paris: Editions Albert Morancé, 1956. SPCOL OSZ NB 1080 P6.

Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique is a large folio edition that focuses its attention on the form of each mask, leaving context to our imagination. It was first published in Paris in 1927, and is authored by the French academics, André Portier (French, 1886–1969) and François Poncetton (French, 1875 or 1877–1950). It includes fifty loose-leaf collotype photographic plates printed in sepia, some overprinted with color. An elaborate, beautifully produced collection catalogue, this work displays the collections of important artists, critics, and writers of the French Surrealist and Dada movements.

Two examples of the overprinted color plates are on currently on view: Masque Pongwé (Gabon), from the collection of Stéphen-Charles Chauvet, (French, 1885-1950), known for his authorship of the first illustrated compendium on Easter Island; and Masque Man (Côte d’Ivoire), from the collection of Paul Éluard, (French, 1895-1952), the French surrealist poet.

Soundsuits in a Box

nick_cave1

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

“The wearers and their masks participate in a consuming spectacle: sounds, smells, the audience and the setting all play essential roles.” —Herman Burssens, African Faces: An Homage to the African Mask

Unlike the quiet, reflective nature of Les Arts Sauvages: Afrique, this artist’s book by Nick Cave (American, 1961–) has movement, makes noise, and shows us masks represented in a totally different way from that of more traditional books.

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

From Cave, Nick. Soundsuits Boxfolio. Chicago: Soundsuit Shop, 2006. SPCOL N 6537 C447 S68 2009.

This Boxfolio is a rare, wonderful, instance of an artist leaving a remnant behind after a show. In 2011, artist Nick Cave held a solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum and this work ultimately ended up in the Bullitt Library. Best described as an artist’s book, this work contains a diverse and fascinating assortment: an iron-on patch, lenticular image, magnet, pin, blow-up punching bag, set of playing cards, set of postcards, hanging ornament, booklet, fiber optic wand, and a Viewmaster. Cave’s Soundsuit Shop tells us that “Nick’s 2006 exhibitions were accompanied by this Boxfolio which, like the Soundsuit, is a collection of unexpected items that make sound when shaken.”

Two of Nick Cave’s Soundsuits are on view in the exhibition, Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, which runs through September 7, 2015.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

The book installation, Masks in the Bullitt Library’s Collection, is on view just outside the Bullitt Library on the fifth floor of the Seattle Art Museum, during the library’s public hours: Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-4 pm. (Please note the library will be closed July 1-3, 2015.)

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Sharing the Beauty and Diversity of Asian Art through Books

Books and catalogues about the collections and exhibitions at the Asian Art Museum are available at the McCaw Foundation Library. The library participates in an exchange program with museum libraries around the world, providing SAM’s exhibition catalogues in return for theirs. Engaging, beautiful, and diverse, each of these catalogues provides a captivating glimpse into the wider world of Asian art. You are invited to visit the McCaw Foundation Library to enjoy these and more resources to expand your knowledge and understanding of Asian art.

Book Cover: Chŏng-hye Pak et al. Celebrating Events with Banquets and Ceremonies in the Joseon Dynasty. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2011.

Book Cover: Chŏng-hye Pak et al. Celebrating Events with Banquets and Ceremonies in the Joseon Dynasty. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2011.

Celebrating Events with Banquets and Ceremonies in the Joseon Dynasty. Chŏng-hye Pak et al. Seoul: National Museum of Korea, 2011.

The National Museum of Korea celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009 with the exhibition Scenes of Banquets and Ceremonies of the Joseon Dynasty.  The Joseon Dynasty ruled over a united Korean Peninsula for more than 500 years, from 1392 through 1910. This catalogue is rich in visual descriptions of the traditional celebratory feasts, or janchi, which were characteristic events of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. Celebratory rites and festivities of the Joseon royal court, and celebratory customs among the Joseon people and government officials are rendered in beautiful and exacting detail.  Images in the catalogue include photographs and drawings of the special clothing worn to various ceremonies, among them a headdress for a first birthday celebration and a wedding veil. The catalogue includes detailed descriptions of the events, and essays that provide cultural detail and context.

Book Cover: Bromberg, Anne et al. The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2013.

Book Cover: Bromberg, Anne et al. The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas at the Dallas Museum of Art. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2013.

The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas. Bromberg, Anne et al. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2013.

The Dallas Museum of Art’s collection of South Asian art includes nearly 500 works, including Indian Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, Himalayan Buddhist bronze sculptures and ritual objects, artwork from Southeast Asia, and decorative arts from India’s Mughal period. This book details the cultural and artistic significance of works ranging from Tibetan thangkas and Indian miniature paintings, to stone sculptures and bronzes. Relating these works to one another through interconnecting narratives and cross-references, the text provides a broad cultural history of the region.

Book Cover: Strong, Susan. Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book 1560-1660. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2002.

Book Cover: Strong, Susan. Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book 1560-1660. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2002.

Painting for the Mughal Emperor: The Art of the Book. Strong, Susan. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2002.

A unique blend of Indian, Persian, and Islamic styles, Mughal painting reached its golden age during the reigns of the emperors Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan in the 16th and 17th centuries. This gloriously illustrated book is the first to examine the Victoria & Albert Museum’s remarkable collection of Mughal paintings. The text contains fascinating research, and images include: elaborately detailed battle scenes, scenes of court life, a remarkable series of portraits, studies of wildlife, and decorative borders.

Book Cover: Yiu, Josh. A Fuller View of China: Chinese Art in the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2014.

Book Cover: Yiu, Josh. A Fuller View of China: Chinese Art in the Seattle Art Museum. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2014.

A Fuller View of China: Chinese Art in the Seattle Art Museum. Yiu, Josh. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2014.

In 1933, Dr. Richard Fuller founded the Seattle Art Museum and began to exhibit his collection of textiles, porcelain, and Buddhist sculpture.  From the beginning, Dr. Fuller’s collection has been particularly rich in Chinese art, notably sculpture; and over time it broadened to encompass a wide variety of art including: Japanese art, Northwest modern art, European and American painting, and decorative arts. This book, written by SAM’s former Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, Josh Yiu, studies the growth of the Chinese art collection, and includes fascinating analysis of single pieces and the collection as a whole. Color plates throughout capture many unique and beautiful pieces that comprise the collection.

The Soul of Anime: Collaborative Creativity and Japan’s Media Success Story. Condry, Ian. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2013.

The Soul of Anime investigates the rise of anime as a worldwide pop culture sensation. This systematic cultural study was informed by interviews with artists at some of Tokyo’s leading animation studios. It discusses how anime’s fictional characters and worlds become platforms for collaborative creativity, and that it has grown out of a collective social energy. Mostly text, this book takes on a visual phenomenon with eagerness and passion.

Book Cover: Koyama-Richard, Brigitte. One Thousand Years of Manga.  Paris; New York: Flammarion, 2014.

Book Cover: Koyama-Richard, Brigitte. One Thousand Years of Manga. Paris; New York: Flammarion, 2014.

One Thousand Years of Manga. Koyama-Richard, Brigitte. Paris; New York: Flammarion, 2014.

Manga originated in Japan in 1814, gained steam in the 1950s, and continues to evolve in today’s popular culture. Earlier echoes of manga can be seen in centuries-old temple paintings and medieval scrolls.  This book is a both a textual account of the history of manga and a visual delight. It contains over 400 illustrations – some rare, some familiar, all charming.

Book Cover: Osaki, Tomohiro. Art Will Thrill You!: The Essence of Modern Japanese Art. Tokyo: The National Museum of Modern Art, 2012.

Book Cover: Osaki, Tomohiro. Art Will Thrill You!: The Essence of Modern Japanese Art. Tokyo: The National Museum of Modern Art, 2012.

Art Will Thrill You! The Essence of Modern Japanese Art. Osaki, Tomohiro. Tokyo: The National Museum of Modern Art, 2012.

The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2012. To mark the occasion, it presented a major retrospective of its Japanese modern art collection. The emphasis on Japanese art of 1950s showcases pieces that transcend genre boundaries, in a period when artists collaborated in experimentation and mutual development.  This book includes text in Japanese, and images of paintings, sculptures, and photographs.

Book Cover: Mr. by Mr. Tokyo: Kaikai Kiki, 2003.

Book Cover: Mr. by Mr. Tokyo: Kaikai Kiki, 2003.

Mr. by Mr. Tokyo: Kaikai Kiki, 2003.

Taking his name from the national baseball superstar Shigeo Nagashima’s alias “Mister,” Mr. began as the protégé of Takashi Murakami, and has worked as an artist for over eight years.  Mr.’s works are “Japanese” in their anime-inspired, large-eyed characters and flat color fields.  This book is written in Japanese and contains full-color images of painting, and black & white photographs.

– Kate Nack, Library Volunteer, McCaw Foundation Library for Asian Art

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Books on Costume from the Bullitt Library: Peasant Dress Illustrations

The special exhibition, Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion, gives us an opportunity to look at notable books on costume from our own library collected during our eighty-year history. The original SAM Library was founded in 1933, in conjunction with the opening of the Seattle Art Museum. Some examples on view now at the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library were collected early on as typical art historical research material, but with time and a growing appreciation for earlier printing, illustration and binding methods, these works have now achieved rare and “important” status.

One such treasure is National Costumes: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia – a book not available in any other library on the West Coast (1). It was published in 1939 by the Hyperion Press, Paris, printed in Brussels and is a great example of outstanding illustration with large, full-color lithographic prints designed by E. Lepage-Medvey (French, active early 20th century).

Lepage-Medvey Title Page

Title page of National Costumes: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia.

Noting the hardships experienced in this region of Europe at the time — it was, of course, the middle of a World War — art historian André Varagnac (French, 1894–1983) fully appreciates the beauty relayed in the Lepage-Medvey’s illustrations and the sublime nature of everyday objects, like traditional peasant dress:

[With the war,] everything appears to be upset from beginning to end. And yet it turns out that in the pictures representing traditional costume nothing be changed. The creator of these drawings has aimed at opening our eyes… Present day fashion has seized on this peasant aestheticism, which is so often unconscious. And so, in turning towards that form of existence, the artist has come upon what is most permanent and stable in humanity.

Lepage-Medvey Plate 24

Plate 24: Dress of a Young Woman, Vyskova, Moravia.

Plate 29: Dress as Worn in Uhersky Brod, Slovakia.

Plate 29: Dress as Worn in Uhersky Brod, Slovakia.


Come see these and other works from the Dorothy Stimson Bullitt’s collections on the 5th floor, Seattle Art Museum (South/Venturi Building), Wednesday through Friday 10am – 4pm. Learn more here: http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/Learn/Library/.

– Traci Timmons, Librarian, Dorothy Stimson Bullitt Library

(1) According to WorldCat, the world’s largest network of library content and services.

Top photo: Cover of National Costumes: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia. Tan cloth on boards, brown stamped lettering, first edition.
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