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[Morte Darthur.] The Birth, Life and Acts of King Arthur
London: Dent,, 1893. of his noble knights of the round table, their marvellous enquests and adventures, the achieving of the San Greal and in the end Le Morte Darthur, with the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all. The text as written by Sir Thomas Malory and imprinted by William Caxton... now spelled in modern style. With an introduction by Professor Rhys and embellished with many original designs by Aubrey Beardsley. 2 volumes, large square octavo (240 x 190 mm.) Contemporary full vellum over bevelled boards by Cedric Chivers of Bath for Bumpus of London, gilt panelled spines with hand-painted art nouveau-style lettering and scrolling floriate motifs, below which, on a field of gilt dots, an overall pattern of stylised roses and rose leaves (volume I) and tulips and tulip leaves (volume II), sides with two-line gilt border enclosing a frame of hand-painted intertwining roses and rose leaves (volume I) and intertwining tulips and tulip leaves (volume II), both on a field of gilt dots, panel on each front cover with a hand-painted scene taken from Beardsley's designs, back covers with three-line gilt panels, top edges gilt, untrimmed, three-line gilt turn-ins, floriate endpapers. Gravure frontispieces, 18 full page wood engravings (including five double-page), numerous text illustrations, and approximately 350 repeated designs for chapter headings and borders, all by Aubrey Beardsley. Some shallow scratches and light abrasions to bindings, customary general pale toning internally, slight offsetting from plates to letterpress. A very good set. First Beardsley edition, one of the 1500 copies on ordinary paper; another 300 were printed on Dutch hand-made paper. This copy in a bright and spectacular example of a "vellucent" binding, by Cedric Chivers of Bath, unsigned but a characteristic example of this style. Chivers invented a way to treat vellum so that it became translucent ("vellucent"): the cover design would be painted on a separate sheet and then a thin sheet of this translucent vellum would be laid over it; gilt tooling would then be applied over the top of this. In his catalogue of Books in Beautiful Bindings (c. 1905), Chivers describes the Beardsley Morte D'Arthur as "bound in whole vellucent from a design by the illustrator of the book. A figure panel enclosed in a floral border". The hand-painted cover illustrations for this set reproduce two of Beardsley's designs, volume one depicting "How Four Queens Found Launcelot Sleeping" (p. 184) and volume two "The Achieving of the Sangreal" (frontispiece). "Commissioned by British publisher J. M. Dent in 1892 and first published in twelve monthly magazine instalments between June, 1893, and mid-1894, Aubrey Beardsley's Morte Darthur was one of the most original and certainly one of the most controversial of the nineteenth-century artistic reinterpretations of Malory. Although his illustrations for the Morte established Beardsley as the voice of the 1890s, he was until that time largely an unknown young artist… [However,] La Morte Darthur proved to be an immediate sensation upon publication and the impact of Beardsley's Arthurian illustrations was tremendous… Today, Beardsley's illustrations for the Morte, which constituted almost half his lifetime's artistic output, survive as the first example of modern Arthurian book illustration; and they remain arguably the best experimental visual reinterpretation of the Arthurian world. With their bold lines, strong visual themes, and numerous memorable but unconventional details, the Morte 'pictures' (which is how Beardsley himself referred to them) created an important – although admittedly idiosyncratic – symbology and iconography. Often shockingly overt in their sexuality and eroticism, the illustrations rejected the aesthetic of the Pre-Raphaelites who were Beardsley's original mentors and offered a revisionist and parodic treatment of their medievalism. Ultimately, Beardsley went far beyond his original intention to 'flabbergast the bourgeois' of his day; he also challenged generations of readers and artists to view Arthurian society through his own modernist lens" (Barbara Tepa Lupack, Illustrating Camelot, 2008, Chapter 4). A masterpiece of book illustration in a striking binding.
      [Bookseller: Peter Harrington]
Last Found On: 2017-06-14           Check availability:      Biblio    

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