In the last hundred years there have been a number of historic art exhibitions: Van Gogh's first one-man show, the first public display of Fauvist painting, and many other showings that initiated radical, new approaches to art. But lately, those exciting days have been occuring at greater and greater intervals. All this makes "The Artist and The Book" an especially extraordinary event, for this vast exhibit presents a new genre to the gallery-going world.
The MFA exhibit contains examples from the work of nearly every major modern artist: Chagall, Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Braque, Rouault, and on and on. Most of the books shown are large, deluxe volumes called by the French livres de peintres.
Philip Hofer, curator of printing and graphic arts at the Harvard College Library, has devoted the energies of a lifetime to making this exhibit possible. His contributions form a considerable portion of the collection, and you may thank him, as director of the exhibit, for the well-spaced, esthetic scheme of display employed.
No single artist can be said to dominate the show in quantity or quality; it is even rather difficult to choose particularly outstanding plates from such a superb assemblage.
Picasso's diverse genius makes itself felt in a variety of styles and techniques. His Tauromaquia is remarkable for the economy of line of its aquatinis. Bulls drawn with two or three artful flourishes seem as real as if they had been constructed in full detail. Miro and Matisse provide wonderful color illustrations that give pleasure, although they have very little to do with any accompanying text.
Among the works of lesser known artists, Renee Sintenis' edition of Sappho (in Greek) is a combined triumph of drawing and typography. the Greek letters engraved by the artist's husband, E.R. Weiss, match the style of the graceful line engravings.
Charles Knowles' Psalm Book deserves special commendation since it was executed in its entirety by a boy of eighteen. Knowles was a senior at the Putney School, Vermont, when he learned that he had only a year to live. In the time remaining to him, he illustrated and printed ten copies of this remarkably competent book.
The catalogue is a fine book in its own right. Containing first-rate reproductions and a scholarly description of each book, it is really the outstanding text in its field. In the introduction, Philip Hofer sketches the history of book illustration over the last century, a topic which can hardly fail to engage your interest once you have seen The Museum's historic show.