Le voyage d'Urien

Year: 1893

Author: André Gide (1869 - 1951)

Artist: Maurice Denis (1870 - 1943)

Publisher: Librairie de l'Art indépendant

Title page of Le voyage d'Urien

The first edition of the Symbolist novella Le voyage d'Urien (1893) is considered one of the precursors of the artist's book due to the collaboration between author André Gide and artist Maurice Denis. The role played by the publisher remains vague: very little is known about Edmond Bailly, owner of bookstore and publishing firm Librairie de l'Art indépendant. Michelet likened him to a magician with a penetrating gaze, even in spite of his glasses. His name is a pseudonym for Henri-Edmond Limet (1850-1916). His training must have been musical: he probably studied at the conservatory between 1877 and 1886. He published one of his own compositions under the name Henri-Edmond Limé in 1887 at Ancienne maison Janet in Paris: Mazoure en fa marjeur op. 10. Around that time he was also the editor of music magazine La musique populaire (musique des familles). His other publications were esoteric in nature, like for instance Le chant des voyelles from 1912. The magazines that appeared from his publishing business were also aimed at the occult sciences (La haute science: revue documentaire de la tradition esotérique et du symbolisme religieux, 1893-1894, and L'idée libre, 1892-1895). His first act as a publisher seems to have been in the same area: in 1887, he published an edition of Sepher Jesirah.

The store, which was opened in October 1889, developed into a meeting point for the literary world. The bookstore was first established at 11, rue de la Chausée d'Antin (where Edward Dujardin had previously housed his Revue indépendante). The business later moved to 10, rue Saint-Lazare, an address that was also used for the 'Publications théosophiques'. Between 1890 and 1895, authors, composers and artists would meet in the rue de la Chausée d'Antin, a side street of the Boulevard Hausmann: Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Félicien Rops, Odilon Redon, Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Toulouse Lautrec, Gustave Moreau, Stéphane Mallarmé and André Gide. Literary magazine Chimère (1891-1893) was distributed by the Librairie de l'Art indépendant from the second issue onward. Not only did it feature the work of Verlaine and Valéry; Stuart Merrill was another one of its authors. Like Pierre Louÿs and Marcel Schwob, there was also a relationship between him and Oscar Wilde, whose only French play Salomé was published by Bailly. In their correspondence Bailly demonstrated to Wilde how much he owed him in printing fees and how much Francs it would cost Wilde to purchase one hundred copies for distribution in London (Matthews and Lane were listed on the title page as co-publishers, but bought their copies from Wilde himself). Louÿs and Schwob received the printing proofs for the book, which was published in February 1893.

Wilde's friend André Gide published six books with the Librairie de l'Art indépendant: Le traité du Narcisse (1891), Les cahiers d'André Walter (1891), Les poésies d'André Walter (1892), La tentative amoureuse (1893), Le voyage d'Urien (1893), and Paludes (1895). Five of these books have no exceptional design, nor do they feature illustrations apart from the publisher's device on the title page and/or the dust jacket. This image had been designed by Félicien Rops and looked like a fabled animal: 'La Sirène ailée', a winged siren with vampire teeth and a fish tail. The motto, 'Non hic piscis omnium', had been copied from Baudelaire's publisher Poulet-Malassis, indicating that the books were not intended for everyone, but only for the 'happy few'. Bailly's list of publications also included works by Mallarmé, Henri de Regnier, Paul Claudel, and later also works by theosophists Annie Besant and H.P. Blavatsky.

Séances were held in the store, often attended by Debussy and Satie. They performed their music almost every day on the piano that had been placed in the back room. The bookstore also had a group of customers for items other than its own publications: Paul Valéry encouraged Bailly to sell his manuscript of a book about Leonardo da Vinci. Valéry also encountered old and new friends in the store, like Gide, André Lebey, and Jean de Tinan. Bailly was no art dealer, like Vollard, and the graphic arts held no position of importance in his list of publications. Nor did he have a strong inclination for business, so he often lost his authors to other publishers. Gide would switch over to Mercure de France in 1895.

  • Page [1] with a lithograph by Maurice Denis

In his theoretical texts, Maurice Denis predicted that authors and artists would start collaborating in new ways. He was not referring to illustrations and decorations – it had to be more than that. The collaboration between Gide and Denis started after Gide had seen some unpublished drawings for Verlaine's Sagesse in 1891. In August 1892, Gide wrote that the text was not yet finished. He produced revisions in order to equal the level of the illustrations at a time when Denis had yet to start work on his contribution; perhaps Gide still had the illustrations for Sagesse in mind. But Denis had already suggested to draw borders: the text was to be framed by decorations. Gide left the page design to him, but he did emphasise the division of the text into three chapters, insisting that the illustrations for the chapters would feature different colour tones ('les trois parties qui le composent doivent être d'une tonalité toute différente'). And indeed: the colour does change from chamois to ochre to green.

In long-winded but polite sentences he wrote that his idea for the book may sound pedantic or vague, as they were after all different kinds of artists: 'êtes-vous comme moi?' This correspondence demonstrates that the artist's book – with its inherent patterns of collaboration – was still in its infancy. The publisher also let himself be heard. Bailly loved the fact that Denis would produce his own lithographs (the artist's drawings were usually applied to the stone plate by a studio assistant). He did fear that a lithographed text, however, would leave something to be desired. The text was therefore printed separately, by Paul Schmidt, while the lithographs were printed by Edward Ancourt.

In August 1892, Denis suggested placing large lithographs throughout the book, similar in size to the blocks of text. He proposed placing a lithograph like that in the middle of the page, with several lines of text above and below it, so the entire type area would remain balanced with the facing full page of text. This has been done on a few occasions, bringing a sense of variety to the page layout. These Symbolistic lithographs picture events from the story. Small, more abstract lithographs have been included at the beginning of the chapters, and there are also lithographs a few lines high that run along the entire width like an illustrated band across the page ('on pourrait couper vers le milieu la page par une bande de dessin'). The larger lithographs also have various different sizes. All the lithographs support the book's sensual dream-like nature, for instance by showing eyes that are mostly closed, and by including arabesques in Japanese style. The book featured a total of thirty lithographs and one wood engraving (the cover illustration). Denis wanted the book to appear severe and mysterious, its style both Renaissance and medieval. He had by then already abandoned the idea of borders. And, wrote Denis, they would still have to discuss the colours. He came to Paris especially to do so.

In April 1893, the printer found out that he did not have enough letters to set the entire text at once. He therefore printed the later chapters separately from the rest. The book was printed in eight-page quires, so Gide's impression that he printed each set of twenty pages separately must have been based on a misunderstanding. The typography was determined by Denis. 300 copies of the book were printed, besides which a single copy was printed on Japanese paper (now part of the Harvard College Library) and one on Chinese paper. The book was published in May 1893. Denis was not entirely satisfied, henceforth no longer opting for lithography. Gide reported on a few voices from the press: Paul Adam felt that the illustrations at least gave Gide's frosty story some semblance of warmth; Huysmans thought that the interesting and curious illustrations were created for dreams, and Maeterlinck called the illustrations a parallel poem, making him the first to recognise the nature of the artists' book. Henri de Régnier also felt that Denis' interpretation maintained a respectable distance from the text ('Le jeune Denis a fait son devoir et son interpretation est à bonne distance du texte et d'une imagerie charmante'). The collaboration was sealed by the way in which the names were listed as equals on the title page, as co-authos: 'André Gide, Maurice Denis'. This journey had been made together, Gide wrote in the copy for Denis: 'ce voyage est vraiment fait ensemble.'

Bibliographical description

Description: Le voyage d'Urien / André Gide ; [lithographies de] Maurice Denis. - Paris : Librairie de l'Art indépendant, 1893. - 105 p. : ill. ; 21 cm

Printer: Paul Schmidt (Paris) (text), Edw. Ancourt (Paris) (lithographs)

Edition: 300 exemplaren

This copy: Number 292 van de 300 on vélin

Bookbinder: A. Devauchelle

Bibliography: Bénézit 4-446 ; Carteret IV-184 ; Hogben 5 ; Monod 5370

Shelfmark: KW Koopm M 802M


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