Les Pélican : pièce en deux actes

Year: 1921

Author: Raymond Radiguet (1903 - 1923)

Artist: Henri Laurens (1885 - 1954)

Publisher: Éditions de la Galerie Simon

Les Pélican : pièce en deux actes, front cover

He only lived to be twenty years old, but within his brief life, he made quite a name for himself among the French literary greats of the first decades of the twentieth century.Raymond Radiguet was handsome, attractive, cruel, self-centred, ambitious, and a literary talent. How would he have developed further? He will always remain a prodigy.

At the early age of fourteen, Radiguet moved from the suburb of Saint-Maur to the city in order to promote himself among Parisian publishers, and not without success. The young writer's charming personality and talent were intriguing, and editors and publishers (like André Salmon) were soon helping him get his poems, essays, stories and drawings published in magazines. Radiguet initially published his poems under the pseudonym Raimon Rajky, not writing under his own name until later.

Penetrating the right circles

Radiguet was somehow always able to get his way: he brought in the very best interviews- in his capacity as an editor- and got to know the right people. It didn't take him long to penetrate the highest circles of artists, writers and composers. He met Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob, Tristan Tzara, Vassily Kandinsky, Erik Satie, André Breton, and many others. He met Jean Cocteau (then aged 30) in 1919, who became the mentor, promoter and lover of Radiguet, who wasn't yet sixteen.

Cocteau founded the magazine Le coq with Georges Auric and Radiguet, and introduced his friends to important benefactors like Jacques Doucet. Raymond Radiguet died on 12 December 1923 of typhoid, which he probably contracted from eating oysters. He lived to see the publication of his first novel Diable au corps (1923), but he was never able to correct the printing proofs of his second novel Le bal du comte d'Orgel (1924). After Radiguet's death, Cocteau remained the driving force asking attention for the extraordinary talent of the author who had died so prematurely.

Les Pélican is an absurdist, comic play written by Radiguet in 1920. It was performed in 1921 at the Théâtre Michel in Paris. Radiguet was no champion of the fashionable avant-garde movements of his age, demonstrating a more classicist attitude towards art: nevertheless, the play leans towards Surrealism. It deals with the adventures of the Pélican family. Father Pélican has an eye on the governess, Miss Charmant; mother is lusted after by her swimming teacher; son Anselme wants to be become a jockey, and daughter Hortense wants to be a gardener. In spite of the farcical scenes- full of references to Alfred de Musset and Radiguet's own poems- the work has a serious theme: young people who refuse to do what their parents expect of them.

Clear connection

The text of Les Pélican was published in the year of its premiere by Galerie Simon, which was managed by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), who had worked as a publisher since 1908. Heasked cubist sculptor Henri Laurens to illustrate the book for this publication. Radiguet had mentioned the names of Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, but the publisher saw aclear connection between Laurens and Radiguet. Les Pélican is one of the few books illustrated by Laurens, and also one of the most famous. It is- contrary to what many reference books say- not his first design for a book; in 1915 he had already designed the front cover (for only three copies) of the collection Poèmes en prose by Laurens' friend Pierre Reverdy in 1915. Two years later he illustrated Spirales by Belgian poet Paul Dermée, which was probably published by Reverdy. Laurens produced seven copper engravings for Les Pélican in May 1921, which were printed on the front cover, between the text, and on separate pages. They are mostly portraits of the characters.

Kahnweiler always employed the same working methods for his books: the size was between 28 and 48 pages, the edition was made up of 112 copies, ten of which were printed on Japanese paper, and ninety on Dutch Van Gelder (for retail). On top of that, twelve copies were printed that were never intended for retail. Two of these twelve copies were saved in the publisher's archive, and ten were intended for the writer and the artist. The same holds true for Les Pélican. Copy number IV is part of the Koopman Collection, of the ten copies for the book's creators, bearing the autographs of Henri Laurens and Raymond Radiguet.

Bibliographical description

Description: Les Pélican : pièce en deux actes / Raymond Radiguet ; ill. d'eaux-fortes par Henri Laurens. - Paris: Éditions de la Galerie Simon, 1921. - [28] p. : ill.. ; 33 cm

Printer: Birault (tekst) Eug. Delâtre (Parijs) (etsen)

Edition: 112 copies

This copy: Number IV of 100 on Dutch Van Gelder

Bookbinder: Pierre J.M. Thielen

Note: Signed by author and artist

Bibliography: Bénézit 8-329 ; Carteret IV-330 ; Castleman 174 ; Hogben 62 ; Johnson 27 ; Mahé III-200 ; Monod 9448

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 551


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