Découverte de Longview

Year: 1927

Author: Luc Durtain (1881 - 1959)

Artist: Frans Masereel (1889 - 1972)

Publisher: Éditions René Kieffer

Découverte de Longview, cover by Frans Masereel

Longview (in the state of Washington) is one of the first cities to be completely designed on the drawing board, and then built to those exact specifications (thanks to the capital of Robert A. Long), as opposed to most villages and cities that come into existence gradually and develop naturally. But Longview was an unusual city, and it needed to house 14,000 labourers for the lumber industry. The city was finished in 1923, and some years later, Luc Durtain wrote a story about it in documentary-style: Découverte de Longview.

The dynamic woodcuts by the Belgian artist Frans Masereel and the typography are as modern as the city of Longview itself. Every page is framed with a decorative border in which the American flag has been incorporated. At the end, Durtain says that at night you can hear the hyana and wolves from your tent.

Luc Durtain is the pseudonym of Parisian Andre Nepveu, a throat doctor and an author. He wrote a few books on his area of expertise, and became known for his socialist-minded stories. He was interested in the individual forced to adapt time and again to surroundings undergoing rapid change. His stories traverse all the continents: Durtain often took off to discover new cultures. Those trips took him to America, the Soviet Union and Asia, and he reported on the innovations and the risks they entailed. Fashion, social matters, passion and human behaviour were his main themes.

Industrial bookbindings by René Kieffer

The book's binding is based on a design by René Kieffer (1875-1963), publisher and bookbinder. Découverte de Longview is bound in pigskin, decorated with a geometrical pattern: basically a little piece of the map of Longview. The binding is not unique; a limited number of books was produced in this binding, always with the same pattern, but executed in different colours. The copy in the Koopman Collection has been finished in dark green leather with a black decoration. On the inside of the front cover, Kieffer has applied a label with the name of his company on it.

Kieffer was also the book's publisher, and in that capacity he collaborated with a great many illustrators, who didn't always support the latest design principles. Frans Masereel did: his wood engravingsare Expressionist, with geometrical decorations, texts and arrows. Découverte de Longview therefore bears a resemblance to a travel guide for adventurous readers. Masereel had drawn one of Longview's main streets on which impressive buildings rise up, and above which the street name is listed. Masereel is generally perceived as 'the innovator of wood engraving'. From 1917 onwards he dedicated himself to wood engravingsin which we can recognize a protest against violence and social injustice. He communicated this message in a simple, direct expressive (visual) language, for which wood engravingsprove to be remarkably well suited. Masereel illustrated nearly forty books, including those of René Arcos (one of the 'Ecrivains de l'Abbaye', like Durtain), and Blaise Cendrars.

Bibliographical description

Description: Découverte de Longview / Luc Durtain ; avec des grav. de Frans Masereel. - Paris: Éditions René Kieffer, 1927. - 48 p. ; 26 cm

Printer: Coulouma (Argenteuil)

Edition: 200 copies

This copy: Number 37 on Madagascar

Bookbinder: René Kieffer (Paris)

Note: With autograph dedication from the author to Louis Koopman

Bibliography: Bénézit 9-318 ; Édouard-Joseph II-464 ; Mahé I-814 ; Monod 4139

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 54


  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voix et visions. La Collection Koopman et l'Art du Livre français. La Haye, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Bibliothèque nationale des Pays-Bas; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Marcel Thiebaut, 'Luc Durtain', in: La revue de Paris, 41 (1934), p. 919–939
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