Médard de Paris

Year: 1929

Author: René Arcos (1880 - 1959)

Artist: Frans Masereel (1889 - 1972)

Publisher: Éditions du Sablier

Médard de Paris, upper and lower cover of binding

In the autumn of 1906, poets René Arcos and Charles Vildrac came across their dream house during a walk along the shore of the river Marne: an abandoned abbey with a large garden. In their eyes, this was the ideal place to devote themselves to art in complete freedom together with a group of kindred spirits. Two weeks later, poet Georges Duhamel and painters Henri Martin and Albert Gleizes took up residence in the abbey together with Arcos and Vildrac.

The poets made up the group called 'L'Abbaye' together with regular guests Jules Romains, Luc Durtain and Georges Chennevière. The inhabitants of this artist's convent also founded their own printing shop under Linard's leadership, in hopes of making a living from the proceeds.

After fourteen months, the group fell apart, because the friends' financial means were insufficient. But the friendships between the various writers and artists connected in one form or another with L'Abbaye survived. The friends also had a permanent artistic influence on each other. René Arcos' work for instance breathes the idea of 'unanimalism', a concept defined by Jules Romains. Arcos' texts continuously illustrate how the individual is defined by a collective spirit. This collective can exist on various levels, for instance within a small organism like a circle of friends, but also in various subcultures of a big city like Paris.

Publisher's device of an hourglass

Arcos became acquainted with Frans Masereel during World War I in Geneva, where they were both editors of the magazine La feuille. Both were shocked by the terrors of World War I. In 1918, Masereel designed the cover for the novel Le mal by Arcos, and a year later he produced the wood-engravings for his collection of antiwar poem Le sang des autres. Shortly thereafter, the friends developed the plan to start a publishing business together. By 1919, publisher Éditions du Sablier was a fact. The hourglass (sablier) in the publisher's device designed by Masereel symbolises not only the cycle of life and death, but also represents the book as a source of light, which is why the hourglass is also pictured as a lantern. The publisher's catalogue shows how strong Arcos's ties of friendship were: half of the first eight Sablier publications were by L'Abbaye authors. But authors also came from Massereel's circle of friends, including Andreas Latzko and Romain Rolland.

Frans Massereel, 'the greatest Flemish graphic artist', was born in Blankenberge in 1889. He painted and did aquarelles, but was mostly famous for his innovative wood-engraved illustrations. He was a professor at the Saarbrücken art academy, and was made a member of the Royal Academy of Belgium in 1951. He illustrated books by the likes of Maeterlinck, Cendrars, Montherlant, Barbusse, and Tolstoy. Mon livre d'heures (1926), a 'novel in images' that consisted entirely of woodcuts, would go down in history as his most beautiful work. Masereel left thousands of wood-engravings that mirror his sharp critique of society. He often pictured the busy streets of Paris - especially Montmartre - but he was also inspired by trips abroad, for instance to China and Tunesia. He illustrated almost forty works in total, including a large number for his own publishing business. Like Arcos, Masereel was fascinated by groups, and he was influenced by unanimalism. His work always emphasises what is universally human, even his portraits of individuals.

Parisian atmosphere

Medard de Paris (1929) was one of the last books that Masereel produced for Sablier, for his wood-engravings were not appreciated by French book dealers. Arcos had moved the publishing business from Geneva to Paris by then, but only a few publications ever appeared. In Médard de Paris, the seventy-fifth part in the series ‘oeuvres originales’, the main character Médard tells various stories about life in the French capital. Masereel produced drawings that breathe the atmosphere of the big cities of the 1920s: masses of people at brightly lit movie theatres and in the thick smoke of a fair express modernity in the interbellum period. Masereel had also previously sketched metropolitan life vividly in La ville (1925) and Bilder der Grossstadt (1926). In his vision, the crowded city is the source of human suffering and the cause for the loss of individuality. The impression that Masereel gives of Paris - a city where it always appears to be night - is therefore rather grim.

Médard de Paris contains an aquarelle, reproduced in pochoir,and nine wood-engravings by Masereel. The cover, the title page and the first page of text are printed in black and purple. The text is placed between thick black borders. The copy in the Koopman Collection is number 199 from a total number of 311 copies, and was provided with a personal dedication from Arcos to Anny Antoine and Louis Koopman. An original manuscript by Arcos was also added to the work, intended for the collection of Anny Antoine. This fragment was bound together with other correspondence between Arcos and Koopman, and can be accessed under shelf mark KW 77 G 3.

Autographdedication from the author to Anny Antoine and Louis Koopman

Bibliographical description

Description: Médard de Paris / René Arcos ; aquarelle et bois de Frans Masereel. - Paris: Éditions du Sablier, 1929. - [114] p. : ill. ; 25 cm

Printer: Marius Audin (Lyon)

Edition: 411 copies

This copy: Nummer 199 of 350 on Arches

Note: With autograph dedication from René Arcos to Anny Antoine and Louis Koopman

Bibliography: Bénézit 9-318 ; Carteret V-14 ; Monod 412

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 121


  • Marie-Louise Bidal, Les écrivains de l’Abbaye, Georges Duhamel, Jules Romain, Charles Vildrac, René Arcos, Luc Durtain, Georges Chennevière. Paris, Boivin, [1938]
  • Joris van Parys, Masereel: Een biografie. Antwerpen, Houtekiet, 1995
  • Pierre Vorms, Masereel: Catalogue raisonné. Antwerpen, Mercatorfonds, 1976