Le peseur d'âmes

Year: 1931

Author: André Maurois (1885 - 1967)

Artist: Francis Picabia (1879 - 1953)

Publisher: Antoine Roche, éditeur

Le peseur d'âmes, title page

Francis Picabia was the rich heir of a Cuban-French family, and he led a flamboyant life: for instance, he owned seven yachts and one hundred and twenty-seven cars. According to his (fourth) wife, these numbers were dwarfed by the number of women he devoured. Picabia had a stocky build, but he did have a big mouth and was a dedicated hedonist. He disliked rules and responsibility: one had to be free to live life to the fullest. A one-liner of his puts it like this: 'There is only one way to save your life; sacrifice your reputation' or 'Taste is fatiguing, like good company'.


Guillaume Apollinaire wrote about 'pure art' in 1912 for the magazine Les soirées de Paris, observing that more and more writers dedicated themselves to autonomous art. Apollinaire wrote the article with the support of the founders of modernism: Picasso, Braque, Duchamp and Picabia, who introduced (analytical) Cubism. They only used shades of brown and grey in their paintings, and abandoned the traditional use of perspective. Picabia gave Cubism a new impetus by making his use of colour more vivid. Apollinaire approved: 'it is like the music of Orpheus, which was able to tame wild animals.' He therefore termed this style 'Orphism'.

But Picabia never remained loyal to any single movement or principle for long, feeling more closely related to the anarchism of the Dadaists. He wrote articles, polemical writings and manifestos for Dada, as well as organizing events. When he produced illustrations for Le peseur d'âmes he was in the middle of a 'transparent' period. This style actually does resemble Orphism, with heads, legs, breasts and butterflies drawn on top of each other. The lithographs are reproductions of pencil drawings with watercolour. The transparency of the reproductions illustrates Maurois' science-fiction story about a doctor who receives a kind of vapour from dead people, which react in ultraviolet light; hence the retorts in Picabia's illustrations.

Bibliographical description

Description: Le peseur d'ames / André Maurois ; préc. d'un front. et suivi de 8 ill. de Francis Picabia. - Paris : ntoine Roche, éditeurhe, 1931. - 117 p., 8 bl. pl. : ill. ; 29 cm

1st edition: 1931

Printer: Ducros et Colas (Paris) (text) Daniel Jacomet (illustrations)

Edition: 366 copies

This copy: Number 178 of 318 on Arches

Note: With dedication from the author to Louis Koopman

Bibliography: Bénézit 10-866 ; Carteret IV-273 ; Édouard-Joseph III-128 ; Monod 7970

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 144


  • Maria Lluïsa Borràs, Picabia. London, Thames and Hudson, 1985
  • Jan Paul Bresser, 'Eerste mediahype: vrouwen, auto's en rellen',in: Elsevier. (54) 1998, p. 91
  • William A. Camfield, Francis Picabia: His art, life and times. Princeton, NJ,Princeton University Press, 1979
  • 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