Combat avec l'image

Year: 1941

Author: Jean Giraudoux (1882 - 1944)

Artist: Tsuguharu Foujita (1886 - 1968)

Publisher: Éditions Émile-Paul frères

Combat avec l'image, title page

The history of Combat avec l'image by Jean Giraudoux is bound together with World War II. In these years, the author/diplomat/civil servant was swung back and forth between diverse political views. Due to his having studied German, he felt a deep bond with Germany, even referring to himself as a French-German citizen. As soon as Vichy had become a fact, he resigned from the Ministry of Information. But he continued to hesitate between resistance from inside or outside of France.

Meanwhile he travelled back and forth between Paris, the provinces and even Portugal in search of his son Jean-Pierre (who escaped to London via Portugal and who enlisted with De Gaulle) and his mistress Isabelle. When in Paris, he resided in a hotel, allegedly due to the cold in his home, but actually in order to avoid his wife Suzanne. Somewhere on the way he wrote Combat avec l'image, with Isabelle's portrait on his writing desk, drawn by Foujita. According to the colophon, this edition was printed on All Saints' Day 1941 (1 November). With his typical sense of irony and spleen, Giraudoux argued in this book that French civilization was coming to an end. He died before Paris was liberated, without having seen his son again.

Reading committee

Giraudoux had been in close contact with publisher Éditions Émile-Paul frères for a long time. Beside Grasset, this was his main publisher. Robert Émile-Paul could also have become the publisher of his son Jean-Pierre when he wrote a novel at the age of ten. Just as he had always seen his father do (as Martin du Gard later recalled), he delivered the manuscript to the publisher, who told him with a stern expression that the reading committee would pass judgment on it. This did take some time, but the young author received no word and grew worried. 'What is a reading committee actually?' he asked Giraudoux. 'A man with good taste', his father told him. His mother inquired about the fate of his manuscript, and was then of course forced to tell him that it had been rejected. 'You see: one must never ask a man of good taste anything', the child exclaimed. His father contentedly took note of the fact that he threw himself to the floor in misery, as is fitting for a true novelist.

The brief meditation Combat avec l'image is set in the hotel room where Giraudoux resided after the war erupted and the French government surrendered. He describes in the opening paragraphs that he had received this sketch by Foujita as a gift, and how it changed his simple study: 'When I turn on the light, I place something in the spotlight. When I leave the room, I place something in darkness.' That something is the loose sketch, which will tolerate no frame, just as it has no wings on which it might take off. The portrait of the sleeping woman is there when he eats and when he writes. She represents normal daily existence, which he had left behind at the start of the war: his house, the furniture, the smells. This essay belongs to the genre of art about art. There are many poems about paintings in museums, and there are also many books about privately owned works of art: one of the best known is probably Mario Praz's walk through his own house (La casa della vita).

Between Tokio and Paris

Tsuguharu Foujita was originally a Japanese artist, who was naturalised as a Frenchman in 1955, and who converted to Catholicism in 1959. He first visited Paris in 1913, since then dividing his time between Tokyo and Paris whenever he wasn't on one of his many international travels. He was successful in Japan at an early age. The emperor purchased one of his works, and he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Korean emperor. In Paris he became one of the most striking figures in Montparnasse. His work followed a new direction. He produced mostly murals and aquarelles in a style related to naïve painting, Expressionism and Japanese decorative painting. After the terrors of World War I and the advent of Cubism he felt the time had come for a return to the traditional art of painting. His work is characterised by his calligraphic lines, for which he used the thinnest brushes, and his milky-white surfaces, for which he used special ingredients, such as finely ground oyster shells.

Foujita drew flowers, cats, and especially young ladies with closed eyes, as in the portrait he produced for this edition. In the text it is referred to as a dry-point etching, while the colouring could be in watercolour. Combat avec l'image was reproduced through lithographic means. The milky-white area in this illustration was the last to be printed. The drawings were first printed in colour as a kind of background for the text; the text was then printed, and finally the milky-white was printed over the illustration and the text. The text therefore isn't consistently black, but grey and even bluish, and the graphic unity between text and illustration is maximized. This is all the more striking in the 100 copies that were not printed on white paper, but on chamois-coloured BFK de Rives. According to Giraudoux's biographer, Foujita's original portrait was stolen around 1990.

Bibliographical description

Description: Combat avec l'image / Jean Giraudoux ; dess. de Foujita. - Paris : Éditions Émile-Paul frères, 1941. - [24] p. : ill. ; 26 cm

Printer: l'Imprimerie Aranéenne

Edition: 1100 copies

This copy: Number 56 of 100 on BFK de Rives

Bibliography: Bénézit 5-603 ; In liefde verzameld 40 ; Monod 5442

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 744


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