L'autoclète : guignol

Alfred Jarry (1873 - 1907)
Pierre Guastalla (1891 - 1968)
Chez l'artiste
Title page

Pierre Guastalla devoted himself heart and soul to graphic arts and was a generous teacher. One of his students (Marcel Fiorini) remembered that Guastalla always gave them every opportunity to prove themselves. His gouaches for L'autoclète formed the starting point for colour wood engravings by a younger colleague of his: Louis Joseph Soulas.

Two important illustrators

Before World War II, Soulas had been the French representative at the Biennale in Venice, and he had already won various awards for his engravings. Besides his position as director of the art academy in his native city of Orléans, he mainly worked as a book illustrator. He illustrated his own texts, such as Les bêtes de la nuit (1951), but also texts by the likes of Vercors, Charles Péguy and François Mauriac. His work was on display in 1946 in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam as part of the exhibition 'French contemporary graphic art', along with that of great names like Jacques Villon and Pierre Guastalla.

As founder and president of the group La jeune gravure contemporaine (in 1929), Pierre Guastalla was a great stimulator of graphic art. He also wrote a work on aesthetics, in which he took the position: 'whatever is superfluous must disappear'. This position was further demonstrated in his art. Guastalla wished only to present the truly necessary: a simplified, unadorned reality, powerful and spontaneous. The gouaches for L'autoclète: guignol by Alfred Jarry were to become his most famous book illustrations. Guastalla found inspiration for his rendering of the clown-like little fellow Ubu in the wood engravings produced by Jarry himself in 1894.

Printing history

The history of L'autoclète: guignol is complicated. The text is part of a cycle of plays, Les Polyèdres, written by Jarry before his world-shattering absurdist play Ubu roi was first performed in 1896. The very same Ubu, a character based on a pompous physics teacher, is the main character in Les Polyèdres- later dubbed Ubu cocu. It was first published, along with other texts, under the name 'Guignol' (puppet theatre) in the magazine L'echo de Paris littéraire illustré in 1893. A year later, L'autoclète became a part of Jarry's first book: Les minutes de sable memorial. A reprint of this text was produced in 1932 by Jean Saltas, a friend of Jarry's. The full play Ubu cocu didn't appear until 1944.

The edition of L'autoclète that was produced independently by Pierre Guastalla in an edition of 206 copies appeared in 1948. The text was printed by the renowned printingstudio of Marthe Fequet and Pierre Baudier. This family printing business collaborated on the publication of hundreds of deluxe book edition, including editions of Braque and Matisse.

Bibliographical description

L'autoclète : guignol / Alfred Jarry ; gouaches de Pierre Guastalla, grav. par L.-J. Soulas. - [Paris] : Chez l’artiste, 1948. - [28] p. : ill. ; 33 cm
M. Fequet and P. Baudier (Paris)
206 copies
This copy:
Number 97 of 180 on Arches
Bénézit 6-518 ; Bénézit 13-63 ; Monod 6376
Koopm A 569


  • Alfred Besnier, Alfred Jarry. Paris, Plon, 1990
  • 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
  • Judith Cooper, Ubu roi: An analytical study. New Orleans, Tulane University, 1974
  • Fiorini, 'Pierre Guastalla: Peintre et graveur', in: Revue d'esthetique 22-1 (1969)
  • Franse grafiek van nu. Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, [1946]
  • W.J. Strachan, The artist and the book in France: The twentieth century livre d’artiste. London, Owen, 1969