Le chant des morts

Year: 1948

Author: Pierre Reverdy (1889 - 1960)

Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973)

Publisher: Tériade éditeur

Title page of Le chant des morts

During World War II, Reverdy started work on 43 sombre poems that he called Le chant des morts: The Song of the Dead. In January 1945 his handwritten text was reproduced actual size, including corrections and strikethroughs. Picasso was asked to illustrate the text. He first considered traditional line drawings, but they ultimately became arabesques in swift brushstrokes. Lines, knots and dots were given a place between- and around- the text. These illustrations were produced in 1947 and 1948 on zinc plates. The production took a long time, and the inking on the wash drawings became oxydised, which forced Picasso to start all over again. In that period he mostly occupied himself with decorating pottery- the famous Picasso vases and plates - working on Le chant des morts between two such ceramics sessions. He produced as many as 125 drawings on zinc plates within a few days: the largest number of illustrations he ever produced for any book. With these dynamic, red arabesques, the book sets itself apart from the other, more figurative Picasso books.

  • Omslag van Le chant des morts

Picasso had known Reverdy since 1910, and probably met the publisher in 1926. Le chant de morts was published by Tériade, a Greek whose real name was Eleftratios Tériades. He was one of the most prominent publishers of artists' books, publishing the famous magazine Verve, among others, and collaborating with Matisse, Chagall, Léger and Miró. Innovation was important to Tériade; he produced very colourful books at a time when black-and-white lithographs were most common, and released books in extremely large sizes. He was also one of the first to reproduce handwritten texts as lithographs. His collaboration with Picasso remained limited to this title, but the book is still regarded as one of the most striking entries in Tériades' list of publications (along with Jazz by Matisse). The balance between Reverdy's calligraphy and Picasso's blood-red arabesques was characterised by the publisher as follows: 'It is as though they are having a conversation.'

About the handwriting of Picasso and Reverdy

Author Bregje Hofstede wrote about the handwriting of Picasso and that of Reverdy. Her contribution is available on request. Please contact Paul van Capelleveen.

  • Le chant des morts, pagina 104-105

Bibliographical description

Description: Le chant des morts : poèmes / Pierre Reverdy ; lithographies originales de Pablo Picasso. - Paris : Tériade éditeur, 1948. - 117 p. : ill. ; 43 cm

Printer: Draeger frères (text) Mourlot frères (lithographs)

Edition: 270 copies

This copy: Number 206 of 250 on Arches

Note: Signed by author and artist

Bibliography: Bénézit 10-873 ; Castleman 129 ; Johnson 70 ; Monod 9676 ; Strachan 340

Shelfmark: KW Koopm E 37


  • Brigitte Baer, Picasso, peintre-graveur. Berne, Kornfeld, 1988
  • Das Buch als Bild: Picasso 'illustriert'. Wiesbaden, Harrassowitz, 2002
  • 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
  • Pierre Daix, Picasso créateur: La vie intime et l'œuvre. Paris, Seuil, 1987
  • Rodney Swan, 'Turning point. The aesthetic genealogy of Picasso’s illustrations for Reverdy’s Le Chant des Morts’, in: Art and book. Illustration and innovation. Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2016, p. 85-104.
  • Tériade & les livres de peintres. Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Musée Matisse, 2003