Les illuminations

Year: 1949

Author: Arthur Rimbaud (1854 - 1891)

Artist: Fernand Léger (1881 - 1955)

Publisher: Éditions des Gaules

  • Titelpagina en frontispice van Arthur Rimbaud, Les illuminations (1949): p. [4]-[5]

In the short period that Rimbaud was a poet (from age fifteen to eighteen), he underwent an incredible development. His poems are revolutionary, both because of their rebellious tone and because of the way they were written and the new worlds they describe. To Baudelaire's dictum 'Poetry does not have Truth as her goal, but Herself', Rimbaud added 'not even Reality'.

Rimbaud's paintings in verse

To describe those new worlds, he renewed the language, using existing words in a different function and using English loan words. He also renewed the form, as is evidenced by Les illuminations, where he developed Baudelaire's poems in prose. His prose poems are pastiches of other text forms, such as a confession ('Génie') or a short story ('Conte'), but sonnets and other verse return as prose poems too.

Rimbaud's poems are colourful, the most famous example being 'Voyelles', in which he has given a colour to each vowel. According to the title, the visual language and the multitude of colours, Les illuminations were meant to be paintings in verse.

Léger illustrates Rimbaud

Léger took things a bit further and incorporated text by Rimbaud into his compositions. Parts of four poems are used in illustrations, but there are also three poems ("H', 'Elle aimée' and 'Départ') that have neither been printed nor entered in the index, but occur instead as illustrations in the book. Leger has entirely appropriated these poems: leaving out all interpunction, he has written the texts in calligraphy.

The illustrations without text are dominated by primary colours that are typical for Léger. He wanted to bring the colours forward as much as possible and avoided complementary colour contrasts. His figures are often simplified. This does not hold, however, for two illustrations where he seems to have deviated from his usual style. They are the illustrations to 'Bonne pensée du matin' and 'Patience'. The flowers in these two prints are very precise and highly detailed.

Colophon of Arthur Rimbaud, Les illuminations (1949)

The publication of Les illuminations

Rimbaud himself never published Les illuminations, which is why many aspects of this collection remain obscure. Was it written before or after his farewell to poetry (Une saison en enfer)? The precise composition of the collection is also shrouded in mystery. Part of the poems, for instance, was also published under the title Vers nouveaux et chansons and these poems are often considered not to be part of Les illuminations. The reissue by Grosclaude does make a distinction between these poems and the prose poems, but presents both as part of Les illuminations.

This copy was bound by Werner Wirtz in Lausanne. He had a number of important bibliophiles among his customers, including the marquess of Ayala and the count Chevreau d'Antraigues.

Bibliographical description

Description: Les illuminations / Rimbaud ; litograph. orig. de Fernand Léger ; préf. de Henry Miller. - Lausanne : Grosclaude, [1949]. - 133 p. : ill. ; 34 cm

Printer: L'impr. Centrale, Lausanne (Zwitserland) (text) ; Roth & Sauter, Lausanne (Zwitserland) (lithography). – The lithographes are coloured in pochoir under the supervision of Louis Grosclaude

Edition: 395 copies

This copy: Number 224 of 275 on Vélin teinté pur chiffon, handmade paper. - Signed by the publisher and the artist

Typeface: Garamond

Bookbinder: Werner Wirtz, Lausanne

Bibliography: Monod-9742

Shelfmark: KW KOOPM K 302


  • Le livre à Lausanne: cinq siècles d'édition et d'imprimerie, 1493-1993. Lausanne, Payot, 1993
  • Renée Riese Hubert, ‘Graphisme poétique et poésie graphique: les illuminations de Fernand Léger’, in: ‘Minute d'éveil’: Rimbaud maintenant. Paris, Editions SEDES CDU réunis, 1984, p.149-157
  • Renée Riese Hubert, ‘The Books of Fernand Léger: Illustration and Inscription’, in: Visible language, 23 (1989) 2/3 (spring/summer), p. 255-279
  • Roger Little, Rimbaud: Illuminations. London, Grant & Cutler, 1983
  • Roger Little, ‘Réflections sur le forme et le style des Illuminations de Rimbaud’, in: ‘Minute d'éveil’: Rimbaud maintenant. Paris, Editions SEDES CDU réunis, 1984, p. 149-157
  • François Ruchon, Jean-Arthur Rimbaud: sa vie, son œuvre, son influence. Paris, Honoré Champion, 1929
  • André Verdet, Fernand Léger: le dynamisme pictural. Genève, Cailler, 1955