Corps mémorable

Year: 1957

Author: Paul Éluard (1895 - 1952)

Illustrator: Lucien Clergue

Artist: Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973)

Publisher: Pierre Seghers, éditeur

Corps mémorable, title pages

Although several artists contributed to the book Corps memorable, it is not an artist's book published in a small edition, but a photo book, which is a popular object among collectors. There could be no intense collaboration between poet Paul Éluard and photographer Lucien Clergue (1934-2014), as Éluard had already passed away. This is however still a remarkable edition, not only because of the interplay between Éluard's poems and Clergue's nude photographs, but also because of Cocteau's opening poem, Picasso's cover design, and especially the fact that this was to be the first book of nude photography that was allowed to be sold publicly in Paris.


The identity of the buxom lady in Clergue's twelve photographs is unknown. She is not named in any of the dedications that precede the actual text. The photographer dedicated the book to the memory of his mother ('A la mémoire de ma chère mère Jeanne Grangeon'). But Éluard's poems were not dedicated to the 'she' ('Elle') he commemorates in the poems. That term referred to Maria Benz, Éluard's great love, 'la parfaite' Nusch, who had died a year before the first edition of Corps mémorable (without Clergue's photographs) was published. He dedicated the book to Jacqueline, who supported him in his mourning and despair:

Ah! mille flammes, un feu, la lumière,

Une ombre!

Le soleil me suit,

Jacqueline me prolonge

Four aces

At a young age, Lucien Clergue developed friendships with people he would later refer to as his four aces: Picasso, Cocteau, Éluard and publisher Pierre Seghers. With them he shared his predilection for bull-fighting and nude studies. Clergue put down roots in the famous town of Arles in the south of France, where Van Gogh had lived and worked. As an autodidact, Clergue first started out with photography in 1949. Jean Cocteau saw Clergue's photographs and encouraged him to send them to Seghers. Seghers then requested the 23-year-old photographer to illustrate a new edition of Corps mémorable. This would be Seghers' first step on his way to the artist's book. Picasso's design on the front cover is an abstract version of Clergue's nude photo on the rear.

Slipped through the net

The text of Corps mémorable is set in red and black by Jean Paul Vibert. The introductory poem ('poème liminaire') was written by Cocteau and is titled 'A Clergue pour ses nus'. Seghers secretly hoped that the nude photographs – in which the breasts and pubic hair of a young woman are visible – would generate some publicity. But because no face was visible in the pictures, the publication escaped the whims of the censorship board. These kinds of pictures were usually sold off in secret, but this book was freely available and therefore attained cult status. It was reprinted several times.

Bibliographical description

Description: Corps mémorable / [texte de] Paul Éluard ; couverture par Pablo Picasso ; avec un poème liminaire de Jean Cocteau ; et 12 photogr. par Lucien Clergue – Paris : Pierre Seghers, éditeur, 1957 – 37 p., [14] bl. pl. : ill. ; 28 cm

Printer: Jean Paul Vibert (Grosrouvre)

Bibliography: Bénézit 10-873 ; Saur Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon 19-529

Shelfmark: KW Koopm L 514


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