Les riches heures de Joseph Delteil

Year: 1977

Author: Joseph Delteil (1894 - 1978)

Artist: Jean Vodaine (1921 - 2006)

Publisher: Jean Vodaine

Title page of Les riches heures de Joseph Delteil

Joseph Delteil made his debut as a poet in 1919 with Le coeur grec. He belonged to the first group of Surrealists surrounding André Breton and Louis Aragon; he was thrown out of the group again by Breton in 1925. Thanks to his contacts with artists such as Max Jacob and Philippe Soupault he was given the opportunity to publish his novels. His use of language, both inventive and challenging, usually contrasted with his subject matter. Jeanne d'Arc caused a scandal in 1925, but it did win him the Prix Fémina, and in 1928 he was able to base the screenplay for a Carl Dreyer film on his book. The film would ultimately turn out entirely different in character, and he refused to see it. His reputation had become a burden due to various scandals. He used to say that people saw him as a sporting giant, 6'2" tall and weighing 265 pounds. He lived near Montpellier from 1937 onwards, and would rarely visit Paris. His circle of friends included Pierre Mac Orlan, Robert Delauney, Marc Chagall, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Pierre Soulages and Henry Miller. The correspondence between Miller and Delteil was published in 1980.


In the course of time, various homages to this author appeared. The first of these occurred in 1955: the magazine L'Herne wanted to devote a special issue to him, but Delteil resisted, so it didn't appear until 1998 as one of Les dossiers H. In 1962 the English magazine The Aylesford Review - specializing in curious and forgotten Catholic authors - published an issue with laudations by Miller, Montherlant, and also including an article by his American wife Caroline. The magazines Entretiens and L'Honneur followed suit in 1969 and 1970. After 1984, some issues of Cahiers Joseph Delteil were published, but he had passed away by then.

In the year before his death, the magazine Dire published a celebration of Delteil: Les riches heures de Joseph Delteil. Since its foundation in 1962, Dire had been more or less the private magazine of printer-artist Jean Vodaine, who created this special issue with Arthur Praillet, poet of simplicity, love and nature. Dire continued to bepublished until 1984. A year later Vodaine was awarded the Stomps prize for this magazine's typography by the Museum Gutenberg in Mainz.

This issue of Dire has an unusual form: it has been designed as a book. A large-size loose cover holds 29 folded double sheets, which have been printed on one side and numbered in pencil. This seems natural, but the opening of the loose sheets is on the side of the binding, and the fold points to the fore-edge - normally they are placed the other way round. It seems more like an Oriental method of binding, but the sheets haven't been sewn or bound. The sheets were therefore clearly intended to remain loose, just as they are. The colophon indicates as much: the texts, so it says, have been placed 'bout à bout', as extensions of each other, placed that way to form a brief overview of Delteil'slife.Vodaine disrupts the traditional order of a book, ignoring the usual rules of typography.

Typographical interpretation

The homage is in fact an anthology of Delteil's work, beginning with a self-portrait. The first line is: 'I have an epic head', in other words: he is suited to heroic poetry. He tells us in a single breath that he is 'no royalist, no communist, no fascist, not even a republican'. He is nothing 'more' than a human being, but this first fragment does end with a homage to mankind, therefore including himself: 'I sing Mankind's praises' - with a capital M. Vodaine has made this first text something special with its typical unstable typography: thick and thin fonts alternate, turning the self-portrait into something personal, even intangible and capricious. He created five linocuts for this edition, with the jagged edges that were typical of his work, and six full-page gouaches in a rather elementary stipple technique in the colours purple, green, pink, blue and brown.

Joseph Delteil's work lends itself exceptionally well to Jean Vodaine's typographical interpretation. Both make use in their writings of various font sizes and faces within a single page. Delteil's sunny nature also suits Vodaine's occasionally rather forcibly naïve gouaches and linocuts. A typical Delteil quote would be: 'There are more kisses in the world than stars in the sky'. Nature is the most important element in his later work: the natural order, that of the stars, the trees and the heart. He wanted to write 'in the same way that birds nest'. Delteil and Vodaine have known each other since 1950.

Special copy

This homage was titled Les riches heures de Joseph Delteil, bringing to mind richly illuminated medieval breviaries. Fifty copies of this special issue of Dire appeared on pure rag paper by Lana, each containing one linocut more than the regular edition. The Koopman Collection copy is an extraordinarily unusual one: specially printed, unnumbered, but printed on the special paper and carrying the signatures of Jean Vodaine, Arthur Praillet and Joseph Delteil. This copy was the personal copy of Delteil's wife Caroline Delteil (née Dudley). He met her in 1930. She was the initiator of the Revue Nègre, in which Josephine Baker performed, and her circle of friends included (later) celebrities such as C.F. Ramuz, Gertrude Stein and Sylvia Beach. Delteil and Dudley were married in 1937, a marriage that was consecrated by the church in 1963.

Bibliographical description

Description: Les riches heures de Joseph Delteil / conception maquette de Jean Vodaine ; réalisation typographie et tirage par Arthur Praillet et Vodaine. - Baslieux en Lorraine : Jean Vodaine, 1977. – [53] p. : ill. ; 26×36 cm

Printer: Jean Vodaine et Arthur Praillet (Baslieux en Lorraine)

Edition: 50 copies

This copy: Copy on chiffon de Lana paper, Copy hors commerce, personal copy of Caroline Delteil

Notes: Signed by the author and publishers, Contains a linocut signed by Jean Vodaine and 6 original gouaches

Shelfmark: KW Koopm E 43


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