Year: 1998

Author: Michel Déon (1919 - 2016)

Artist: Olivier Debré (1920 - 1999)

Publisher: André Biren

Avant-jour, title page

Author Michel Déon made his debut during the war: in 1944, to be precise. Twenty years later he had become one of the few right-wing authors in predominantly left-wing France, thereby finding himself stranded on an island – figuratively speaking. This isolation was ruptured somewhat when Déon was appointed 'fauteuil 8' in the Académie française in 1978. He actually has an obsession for islands, or rather for the kind of character that is specific to those who live on an island. He finds it fascinating that they close themselves off to the world in spite of the danger of a decline into loneliness. He had a personal preference for Greece and Ireland.

At the end of Avant-jour he talks about the fight against the 'barbarians': 'Alors, peut-être, peut-être, du chaos renaîtra un monde de Gloire et je Joie, patiemment reconstruit avec des pensées neuves' (Then, perhaps, perhaps, out of the chaos a world of Glory and Joy will be reborn, patiently reconstructed with new thoughts). Perhaps that is enough: 'Juste assez pour un instant de bonheur.' (Just enough for a moment of happiness).

Olivier Debré

Olivier Debré, who produced the illustrations for Déon's Avant-jour, will not let himself be pigeonholed. Artistically, he is highly versatile, with multiple predilections. Besides being a landscape painter, he is also a theatrical set designer, sculptor, draftsman, engraver and lithographer. Not only does Debré work on paper or canvas, but he also uses immense walls. His painted work includes the stage curtain of the Comédie française. As the grandson of the prominent portrait painter Edouard Debat-Ponsan and the second cousin of Jules Garnier, the architect of l'Opéra de Paris, his versatility is hardly surprising. His many talents, and especially his eye for colour and space, enabled him to exhibit his work on a regular basis.

Spatiality and order are central to his work. 'My paintings are structured by rhythm, for rhythm is what creates space.' (Ma peinture est structurée par le rythme, car c'est le rythme qui engendre l'espace), as he said in an interview. This point is evident in Avant-jour; in the four engravings, Déon succeeds in creating a fossil-like depth and relief by providing the monochrome with subtle nuances.

Avant-jour, colophon

André Biren

Avant-jour was published by André Biren (1935), and was the fourth book that Biren produced together with Déon. Coming from a background in banking, he decided to turn his love of collecting lithographs and engravings into his business. As gallery owner and publisher of artist's books by contemporary artists, he was mostly active during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1984, he launched his project 'A mano', putting young artists in touch with poets. Not only did he provide them with a space to exhibit their work, but he also published 'livres d'artistes' with them. In 1994, a second 'A mano' collection came about, of which Michel Déon was also a part. The austere edition of Avant-jour dates back to that period. It is austere because it employs no colours, only using black ink on neutral white paper. The use of rather 'ordinary' Arches paper may also be termed modest; it is durable rather than valuable, and because of its relative thickness, it lends itself well to the printing process.

Bibliographical description

Description: Avant jour / [texte de] Michel Déon ; [gravures orig. d'] Olivier Debré. – Paris: André Biren, 1998. - [40] p. : ill. ; 26 cm

Printer: Jean Hofer (Parijs) (text) Lacourière et Frélaut (Paris) (copper engravings)

Edition: 57 copies

This copy: Number 23 of 57 on Arches

Typeface: Centaur

Note: Signed by the author and the artist

Bibliography: Bénézit 4-320

Shelfmark: KW Koopm L 498


  • Alan Chatham de Bolivar, 'André Biren, éditeur de livres d'artistes', in: Art et Métiers du livre, (1996) 198, p. 7-9
  • Malou Georges-Majerus, Livres illustrés et livres d'artiste. Luxembourg, Bibliothèque nationale de Luxembourg, 2002, p. 72
  • Philippe Piguet, 'Olivier Debré: La peinture en scène', in: L'œil, (1987) 387, p. 68-69
  • Marcelin Pleynet, 'Olivier Debré, la nature comme inspiration', in: L'œil, (1980) 304, p. 58-63
  • Pol Vandromme, Michel Déon: Le nomade sédentaire. Paris, La Table Ronde, 1990