Year: 2001

Author: Franck Venaille (1936 - 2018)

Artist: Monique Mathieu-Frénaud 1927

Bookbinder: Monique Mathieu-Frénaud 1927

Publisher: m.m. éd. [Monique Mathieu-Frénaud]

Melancholia, title page

Around the turn of the century, bookbinder Monique Mathieu-Frénaud started to design and publish her own books. Her collaborators were well known printers in Paris. However, she decided to find herself a printer in the neighbourhood of her house in Bourgogne, and met the printer Thierry Bouchard who lived in Losne. Their first collaboration, Melancholia, was published in 2001, and two other books followed before he died, in 2008, at the early age of 54.

Bouchard (1954-2008) learnt his trade at the famous printer’s Darantière in Dijon (whose work included James Joyce’s Ulysses). One of his more important publications was a book with lithographs by the painter Bram van Velde. He contended that the mere presence of texts and images in a single book did not constitute a ‘livre total’ (complete book); to him there could be no mystical blending of the two facets. In his mind they were two distinct expressive worlds each of which resounded in the other. The word to describe that, ‘consonner’, came from the work of André Frénaud.

Watermark illustrations

Bouchard printed 307 books in all, 115 of which were for his own enjoyment, the rest were commissioned. One belonging to that second category was Melancholia (2001), a poem by Franck Venaille which Bouchard set in the Bodoni typeface and printed after a design by Monique Mathieu. The illustrations in this book are exceptional. The publisher requested the papermaker and restorer Michel Guet to create a watermark based on a line pattern designed by herself. For each page there was a different pattern. Such watermarks are usually barely visible unless the paper is held up to the light. In this case it was made visible by inserting a sheet of light brown Moulin du Verger paper between the pages; in that way the lines stand out against the darker background.


In his best-known work, the poet and writer Franck Venaille referred to the war in Algeria, which he experienced during his military service. In his poems, he tried to transcend his own suffering, so that poetry would express the suffering of others, because, he said, 'c'est par la souffrance qu'l'on rejoint les autres hommes' (it is through suffering that one joins the other men). The combination of eroticism, death and landscape (often, incidentally, the Flemish landscape) is typical and recognisable in Melancholia:

du sein parfait coulait le sang et

comme je revenais du pays meurtri

chaque paysage annonçait la foudre

[from the perfect bosom flowed the blood and as I returned from the scarred land every landscape announced the lightning]

Archival materials

Apart from possessing one of the 30 copies of this edition the Koopman Collection has a small archive with Mathieu’s original design sketches and a pasted proof, together with letters from the printer and from the papermaker. From that we can deduce that the draft had already been produced in the summer of 2000 and that it must have taken roughly a week to make the 100 sheets of paper (60x42 cm). The original plan to set the poem digitally was abandoned. In the end the whole text was set with lead type. Between June and August 2001 the printer sent out a number of proofs. He observed that the line pattern of the watermark restricted his freedom regarding the positioning of the stanzas of the poem on each page. Nevertheless, perhaps precisely because of the watermark lines, it became a rather special book.

Bibliographical description

Description: Melancholia / Franck Venaille ; [illustrations en filigrane par Monique-Mathieu Frénaud, sur papier à la main cloisonné de] Michel Guet]. - Bussy le Grand : m.m. éd. [Monique Mathieu-Frénaud], 2001. - [14] p., : ill. ; 34 cm

Printer: Thierry Bouchard (Losne)

Edition: 30 copies

This copy: Signed by the author. With two proofs, two designs, a sketch for the watermarks, and 4 letters from the printer Thierry Bouchard to the editor Monique Mathieu-Frénaud, one letter from the papermaker Michel Guet tot the editor and a draft for a letter from the editor to Michel Guet

Shelfmark: KW Koopm K 426-427


  • Bibliograpie des livres imprimés en typographie de 1975 à 2006 par Thierry Bouchard sur ses presses de Losne. Bédée. Éditions Folle Avoine, 2013
  • Paul van Capelleveen, 'm.m. éd., Monique Mathieu', in: Artists & others. The imaginative French book in the 21st century. Koopman Collection, National Library of the Netherlands. Nijmegen, Vantilt Publishers, 2016, p. 133-138.
  • Thierry Bouchard. Bazas, Le temps qu'il fait, 2013