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Fables choisies, mises en vers.

Paris: Charles-Antoine Jombert for Desaint & Saillant and Durand, 1755-9 Stock Code: 135957
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"The peak of La Fontaine's achievement"

First edition, large-paper issue, and one of a small number printed on thick holland paper, of "one of the most ambitious and successful of all illustrated books" (Ray). Jean-Baptiste Oudry's sketches for La Fontaine's Fables were executed for his own enjoyment between 1729 and 1735. They were purchased by the publisher Montenault, who asked the finest engraver in France, Charles-Nicolas Cochin the Younger, to take charge of their transformation into finished prints. Cochin redrew the original designs, improving the figures and backgrounds and supplying precise lines for the engravers. The final result was thus their dual achievement. Oudry's images were among the most influential of all contemporary artistic creations, inspiring imitations in media as varied as Beauvais tapestry, porcelain and furniture. A handsome set of one of the glories of rococo book production, ranking in Ray's "100 Outstanding French Illustrated Books, 1700-1914".

"The Fables unquestionably represent the peak of La Fontaine's achievement. The first six books, known as the premier recueil ("first collection"), were published in 1668 and were followed by five more books (the second recueil) in 167879 and a twelfth book in 1694. The Fables in the second collection show even greater technical skill than those in the first and are longer, more reflective, and more personal... La Fontaine did not invent the basic material of his Fables; he took it chiefly from the Aesopic tradition and, in the case of the second collection, from the East Asian. He enriched immeasurably the simple stories that earlier fabulists had in general been content to tell perfunctorily, subordinating them to their narrowly didactic intention. He contrived delightful miniature comedies and dramas, excelling in the rapid characterization of his actors, sometimes by deft sketches of their appearance or indications of their gestures and always by the expressive discourse he invented for them. In settings usually rustic, he evoked the perennial charm of the countryside. Within the compass of about 240 poems, the range and the diversity of subject and of treatment are astonishing. Often he held up a mirror to the social hierarchy of his day. Intermittently he seems inspired to satire, but, sharp though his thrusts are, he had not enough of the true satirist's indignation to press them home. The Fables occasionally reflect contemporary political issues and intellectual preoccupations. Some of them, fables only in name, are really elegies, idylls, epistles, or poetic meditations. But his chief and most comprehensive theme remains that of the traditional fable: the fundamental, everyday moral experience of mankind throughout the ages, exhibited in a profusion of typical characters, emotions, attitudes, and situations" (Britannica).

Provenance: contemporary ink ownership inscriptions of Robert Slade (d. 1835), an English lawyer (proctor at Doctor's Commons) and deputy-lieutenant of Surrey. His son, Felix Slade (17881868), was a prominent philanthropist and founder of the Slade School of Art.

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4 volumes, folio (468 x 317 mm). Contemporary French red morocco, titles in gilt to spines, raised bands, compartments with large gilt bouquet device surrounded by small tools, triple gilt fillet round sides, gilt turn-ins and edges, French curl motif-marbled endpapers.


Engraved and etched frontispiece by Dupuis and Cochin after Jean-Baptiste Oudry, engraved portrait of Oudry by Tardieu after L'Argilliere, 275 plates after Oudry, engraved under Cochin's direction by Elizabeth Cousinet, Baquoy, Legrand, Fessart, Lemire, C


A trifle rubbed at extremities, very occasional faint foxing, but an excellent and very large copy in a fine contemporary binding.


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Established in 1969, Peter Harrington is one of the leading rare book firms in the world. It is a proud member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association – along with ILAB, the PBFA and Lapada – and from shops in Mayfair and Chelsea, London, sells rare books, prints and ephemera to customers across the world.

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