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KAFKA, Franz; COESTER, Otto (illus.)

Promĕna. (Metamorphosis.)

Šestero konfiguraci k stejnojmenne povidce. (Six illustrations of the story of the same name.)

Moravia: Josef Florian, April 1929 Stock Code: 140159
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The surreal first visuals of the insect

Suite of illustrations for the first Czech edition, number 97 of 120 copies only, signed by the illustrator on the half-title in pencil and printed by the Graphic Union in Prague under the supervision of Josef Čapek. The illustrations were drawn by Coester in 1927 and are the first to be created for Kafka's masterpiece. The illustration of The Metamorphosis is significant as from its inception Kafka desired the image of creature to be solely a product of the reader's imagination; indeed upon learning that the dust jacket to the first edition of the work, published in 1915, would be illustrated, Kafka wrote to the publisher that "the insect itself must not be illustrated by a drawing. It cannot be shown at all, not even from a distance" (25 October 1915). In this suite Coester chooses to depict the creature in his distinct, cautiously surreal style. Coester was "a member of a close-knit circle of Kafka admirers" and "it appears that he did know Kafka", leading some to believe he "had some inside knowledge of Kafka's vision" (Gallagher, p. 134). Due to this context noted Kafka scholar Richard Lawson "regards these representations as the most authentic" (ibid.).

The resultant edition was translated by Gustav Janouch and published simultaneously with the portfolio by Florian in a print run of 600 copies. It uses a completely different set of seven of Coester's illustrations in a more rustic style produced from pen and ink drawings. Coester's curious creature, however, remains the same.

Otto Coester (1902-1990) was a German artist and designer who was part of a close-knit group of admirers of Kafka's works. He studied interior design at the School of Applied Arts in Barmen and art history at the University of Cologne. He was involved with the Parisian Surrealists as well as the Bauhaus and the Werkbund. In 1927, accompanied by his fellow artist Albert Schamoni, Coester travelled to Moravia, where he met the publisher of this edition, and early Kafka admirer, Josef Florian.

This portfolio is now notably uncommon, with three examples traced institutionally worldwide: at the universities of Indiana and Illinois in the US and at the National Library of the Czech Republic.

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Small folio, pp. 12, loose as issued. Original brown card and plain paper portfolio, motif printed in black to front cover.


Text in Czech, printed in red and black. Illustrated title page and half-title, with 6 loose plates and tissue guards, all heliogravure reproductions of Coester's pen and ink drawings.


Small nicks to spine ends, else a fine copy, the plates clean and bright.


David Gallagher, Metamorphosis: Transformations of the Body and the Influence of Ovid's Metamorphoses on Germanic Literature of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 2009; Marek Nekula, Franz Kafka and his Prague Contexts, 2016.


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