The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur,
of his noble knights of the round table, their marvellous enquests and adventures, the achieving of the San Greal and in the end Le Morte Darthur, with the dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all. The text as written by Sir Thomas Malory and imprinted by William Caxton... now spelled in modern style. With an introduction by Professor Rhys and embellished with many original designs by Aubrey Beardsley.London: J. M. Dent, 1893 Stock Code: 140967
Vellucent binding by Cedric Chivers reproducing Beardsley's illustrationsFirst Beardsley edition of Malory's Arthurian epic, this copy in a stunning example of Cedric Chivers's "vellucent" bindings, hand-painted after Beardsley's own artwork within. This copy presents Beardsley's decadent version of Malory's Chivalric romance, noted for illustrations "shockingly overt in their sexuality and eroticism", as a thoroughly luxurious whole.
Only a handful of sets were bound in this manner, and of the two others we have handled, neither were distinguished by the present green staining to the usually cream-coloured vellum, making this a particularly choice example. This is one of the 1,500 copies of Beardsley's edition printed on ordinary paper, aside from 300 produced on handmade paper.
In his catalogue of Books in Beautiful Bindings (c. 1905), Chivers describes the Beardsley Morte D'Arthur as "bound in whole vellucent from a design by the illustrator of the book. A figure panel enclosed in a floral border". The hand-painted cover illustrations for this set reproduce two of Beardsley's designs, Volume One depicting "How Four Queens Found Launcelot Sleeping" (p. 184) and Volume Two "The Achieving of the Sangreal" (frontispiece).
Chivers's binding style is produced by hand-painting the backing sheet of the binding, which is subsequently covered in vellum that has been shaved to transparency, and then tooled in gilt. Chivers patented his vellucent method in 1898 and used it to create some of the most beautiful books of the turn of the century. In his bindery he employed "about forty women for folding, sewing, mending, and collating work, and in addition, five more women worked in a separate department, to design, illuminate, and colour the vellum", including Dorothy C. Smyth and Jessie M. King (Tidcombe, p. 86). This style influenced, and became closely associated with, the arts and crafts movement.
In 1892, seeking to emulate the books of the Kelmscott Press, John M. Dent commissioned the 20-year-old Beardsley to produce this edition, work that took the young artist 18 months to complete. "In Le Morte d'Arthur Beardsley learnt his job, but the result is no bungling student's work... If he had never illustrated another book, this edition of Morte d'Arthur could stand as a monument of decorative book illustration" (Lewis, pp. 148-9). The work was first published in twelve monthly magazine instalments between June 1893, and mid-1894. "Aubrey Beardsley's Morte Darthur was one of the most original and certainly one of the most controversial of the nineteenth-century artistic reinterpretations of Malory" which "established Beardsley as the voice of the 1890s" (Tepa Lupack, Chapter 4). "Often shockingly overt in their sexuality and eroticism, the illustrations rejected the aesthetic of the Pre-Raphaelites who were Beardsley's original mentors and offered a revisionist and parodic treatment of their medievalism. Ultimately, Beardsley went far beyond his original intention to 'flabbergast the bourgeois' of his day; he also challenged generations of readers and artists to view Arthurian society through his own modernist lens" (ibid.). Le Morte Darthur was an immediate sensation upon publication.
2 volumes, large square octavo (240 × 192 mm). Contemporary green-stained full vellum over bevelled boards by Cedric Chivers of Bath (blind stamped to binder's blank in vol. 2), gilt panelled spines with hand-painted art nouveau-style lettering and scrolling floriate motifs, below which, on a field of gilt dots, an overall pattern of stylised roses and rose leaves (vol. 1) and tulips and tulip leaves (vol. 2), sides with two-line gilt border enclosing a frame of hand-painted intertwining roses and rose leaves (vol. 1) and intertwining tulips and tulip leaves (vol. 2), both on a field of gilt dots, panel on each front cover with a hand-painted scene taken from Beardsley's designs, back covers with three-line gilt panels, gilt-ruled turn-ins with delicate cornerpieces, marbled endpapers with cream silk gutters, top edges gilt, others untrimmed.
Gravure frontispieces, 18 full page wood engravings (including 5 double-page), numerous text illustrations, and approximately 350 repeated designs for chapter headings and borders, all by Aubrey Beardsley.
Vol. 1 joints starting at both ends front joint and top edge of rear joint, spines faintly dulled compared to vivid front panels, sound and clean within, excellent condition.
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