Description

    J[ean] de La Fontaine. Fables choisies, mises en vers par J. de la Fontaine. Paris: Chez Desaint & Saillant [et] Durand, De l'Imprimerie de Charles-Antoine Jombert, 1755-1759. First edition, "Le Singe et le Léopard" plate in second state. Four large folio volumes (16.4375 x 11.375 inches; 417 x 288 mm.). [4], xxx, xviii, 124; [4], ii, 135, [1, blank]; [4], iv, 146; [4], ii, 188 pages. Engraved frontispiece and 275 engraved plates after Jean-Baptiste Oudry, reworked by Charles-Nicolas Cochin, and then engraved by Aubert, Aveline, Baquoy, Beauvais, Beauvarlet, Cars, Chedel, Chenu, Chevillet, Cochin, Cousinet (Elisabeth), Dupuis, Duret, de Fehrt, Fessard, Flipart, Floding, Gaillard, Gallimard, Lebas, Legrand, Lemire, Lempereur, Marvie, Menil, Moitte, Ouvrier, Pasquier, Pelletier, Pitre-Martenasie, Poletnich, Prévost, Radigues, Riland, Rode, Salvador, Sornique, Surugue, Tardieu, and Teucher; 209 woodcut title vignettes and head- and tail-pieces by Lesueur after Bachellier. Volume I bound with the engraved portrait of Jean Baptiste Oudry by J. Tardieu after N. de l'Argillière, found in some copies, but not integral. The first plate for Fable CLXXII, "Le Singe et le Léopard" (facing page 111 in Volume III), is in the second state, with the addition of the words "Le Léopard" on the banner.

    Contemporary French cat's paw calf. Covers with gilt triple fillet border and gilt corner ornaments; spines decoratively tooled in gilt in compartments with six gilt-decorated raised bands and brown morocco lettering and volume labels; board edges with triple gilt fillet; marbled edges and matching marbled endpapers. The bindings have considerable wear; some volumes with loss to spine ends, some with small repairs to covers at top and bottom of joints, and some joints repaired; most corners bumped, with boards exposed; covers with some surface loss due to the acid used to create the cat's paw pattern; hinges cracked, but still holding strong. Some mostly marginal foxing, reverse foxing, and spotting, heavier in places, but generally not affecting images; a few additional small stains or smudges; occasional offsetting from the plates to facing text pages; a few short marginal tears or paper flaws. Each volume with small intermittent indentations and occasional puncture marks or short tears in the gutter. Still, a handsome set, with the plates generally clean. Bookplate on the front pastedown of each volume: Bibliothèque de M. Aug. des Sagets (with imprint: "Lyon: Imp. Alf. Louis Perrin et Marinet, 4-75").

    After he became director of the Beauvais tapestry factory, Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1685-1755) began to amuse himself sketching subjects from La Fontaine's Fables. He made a total of 276 sketches between 1729 and 1735. The story of how they became the illustrations of the Fables of 1755-1759 is told in the "Avertissement de l'éditeur" in Volume I by the publisher Montenault, who had bought the sketches. Oudry's subjects being landscapes and animals, which he had drawn freely for his own enjoyment, Cochin undertook the responsibility of turning these freehand drawings into finished prints. Although Oudry's skill at portraying animals and his interpretation of La Fontaine's humor can hardly be surpassed, Cochin's sure and experienced hand did much to improve the original designs, particularly the figures. He redrew them, correcting the figures and background and supplying precise lines for the engravers. "The format of these four folio volumes is luxurious. Each of the fables has its own title page and one or more plates in addition to the emblematic and floral ornaments...Indeed, this is one of the most ambitious and successful of all illustrated books" (Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book).

    Cohen-de Ricci, cols. 548-550. Huntington Library, Great Books in Great Editions, 21. Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book, 5. Regency to Empire: French Printmaking 1715-1814, 41.


    More Information: "Oudry began a series of drawings to illustrate the fables of La Fontaine around 1729, more than twenty-five years before their publication in this lavish four-volume set. They were executed during the artist's leisure hours away from his duties as painter for the royal tapestry works at Beauvais. He made a total of 275 designs for the fables, all of which were engraved for the book. The original drawings are often signed and dated, ranging as late as 1734, with a frontispiece added in 1752...It was not until 1751 when the complete set of drawings for the project was acquired by the financier Montenault that their publication was undertaken. While securing a team of no fewer than forty-two engravers, Montenault also commissioned Charles-Nicolas Cochin fils to redraw Oudry's designs, because their technique was deemed too free and loose for the engravers to follow. Cochin drew his more precise designs in the same format as Oudry's, and the subsequent engravings were also executed in the same size. Several of the finished engravings were exhibited in the 1753 Salon, and the first three volumes of the book were published in 1755 and 1756. A royal grant enabled the final volume to appear in 1759 after the publishers encountered financial difficulties...The volumes were printed in a very grand format, among the largest of any illustrated book of the time save for certain royal festival books. Three different sizes and types of paper were used for the text and the plates, with two grander formats issued in one hundred copies each. Oudry's full-page plates were embellished with borders and titles, and the flower painter Jean-Jacques Bachelier (1724-1806) was commissioned to design decorative tailpieces to fill in the spaces at the end of each fable. His ornamental, rustic designs were engraved on wood by Jean-Michel Papillon (1698-1776) and Nicolas Le Sueur (1691-1764). These decorations often serve to counterbalance the complexity of the engraved plates opposite and are sometimes allegorical in nature. In fact, P. P. Choffard issued a suite of metal-engraved copies of these tailpieces soon after their initial publication (ca. 1760)...Oudry designed at least one illustration to each fable, and in several cases supplied as many as four. His reputation as an animal painter-the king's favorite for such subjects-certainly is shown to advantage in these plates with their close observations of life. Moreover, the open-air setting of many of the fables gave the artist the opportunity to depict numerous landscapes, both as backgrounds and as primary subjects" (David P. Becker, in Regency to Empire: French Printmaking 1715-1814, 41 ("Jean-Baptiste Oudry 1686-1755").

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