"La Prose du Transsibérien" at Auction & in the Studio
Seeing not one but two copies of the magnificent 1913 artist's book, La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay, surface at auction two weeks apart is surprising enough to warrant comment. Though Cendrars intended to publish 150 copies of this long, illustrated poem about his journey through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express, only about sixty were ever completed, of which only a few are now held outside of an institution. Years can go by without a sighting.
But at Christie's in Paris yesterday, a copy in "exceptional condition with extraordinary colors" and in the original hand-painted leather cover by Delaunay, once belonging to bibliophile and former banker Marc Litzler, sold for ??237,500 ($270,000) against a pre-sale estimate of ??150,000-200,000.
If you missed out on that one, another chance to own an original La Prose is coming up at Swann Galleries in New York on March 5. It is estimated rather conservatively at $70,000-100,000. Said the auctioneer, "...[I]t is widely considered one of the first and among the most important artist's books of the 20th century."
The auctions called to mind the 2017 article Nate Pedersen wrote for us about California book artist Kitty Maryatt and her quest to reproduce a limited edition of La Prose using the same letterpress and pochoir techniques employed in the original. Collaborating with Atelier Coloris, Maryatt completed the first batch in fall 2017; as October 28, 2018, she had "74 more copies to make." You can follow her progress here, and she has also posted a census of the original edition.
In 2017, Maryatt told us, "The most rewarding aspect of this project is actually doing the pochoir studies myself, analyzing the unusual strokes that surely Sonia [Delaunay] asked the pocheurs to do. I had not learned the original techniques used in 1913 but ones modified over the years, so it has been an eye-opener to learn them."
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries