A Winning Roll of the Dice for Stéphane Mallarmé at Sotheby’s

Paris, October 2015—Sotheby’s dispersed Stéphane Mallarmé's library: a rare and perfectly preserved collection unveiled to the public for the first time. Numerous admirers of the "prince of poets "did battle for the 283 lots in this highly moving collection: an immersion in the private world of a brilliant writer. The final hammer blow of the day completed a magical sale, which at €4,456,651 largely exceeded the estimate of €1.9 to €2.8 million, with 89% of lots sold (98% by value).

According to Benoît Puttemans, a specialist in the books and manuscripts department, "This was an extraordinary library, and the results were extraordinary as well. The sale of this marvellous collection, which had remained in private hands for 120 years, and came from one of France's greatest poets, was one of the most exciting literary events of the past few years."

The outstanding lots in this collection were the various stages in the manuscript and printed versions of his legendary poem Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, from the first manuscript rough draft right through to the first edition of 1914, by way of its first publication in a review and the impressive manuscript dummy, unknown to the public until 1998 (the centenary of Mallarmé's death), and a large collection of corrected proofs. The group of five lots illustrating the poet's fascinating creative processfetched €1,158,000.

Reflecting the creative timeline, the first lot consisted of the exceptional autograph notes, sketches and drafts of Un coup de dés, published in 1897, which were bought for €62,500 by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (lot 160).

Composed in free verse, the autograph manuscript of the poem was sold for €963,000 to Marcel Brient to resounding applause after a lengthy bidding battle between collectors in the room. This legendary manuscript is one of the very first typographical poems in French literature. Spontaneous and airy, its genuine poetic and graphic revolution was achieved through the spatial layout of the words and play on the character sizes. Mallarmé himself created the exact page layout of the poem as he wished to see it printed, placing his words as a painter places brushstrokes on the canvas (lot 163).

The collection contains the most complete extant sets of proofs of Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolirale Hasard for the final edition, printed by Firmin-Didot for Vollard between August and November 1897: six different proofs sold as one lot, which fetched €123,000 (lot 164).

His literary pantheon, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire, also led to some fine bidding battles. Stéphane Mallarmé's exceptional and unique copy of Les Fleurs du Mal of 1861 by Charles Baudelaire, including the six censored poems that the poet, then aged 19, had copied into the last part of the book, was also bought by Marcel Brient for €363,000 (lot 15).

Le Corbeau, the magnificent poem by the American writer Edgar Allan Poe, translated by Mallarmé and illustrated by Edouard Manet in 1875, is probably the most complete copy we know of, with illustrations on Holland, China and Japan paper. It was pre-empted at €195,000 by the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (lot 109). The first book illustrated by a painter, L’Après-midi d’un faune, by Edouard Manet, 1876, which was given by Mallarmé to his daughter Geneviève, was bought for €60,000 (lot 110). This first edition on Japan paper of the Symbolist masterpiece is illustrated with four drawings by Edouard Manet. Mallarmé also contributed personally to the extraordinarily refined publication of this poetic anthology.

Among the mementos rounding off this group, the portrait taken by Edgar Degas of his friend Mallarmé on 16 December 1895, in the apartment of the young Julie Manet, inspired a battle all the way up to €204,600 (lot 152). In this large picture, speaking play is made with the various sightlines, with Stéphane Mallarmé, standing against the wall, gazing down at his seated friend Auguste Renoir, who is look ing at the camera wielded by Degas. According to Valéry, this photograph is "the finest portrait of Mallarmé I have seen, apart from the admirable lithograph by Whistler".

Lastly, another moving lot that appealed to enthusiasts was a short occasional poem written on a pebble found in Honfleur during the summer of 1894. Written in his beautiful script, these two verses in ink, probably intended for his wife Marie, largely exceeded their estimate of €77,400 (lot 137).

Pre-emptions Bibliothèque Nationale de France

Lot 61-Joris-Karl Huysmans

10 signed autograph letters to Léon Bloy [8 June 1884] - 1890 

A letter card with the address on the back and a page with the heading of the Ministry of the Interior. Eight dates have been added in pencil by Bloy himself.


Lot 84-Jules Laforgue

Catalogueof the International Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture. Fifth year.

Galerie Georges Petit, 1886.

Extremely interesting catalogue annotated by the art critic Laforgue, with an original drawing in lead pencil


Lot 109-Edouard Manet, Edgar Allan Poe, Stéphane Mallarmé 

Le Corbeau, Paris, Richard Lesclide, 1875.

A magnificent copy, probably the most complete known to date, with illustrations by Manet on Holland, China and Japan paper. First edition of the translation by Mallarmé


Lot 147-[Mallarmé]-The Chap-Book

Four issues, some with autograph corrections.

15 December 1894-15 May 1896

With the considerably corrected article on Rimbaud


Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet

Lot 167-Stéphane Mallarmé-James Whistler

[La Valentine]. Autograph rough draft of the translation after James Whistler [between 20 and 25 October 1897] and the accompanying letter [25 October 1897]

Rough draft with many crossings-out of a translation by Whistler, illustrating Mallarmé's meticulous work


Musée Paul Valéry

Lot 245 -Paul Valéry 

21 signed autograph letters to Stéphane Mallarmé. Montpellier and Paris, 20 October 1890-3 July 1898 


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