Monthly Archives: April 2016

Shall I compare thee? Shakespeare in Translation Exhibition in the Taylorian

On 12 April, 6pm, Library Graduate Trainee Philippa Taylor pulled off the cover from the display case in the vestibule of the Voltaire Room and revealed to an admiring crowd of linguists, librarians and literature lovers four versions of Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’: a Portuguese translation printed in Lisbon in 1977, Aimé Césaire’s adaptation pour un théâtre nègre from 1969, the typescript of the only Frisian translation with commentary extant and, as crowning piece, a wonderfully atmospheric large colour print from a French artist’s book based on the translation by A. du Couchet.

Tempest

The Tempest arrangement forms the final case in a new exhibition in the Taylor Institution dedicated to Shakespeare in translation. The idea for putting this on was sparked by the lucky coincidence of a symposium on Ulrike Draesner, Writer-in-Residence at the German Sub-Faculty in 2015-16, and the Shakespeare 2016 events going on in Oxford. A few years ago, Ulrike had published her “radical translations” of 17 Shakespeare sonnets, set in a post-modern world of reproduction not via nature as in Shakespeare’s sonnets but via cloning. This had inspired German lecturer, translator and poet Tom Cheesman to venture a back-translation in which he “Englished” her versions again. Emma Huber as German Subject Librarian and Henrike Lähnemann as Professor for Medieval German, working together on the Reformation 2017 project, were just looking for a test case to trial a new form of library booklet as print-on-demand. They both thought that this would be the perfect copy: Shakespeare – put into German – returned to English in a literature-generating movement characteristic for Modern Languages in dialogue.

The exhibition spirals out from the display cases in the centre of the Voltaire Room. Standing high, the oldest cabinet which has seen many a distinguished publication from first editions to brand new research publications shows the genesis of ‘Twin Spin’, the Shakespeare x Draesner x Cheesman sonnet version.

Central case

The largest cabinet next to it is needed to show at least a fraction of the over 180 attempts to render Shakespeare sonnets in German, starting with Dorothea Tieck’s take on it as part of the classic ‘Schlegel-Tieck-Ausgabe’ which made Shakespeare – at least in the eyes of nineteenth century Germans – a truly German author. A special focus is on the early 20th century bibliophile versions of Stefan George and Friedrich Huch, which provide an eye-catching display in contrast to the typescript aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s, when Shakespeare was in vogue with the likes of the singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann.

Spiralling outward from the central cabinets are two cases crammed with again just a small selection of sonnet translations into other European languages, from Sorbian to Yiddish, emphasising – as an Italian dissertation on display claims – that Shakespeare speaks ‘da poeta a poeta’. The rich material on literary engagement with Shakespeare is then taken beyond the sonnets in samples of translations of his plays across the languages – and across the media to visual material and DVDs. The Tempest display case mentioned at the beginning provides a final case study of how much more could be explored.

case5-glass

The exhibition was curated by Henrike Lähnemann (Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics), together with Emilia Henderson and Philippa Taylor and the help of the Taylor Institution staff. Special thanks go to Lydia Pryce-Jones who designed the cover image, to Emma Huber for master-minding the operation, and to Clare Hills-Nova for her curatorial expertise! So this is an exhibition that invites visitors on a journey to discover more of the astonishing treasures of the Taylorian while engaging with Shakespeare. The catalogue of the exhibition can be downloaded here; the full edition of ‘Twin Spin’ can be bought in the Taylorian at the Issue Desk or ordered from online retailers (ISBN 978-0-9954564-0-2). This first pamphlet from the Taylor Institution Library is published on the day of Shakespeare’s 400th death day, showing that he is very much alive – not least through the constant renewal in translation.

Livres d’artistes / French Artists’ Books & the Avant Garde

2016-04-ArtistsBooks01-croppedOn 1st March 2016, we welcomed Dr Camille Mathieu (History of Art Department, University of Manchester) back to Oxford, and to the Taylorian, where she presented the Taylor Institution Library’s livres d’artiste collection. This collection includes texts by French and foreign authors; with illustrations by well-known 20th century artists such as Braque, Kandinsky, Matisse and Picasso, as well as many others.

Charles d'Orléans. Poèmes. Illustrated by Henri Matisse (Paris: Tériade, 1950)

Charles d’Orléans. Poèmes. Illustrated by Henri Matisse (Paris: Tériade, 1950)

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Dr Mathieu’s presentation was accompanied by a display, in the Taylorian’s Voltaire Room, of related items in the artists’ books collection. The following is her summary of her talk.

As far as objets d’arts go, the artist’s book is a rather hybrid form. It turns a story or a poem into an object; it lends the weight of materiality to the metaphorical weight of narrative. It is necessarily a collaborative effort: author, artist-illustrator, typesetter, printer, editor, publisher—all of these people have a hand in producing the final product. It can be presented materially—as a bound book where only one page can be opened at a time—or immaterially, as a series of leaves and pages that feed into one another. 
It was its hybridity as a medium that drew Walter Strachan to the artist’s book; his impressive collection of sheets from these books was given to the Taylorian during Giles Barber’s tenure as Taylor Librarian (1970-1996).

A teacher of modern languages at Bishop’s Stortford College, Walter Strachan became interested in the genre of the artist’s book (or, in its French translation, livre d’artiste) in parallel with translations he was 
executing of the works of poets who inhabited Paris during the first decades of the twentieth century – Tzara, Eluard, and Apollinaire, for example, whose texts ultimately featured in Strachan’s collection.

Tristan Tzara. juste présente. Illustrated by Sonia Delaunay (Paris: Galerie Louise Leiris, 1961)

Tristan Tzara. juste présente. Illustrated by Sonia Delaunay (Paris: Galerie Louise Leiris, 1961)

Amassed in repeated visits to Parisian collectors, printers, and book artists and sometimes offered to the collector as gifts over several decades, the Strachan Collection is extremely diverse both in terms of the artists and the authors it represents.  It contains two of the most important works for the history and development of the genre, both of whose process of publication was spearheaded and supervised by the legendary post-impressionist art dealer (his “stable” included Cézanne, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh) and book editeur Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939).

The collection includes two Vollard items: (1) What is arguably the first artist’s book ever produced in the avant-garde, early twentieth-century sense of the genre that Strachan devoted his scholarship to: Verlaine’s Parallèlement, illustrated by Pierre Bonnard (1900); and (2) Balzac’s Le Chef d’Oeuvre Inconnu, illustrated by Pablo Picasso (1931).

Each artist takes a different approach to the concept of illustrating the book. Bonnard’s work is arguably the more innovatively designed of the two, for his illustrations encircle the text, as opposed to providing separate, squared-off vignettes of illustration to the text, as is the case in Picasso’s work.  The rose-colored, frenetic drawing style exhibited by Bonnard in Parallèlement lends the entire production the feeling of being illustrated with sanguine chalk—a feature frequently associated in the late-nineteenth century with the Rococo drawings of Fragonard or Watteau.  This drawing style claims for the art book the purview of the luxury product.

Both Bonnard’s and Picasso’s drawings are more or less illustrative of the actual texts, providing images that generally coincide with the development of the narratives provided. In the case of the 1931 Chef d’Oeuvre Inconnu, the first artist’s book ever to be commissioned from Picasso—an artist who would go on to be prolific in the genre—the illustrations go one step further and take the power of mimesis and the pull of abstraction as their subjects; these are both underlying concepts in Balzac’s narrative as well as powerful motivators for the work of Picasso in the 1930s.  For the man who had invented Cubism (along with Braque) and whose art was currently in a broadly neoclassical phase, the importance of reconciling the live model with a kind of abstracted ideal retained all of the force with which Balzac presents it.  Picasso’s illustrations include both the more traditionally representative (the painter drawing his model) and abstract (the set of line-dot drawings that dominate the “introduction” he provides for the reader [not part of the Taylorian’ sheets from this book).

The successful marriage of disparate parts and influences that is represented by the genre of the artist’s book— edited, authored, illustrated, printed, etched/engraved/lithographed, and published by a litany of different people with disparate ideas—ironically finds its fullest and arguably most famous expression in this particular livre, whose text and illustrations both insist on the inability of the painter to successfully bind together the real and the ideal.

Dr. Camille Mathieu
Lecturer in Art History
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
University of Manchester

Photo credits: Nick Hearn & Clare Hills-Nova (Taylor Institution Library)

Further reading

Le livre d’artiste: a catalogue of the W.J. Strachan gift to the Taylor Institution: exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum, Ox, 1987 (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum and Taylor Institution, 1987).

W.J. Strachan. The artist and the book in France: the 20th century livre d’artiste (London: Owen, 1969)

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Pierre Reversy. Le chant des morts. Illustrated by Pablo Picasso (Paris: Tériade, 1948)