"One of the Most Ambitious and Successful of All Illustrated Books"
The Oudry Edition, A Large Paper Copy in a Contemporary French Binding
LA FONTAINE, J[ean] de. 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.
Large paper issue. Four large folio volumes (19 7/16 x 12 15/16 inches; 494 x 328 mm.). , xxx, xviii, 124; , ii, 135, [1, blank]; , iv, 146; , ii, 188 pp. Engraved frontispiece and 275 engraved plates after Jean-Baptiste Oudry by Cochin, Tardieu, Prévost, Chedel, Lempereur, and others, and 209 woodcut title vignettes and head- and tail-pieces by Lesueur after Bachelier. Inserted as frontispiece in Volume I is the portrait of Oudry engraved by J. Tardieu after Nicolas de Largillière ("N. de L'argilliiere"), found in some copies, but not integral. The first plate for Fable CLXXII, "Le Singe et le Léopard" (facing p. 111 in Volume III), is in the second state, with the addition of the words "Le Léopard" on the banner.
Contemporary French red morocco. Covers with gilt triple fillet border with tiny gilt corner ornaments enclosing four larger floral/vase corner ornaments, spine elaborately tooled in gilt in compartments (with same floral/vase ornament in the center of each of the five compartments) with seven raised bands and two brown morocco gilt lettering labels, board edges ruled in gilt, turn-ins decoratively tooled in gilt, all edges gilt, blue endpapers. Binding expertly touched up by James Brockman. Very small amount of light margin soiling. Very small rough spot affecting text on pp. vii-viii in Volume I. A wonderful, extremely large copy (the copy described by Ray measured 15 7/8 x 10 3/4 inches)
"In his humble beginnings, when [Jean-Baptiste] Oudry [1685-1755] became a skilled engraver, it is said that he was reduced to etching rebuses for children. He then studied with the painter Largillière, who treated him as a friend as well as a pupil. His first successes were with portraits, and he was elected to the Royal Academy in 1719 as a historical painter…It was after he became director of the Beauvais tapestry factory that he began to amuse himself with subjects from La Fontaine's Fables. He made 276 sketches in all between 1729 and 1735…The subjects that they presented, landscapes and animals, were those which Oudry found most congenial, and his fellow feeling for their author was such that he could be called the ‘La Fontaine of Painting"…[Charles-Nicolas] Cochin [1715-1790] undertook the responsibility of turning these freehand drawings into finished prints. A necessary first step was his redrawing of Oudry's originals…In effect Cochin performed much the same service for Oudry's designs that R. Catterson-Smith through his redrawing and W.H. Hooper by his engraving were to perform for the designs of Burne-Jones in the Kelmscott Chaucer…In summary, the illustrations offer a world of their own, to which the reader may return again and again for delight and instruction. With such an embarrassment of riches in the plates, it is not surprising that little attention has been paid to the varied and ingenious fleurons appearing at the end of each fable. These constitute almost the only significant series of wood engravings for the adornment of French books during the eighteenth century…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. From the time of its appearance collectors have vied with each other in commissioning sumptuous bindings for its fine-paper issues…" (Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Books, pp. 16-20).
Cohen-de Ricci, cols. 548-550. Huntington Library, Great Books in Great Editions, 21. Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book, 5.
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