Sonnets from the Portuguese

A Spectacular Marriage of Text, Illumination, and Binding

ADAMS, Ralph Randolph, binder. [TRAQUAIR, Phoebe Anna, artist]. THOMSON, Maud Alma, illuminator. BROWNING, Elizabeth Barrett. Sonnets from the Portuguese. [Edinburgh: William Hay, 1897].

A wonderful photographic reproduction of an illuminated manuscript by Phoebe Traquair, hand-colored and illuminated in gold and colors by Maud Alma Thomson.

Quarto (8 7/8 x 6 1/8 inches; 226 x 156 mm.). Title page and Forty-four leaves with the illustrations printed on the recto of each leaf, made of thick paper, almost card. Additional colophon leaf (on regular paper) signed in black ink "Illuminated by / Maud Alma Thomson."

Beautifully bound ca. 1900 by Ralph Randolph Adams of The Adams Bindery, New York City (stamp-signed in gilt on front turn-in). Full olive green crushed morocco, front cover with twenty-four petals and leaves inlaid in green and brown morocco surrounded by ornate gilt lettering and a decorative border of gilt dots within a gilt frame. Spine with five raised bands, decoratively tooled and lettered in gilt. Lower cover with a framed border of gilt dots, gilt ruled board edges, gilt ruled turn-ins with similar green morocco inlaid leaves on each corner surrounding a blue morocco liner ruled in gilt, dark blue watered silk end-leaves, all edges gilt. Minimal darkening of spine, otherwise exceptionally fine.

This fine marriage of binder and illuminator is identical in format to a copy of Daniel Gabriel Rossetti's The House of Life, [Edinburgh: W.J. Hay, 1904].

We have seen a copy of this title and similar to our Sonnets from the Portuguese, her identity and role appear to have been deliberately concealed. "The limitation leaf has been discarded. It would have provided the information: "The following pages are plain photographic reproductions of an illuminated manuscript made on vellum for my brother, Mr. William Richardson Ross. They are here reproduced with his permission, and from negatives made by him. For sanction to use the text I have to thank Mr. William Rossetti and Messrs. Ellis and Elvey. One hundred and fifty copies have been reproduced P.A. Traquair". Traquair signed a number of the illustrated pages with her initials, and these have all been erased. The final page concludes with the credit: "Illuminated by Maud Alma Thomson"". (George Bayntun).

Ralph Randolph Adams - The Adams Bindery… Of Ralph Randolph Adams and his Viennese bindings, the New York Times Saturday Review of Books noted in April 1902 that "the wonderful thing about the binding... is the inlaying...[It] differs materially from the method commonly employed in that it is to the board, instead of being superficial. It has been perfected by Mr. Adams, who has styled it Viennese inlaying... They are the finest bindings that have been done in this country and excel in workmanship even the French masters. These bindings were exhibited at Scribner's for $1,250" [$28,619 adjusted to 2012].

The Outlook, in the same month and year, declared that "the cost of binding in the new Viennese style originated by Mr. Adams is necessarily great as the work requires such concentration that Mr. Adams is unable to work at it for more than a few hours at a time."

And The Art Interchange said, "[Adams] has succeeded in accomplishing something that was considered to be impossible, and, in spite of the severest tests, the bindings that he has executed stand triumphant...Mr Adams has demonstrated that he is at least the equal to the French in this direction."

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) was an Irish born, revered artist and craftswoman, regarded as "one of the most remarkable figures in the Arts and Crafts movement and the Scottish cultural renaissance of the early twentieth century". One of her major works is a key Arts and Crafts illuminated manuscript of Sonnets from the Portuguese by the Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which is held by the National Library of Scotland (NLS) and a version is available on the NLS Digital Library. (Wikipedia).

Maud Alma Thomson was born in California in 1880 and studied at Horace Mann Grammar School in San Francisco and the Mark Hopkins Art Institute. She was active as an artist in San Francisco, working mostly in watercolor, but she stopped painting after her marriage to a man named Martin. She died in 1961. Item #03705

Out of stock

See all items by ,