London: Constable and Company Limited, 1920. Item #04769
A Beautifully Illustrated Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam
One of Fifty Copies Printed on Japon and Signed by Ronald Balfour
BALFOUR, Ronald, Illustrator. KHAYYÁM, Omar. Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Illustrated by Ronald Balfour. London: Constable and Company Limited, 1920.
First edition thus, limited to fifty copies signed by Ronald Balfour, this being copy no. 37. Printed on Japanese vellum paper with an additional color illustration.
Folio (12 1/8 x 8 3/4 inches; 309 x 222 mm.). [ii, blank], [viii], 152 unnumbered pages. With 6 tipped-in full color plates, 1 full-page color illustration (opposite title-page) heightened in gilt and watercolor with original tissue-guard, 14 tipped-in two color plates, 18 tipped-in black and white plates, and numerous black and white text illustrations throughout.
Publisher's quarter black buckram over straw textured cloth beveled boards, front cover and spine lettered in gilt, top edge gilt, others uncut. Minimal rubbing to corners, still an an exceptionally fine example of a very rare edition.
Ronald Egerton Balfour (1896–1941). The work of this illustrator is not as well-known as it should be - most likely because this 1920 edition of the Rubáiyát is his sole major work according to a recent feature in Book & Magazine Collector. The illustrations were produced when he was just twenty-four years old and while the drawing can be considered uncertain in places, they are really splendid examples of the post-Beardsley and later Alastair style, owing far more to Beardsley flourishes and details than to the usual Arabian exotica found in other Rubáiyát adaptations. Here we see a combination of Orientalist fantasy and Art Deco opulence with a profusion of peacocks and winged figures…
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his 1859 translation from Persian to English of a selection of quatrains attributed to Omar Khayyam (1048-1131), dubbed "the Astronomer-Poet of Persia". FitzGerald's work has been published in several hundred editions, and it has inspired similar translation efforts in English and in many other languages. The authenticity of the poetry attributed to Omar Khayyam is highly uncertain. Omar was famous during his lifetime not as a poet but as an astronomer and mathematician. The earliest reference to his having written poetry is found in his biography by al-Isfahani, written 43 years after his death. This view is reinforced by other medieval historians such as Shahrazuri (1201) and Al-Qifti (1255). Parts of the Rubaiyat appear as incidental quotations from Omar in early works of biography and in anthologies.