Twenty years ago I became aware of the wide range of illustrated versions of the fable generally known as ‘The monkey with the magic lantern’, while designing the page layout for an article about the subject written by French magic lantern collector Jean-Philippe Salier. I had one edition in my own collection. Some years earlier, I was in Paris with doyen collector Bill Barnes, scouring the cabins of the bouquinistes along the banks of the Seine. I spotted a very nice large illustrated version of the subject, sealed in a plastic wrapper. I picked it up and asked the dealer (in one of my few memorised French sentences), “I want to buy this. May I open it?” The response was an unsmiling “Non.” Bill shook his head and tutted. This didn’t happen in the Charing Cross Road. “Is it complete?” A surly, “Bien sûr, il est complet.”
I gave the book to Bill to hold, took out the required wad of francs, handed them to the dealer and said to Bill, as I took back the book and opened the Sellotaped wrapper, “If there are pages missing I’m going to hit him with it.” There weren’t, so I didn’t. The bouquiniste was now smiling, I managed a forced smile and a “Merci”, we shook hands and Bill and I went away with our treasure. It was later displayed in the exhibition Magical Lanterns, at the Museum of the Moving Image in London. It’s the copy now offered here.
Les Fables de Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian. Illustrees par A. Vimar. Henrie Laurens, Editeur. [n.d., c.1899] Avant-Propos de Andre Theuriet. 137 pages. Many b/w illustrations, and eight in colour, mostly full-page. Size: 225 x 283 mm. SOLD
Nicolas Stanislas-Auguste Vimar (1851-1916) was a French painter, sculptor, designer and illustrator. He exhibited in Paris and at Marseille, notably sculptures of animals, and contributed drawings to a number of journals including Figaro illustré and Le Rire. [adapted from Wikipedia].
English version of the fable:
I believe this book of the Fables, with illustrations by Vimar, was published c.1899. An edition was certainly available by 1902, where it appears in a bookseller’s catalogue [Catalogue: Ernest Martin. Lester Smith collection]. There were two versions of this edition; one with b/w illustrations at 6 fr., and one with some illustrations in colour at 9 fr. This is the colour edition. I have seen this book with an identical cover but in green cloth, grey cloth, and in beige. I have not seen another example in red.
‘In France, Jean-Pierre Clarisse de Florian is presently considered a minor writer and poet from the late 18th-century. Most likely his major contribution to literature is the first translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Not many people remember that Florian also write a series of fables … his most famous fable tells of ‘The monkey displaying the magic lantern’. Imagine how a frustrated monkey takes advantage of the temporary absence of his human mentor, a galantee showman. Here is a unique opportunity for him to proudly present to the other animals the lantern show he has watched so many times. No doubt he is fully knowledgeable about the process, and his sharp views of our world are about to change the life of generations to come. At last, a time for deep, philosophical considerations and valuable scientific comment comes of age. Precious sentences are filling the showroom while a series of views slide superbly [through] the lantern. Alas! What should have been an unforgettable one-monkey show quickly becomes an after-dinner talk of the most boring type … The galantee showmonkey … has forgotten just one thing – lighting up the lantern.’ [The Fabulist Displaying the Magic Lantern. A tribute to Florian 1755-1794. by Jean-Philippe Salier. New Magic Lantern Journal, Vol.7 No.2 September 1994.]
Pictures of an itinerant showman with a monkey feature in many engravings and books from the 18th century onwards. In the illustrations in this book, the monkey is carrying and using a now very collectable Lapierre lantern, in the style known as ‘Carre’. I bought one in Paris in the ‘80s, from a friendly dealer in the Porte de Vanves market; which is still one of my favourite Parisian haunts.
This book turns up occasionally, but not always in good condition, and sometimes it’s the b/w version.
Les Fables de Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian. Illustrees par A. Vimar. Henrie Laurens, Editeur. [n.d., c.1899] 137 pages. Many b/w illustrations, and eight in colour, several full-page. Size: 225 x 283 mm.
Condition: generally good. Minor foxing and some brown / finger marks to some pages, and general tanning. Wear to the cloth on the bevelled edges of the boards, and spine. Cover illustration colours, and gilding, excellent.