Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from Julius Schroder, 1920

{Ed Note:  In early November, contributor DlphcOracl wrote an article on an absolutely beautiful edition of Hamlet.  It was a 1920 publication by publisher Julius Schroder as part of a series Meisterwerke der Weltliteratur mit Original-Graphik  (Masterworks of World Literature with Original Artwork).  DlphcOracl then followed that with another beautiful edition from that same series, Antony and Cleopatra.  This article is the last in the series, looking at the magnum opus of the series, that being Faust.}

Despite its brief life and small output, Julius Schroder’s ambitious series Meisterwerke der Weltliteratur mit Original-Graphik is both an improbable and remarkable achievement.  He began this series of fine press books in 1920, less than two years after the conclusion of World War I had left Germany devastated and demoralized.  Nevertheless, it appears that sometimes great art is born out of the most challenging conditions and that certainly appears to be the case with the Weimar Republic of Germany.  In its brief, turbulent history some of Germany’s most creative and enduring art in the 20th century was created.

Julius Schroder Verlag (Munich) published approximately 18 to 20 fine press books varying from well-crafted editions to truly extraordinary books. Despite the intent to publish Meisterwerke der Weltliteratur Julius Schroder’s tastes and personal preferences, as is often the case with the founder or guiding light of a small private press, betrayed his intent to some extent. Many of the titles published are obscure and can hardly be  classified as major works or staples of world literature.  Somewhat surprisingly, however, he clearly had a wide-ranging audience in mind for his series because nearly half of the books published were printed in either French or English rather than German.  The press appears to have been active from 1920-1925 and the best books from this series are extraordinary.  Although Schroder’s tastes in subject matter for his Meisterwerke series are uneven, his choice of artists to illustrate this books was unerring — all of the books I have seen from this series have wonderful original illustrations.

There are clearly several volumes that lived up to Schroder’s ambitious intentions, notably Wm. Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Antony and Cleopatra. However, the Magnum Opus appears to have been his edition of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s Faust, Erster Teil (Part One).  It is hardly surprising is Goethe’s Faust became Schroder’s most elaborate book.  He is the literary figure most closely associated with modern German literature and he holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the German people.  Anecdotally, this can be appreciated by walking through Lincoln Park, a vast park bordering Lake Michigan in Chicago.  Lincoln Park is known for its statuary and the park holds nearly two dozen  statues including a large bronze monument dedicated to Goethe, erected in 1913.  It is the result of a competition held by the Goethe Monument Association in 1911 with the stipulation that they did not want a literal likeness of Goethe.  They believed that this directive “would release artists from the trammels of costume and conventionality” and permit them “to give free flight to their imagination and enthusiasm”. The winning design was submitted by Hermann Hahn, a professor and sculptor from Munich.  He created a Greek god-like figure of a young man with a toga draped across his shoulders with an eagle on his flexed knee to symbolize Goethe’s ‘Olympian achievements’.  Part of Hahn’s design also includes a low concrete wall was a bas relief portrait of Goethe himself, as well as a quotation from Faust in both English and German.  The inscription at the base of the statue’s pedestal reads:

To Goethe, the Master Mind of the German People,
The Germans of Chicago, 1913

This is a giant folio sized book (17 inches high by 13 inches wide) which is as large as the Arion Press Holy Bible (2000).  It has the deluxe elaborately tooled and gilded vellum binding with beveled edges and gilded dentils to the inner boards (both front and rear) that the finest books of this series possess, uses a classic large German Gothic typeface with generous margins to the pages, and is illustrated by the most remarkable artist of the ones Schroder commissioned (to my eye, anyway), Sepp Frank.  As in Sepp Frank’s illustrations for Hamlet his etchings have a distinctive German Expressionist feel,  as appropriate for an edition of Faust as it was for Hamlet.  The book comes with a slipcase covered with a hand-marbled paper that has a Vienna Secessionist look.

Pictures

Faust, from Julius Schroder, Folio-sized book with hand-marbled slipcase
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Vellum binding with elaborate tooling and gild, front cover
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Endpapers inside front and rear covers
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Frontispiece #1
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Frontispiece #2
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Title Page
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample page #1 – the Dedication
Faust, from Julius Schroder, The Dedication – macro view of classic German Gothic typeface
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample illustration #1
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample page #2
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Title Page with elaborate initial and capitalized letters
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample illustration #2
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample page #3
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample illustration #3
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample page #4
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Sample illustration #4
Faust, from Julius Schroder, Colophon

6 thoughts on “Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from Julius Schroder, 1920

  1. Dlphcorall has provided us with a real visual treat by sharing these three rare books with us. I had never heard of them before and I don’t suppose there are many copies in the UK.

    The gothic typeface used in Goethe is so typical of German books of that era and is visually striking. The illustrations are quite breathtaking. The unique atmosphere created in all three books was something that was ‘of it’s time’ and could only be achieved by continental illustrators – particularly German illustrators. It has always surprised me that so few British and American artists were influenced by this style which makes for the most dramatic books.

    I would love to have these books at home – but will content myself with repeated viewings on ‘booksandvines’.

    Thank you !

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