Among the vintage Folio Society books, two of my favorites are the books illustrated by the great 20th century fashion and portrait photographer/interior designer/costumer designer Sir Cecil Beaton, The School For Scandal and The Importance of Being Earnest. Beaton began his artistic career in the late 1920’s and 1930’s as a fashion photographer for Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines. His work had a sophistication and flair perfectly in keeping with the Roaring Twenties and the Gatsby Era. Additionally, he was a much sought after portrait photographer, so much so that he became a favored photographer of the Royal Family for official publication. There were many photographers with greater technical skill but Beaton learned the secret of portrait photography, to use the camera and the photo laboratory to flatter one’s subject. Whereas other great 20th century photographers such as Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe used the camera lens to reveal every flaw, to eliminate all pretense, Beaton’s camera world was flattery and fantasy. After World War II Beaton began working in the theatre and Broadway stage, designing sets and costumes. His theatrical work reached its high point with his costume design for Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady (1956), resulting in a Tony Award. This led to work on two Lerner and Loewe film musicals, Gigi (1958) and My Fair Lady (1964), winning the Academy Award for Costume Design in each instance.
It was undoubtedly a coup for Charles Ede to commission Sir Cecil Beaton to provide illustrations for two of his Folio Society books in much the same manner it was for the Limited Editions Club’s founder George Macy to have Henri Matisse illustrate James Joyce’s Ulysses and Pablo Picasso illustrate Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Gazing at these Folio books again I can say that this was indeed a happy marriage of world-renowned artist and successful book illustration. Beaton brings the same grace and elegance to his illustrations as he did to all else he undertook. Both books are greatly enhanced by his artistic contribution.
To complete the triumvirate for this article I have selected the Folio Society edition of Cheri’s Colette. The book is beautiful, covered in a deep maroon artificial silk with a design in gold of a tasselled necklace on the front cover. The book is illustrated with dry-point etchings by Philippe Jullian and they have the same timeless, bygone-era grace that Beaton’s illustrations have. Interestingly, the parallels between the illustrative styles of Beaton and Jullian extend beyond the printed page. Both men were effete snobs, overly concerned with their persona and physical appearance and often given to making unkind and acerbic remarks about acquaintances and personalities they encountered in the course of their work and artistic careers. Although not nearly as renowned as Beaton, Jullian has a cult following based primarily upon his book Esthetes et Magiciens, or Dreamers of Decadence, an art history book about the Symbolist and Decadent art and literature of the 1890’s. The book is both lyrical and artistic, drawing the reader back in time to the sensuousness and mystical, dream-like world that spawned the poetry and literature of Charles Baudelaire, Stephane Mallarme, etc., and the art of Odilon Redon, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Gustav Klimt, and Edvard Munch among others.
After viewing the photos and illustrations of these vintage Folio books I am confident you will concur that they have a charm that is irresistible, perfect for reading on a lazy afternoon or quiet evening with a cup of tea or a fine glass of wine (note: this IS the Books and Vines blog, after all). Only an incurable curmudgeon will fail to find place in his or her heart and bookshelf for these lovely volumes. So……
GET WITH THE PROGRAM !!!
Amend your list of New Year’s resolutions and vow to add a few of these small titles to your library in 2012. Once you become acquainted (or re-acquainted, as the case may be) with these books of yesteryear you will find them as pleasurably addicting as I do.
About the Editions and Pictures
Colophon and Additional Information (taken from the Folio Society publication ‘Folio 60: A Bibliography 1947 – 2006)
The School For Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1949), with an introduction by Sir Laurence Olivier and designs for decor & costumes by Sir Cecil Beaton.
- 254 x 191 x 17 mm. Pp 120
- Type: Monotype Baskerville (12-pt) with Cochin for display
- Printed in black and red by Mackay
- Bound by Mackay in full red cloth with a silhouette in gold by Beaton
- White dust-jacket printed in red and black (not included in this article)
- In addition to the nine color plates showing costume designs there are five full-page monochrome drawings of set designs and 16 smaller drawings in the text
- The book was published to coincide with the opening of the Old Vic production by Olivier (who also played Sir Peter Teazle), for which the set and costume designs had been made
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1960), illustrated by Sir Cecil Beaton.
- 251 x 190 x 11 mm, Pp. 80
- Type: Monotype Walbaum (12-pt)
- Printed in dark green and black by Mackay, the lithographs by Novello and Company
- Bound by Mackay in full dark green artificial silk; grey end leaves printed in pink
- Pink slip case
Cheri by Colette (1963), translated by Roger Senhouse, dry point etchings by Philippe Jullian.
- 222 x 146 x 18 mm, Pp. 160
- Type: Monotype Walbaum (12-pt) with hand-drawn lettering for the title
- Printed by William Clowes, the collotypes by Van Leer
- Bound by William Clowes in artificial silk (various colors) with a design in gold by Brian Paine; pink end leaves
- Green and black slip case