The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé , by Anthony Gross, Rampant Lions Press (1980)

The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé is a major Rampant Lions Press publication you have probably never heard of. The Press itself needs no introduction to fine and private press book collectors. It was founded in 1924 by Will Carter and published its first book in 1936. Will’s son Sebastian joined the Press full-time in 1966, becoming a partner in 1971 and taking over the business in 1991. Upon Sebastian Carter’s retirement and closing of the Press in 2008 it was the longest continuous running private press in the world. The Rampant Lions Press was introduced to Books and Vines in early 2012 with an article on the Rampant Lions’ magnum opus, their extraordinary publication of The Story of Cupid and Psyche, a book included in the Grolier club publication A Century for the Century, 1900-1999. The raison d’être for that publication was to publish an extraordinary set of 44 illustrations drawn by Edward Burne-Jones and engraved into wood by William Morris, both of Kelmscott Press fame. These were the only wood-engravings Morris created and they remained hidden and unknown for over one hundred years. The other major works published by Rampant Lions Press, both with Clover Hill Editions, were The Chester Play of the Deluge and The Engravings of David Jones by Douglas Cleverdon. Again, both books revolved about the publication of exceptional wood engraved illustrations. In the case of the Golden Cockerel Press’ The Chester Play of the Deluge (1927) the preliminary dampening of the hand-made paper was omitted to meet a publication date, with disastrous results. David Jones’ superb illustrations were poorly reproduced and never properly seen until he consented to having Sebastian Carter use the original ten wood engravings in a new publication of The Chester Play by Clover Hill / Rampant Lions in 1977.

The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé is a book that ranks with the Rampant Lions’ finest work. It is a livres d’artiste by artist Anthony Gross who also wrote the text. Anthony Gross was born in London in 1905 and he was an important and prolific British artist whose works are in the collections of nearly all major British museums and many important museums around the world, e.g., the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC), the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), Museum of Modern Art (NYC), etc. His life was distinguished by unusual independence at an early age, far-ranging travels and adventures, and mastery in a variety of different media including oil painting, watercolors, etching, printmaking, copper engraving, book illustration and film animation. He is best remembered for his exceptional skill in printmaking and copper engraving, which is how he chose to illustrate this book. He began his formal education at Repton School, Derbyshire, but left in 1922 due to his father’s bankruptcy and subsequent parents’ separation. The following year (1923) he began his artistic studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, moving to and continuing his studies in France and Spain between 1923 to 1925 at the ages of 18 to 20. In 1925 he enrolled in Life classes to specialize as an engraver at Academie Julian and Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris. He further refined his skill as an engraver in the next several years by developing a close working relationship with the leading engravers Stanley William Hayter and Jozef Hecht while still in France.

Gross would continue to spend much of his time in France where he met Marcelle Marguerite Florenty, a fashion artist from Villeneuve, marrying her in 1930. in the 1930’s he turned his artistic attentions to animated film illustration and film direction, co-directing the short but highly successful film La Joie de Vivre (1934). At this time Gross also became a member of La Jeune Gravure Contemporaine, a Paris-based group of printmakers, with whom he would exhibit for the remainder of his career. In 1936 he ventured into book illustration with work on an edition of Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfant Terribles. As Germany invaded and occupied France, Gross left France with his family aboard one of the last ships to leave Bordeaux, settling in Flamstead, Hertfordshire. In 1940, following a letter of recommendation from fellow artist Eric Kennington, the War Artists Advisory Committee offered Gross a position as an Official War Artist, a position in which he flourished. His independence and sense of adventure resulted in a prolific career during the war years in which he produced more than five hundred works spanning numerous theaters of war, including Egypt and the Middle East, North Africa and the battle at El-Alamein, India and Burma, and the landing of the Allied troops at Normandy on D-Day. He was occasionally accompanied by two other prominent British war artists, Edward Bawden and Edward Ardizzone.

Following the war Gross spent an increasing amount of time in France, eventually buying a house in the tiny, remote town of Le Boulvé in southwestern France — a town with no more than one or two hundred inhabitants at any given time. He settled into a pattern of dividing his time equally between France and England, living and working in Le Boulvé during the hot summers and returning to London to exhibit in the winters. He held a one-man show of his war paintings at the Imperial War Museum in 1954 and was given a large retrospective exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1968. He published an influential book entitled Etching, Engraving and Intaglio Painting (1970) and was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy in 1979. By this time, as his career was winding down, he settled permanently in Le Boulvé and produced his last significant work, the book and suite of twenty-six prints and copper engravings for The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé (1980).

Le Boulvé is Anthony Gross’ tribute to his final home and resting place, a quiet elegy to the people who adopted him and to the region itself. Through his spare text and his illustrations, Gross introduces his readers to Le Boulvé’s topography and how it was shaped by centuries of harsh weather and history, his neighbors, and how they live and work. The first four chapters are primarily descriptive as Gross takes the reader on a visual tour of the region, Le Boulvé and its neighboring towns, and the surrounding terrain. Frankly, this is about as interesting as reading a Google map and if not enlivened by Gross’ beautiful etchings and copper engravings of the landscape and countryside it would hardly have provided an idea of what this part of southwest France looks like. Large portions of these chapters also describe the local winemaking, describing individual farmers, the grapes and type of wine they produce, and how they balance the age-old decision of whether to make larger quantities of mediocre wine (more profitable) or fewer barrels of a higher quality wine from grapes derived with the Cahor vines (unprofitable but emotionally satisfying). Regardless, no one will ever confuse these vineyards with those of Bordeaux or Burgundy. The reader’s interest is intermittently captured by anecdotes of daily life, the rituals of the farmers and peasants:

Meals are usually eaten in the kitchen, but at harvest time, or when there are guests, the meal is served in the hallway or dining room, and up to thirty people can sit at a long table. The farmer sits at the top, and his wife’s place is at the end nearest the kitchen. In fact she rarely sits at all, for she is in charge of the cooking, and eats and drinks standing . The farmer carves the fowls very deftly with his pocket-knife, and may even rebuild the severed joints, making it seem as though the bird is still in one piece. This accomplished, his next task is to make all his guests eat and drink as much as they can, particularly the prettiest girls, who soon blush from his attentions, or flush from the wine.

The final three chapters are far more interesting, as Gross begins to introduce his readers to the people of Le Boulvé, singling out several citizens —— their history, unique functions and roles, and their character quirks that collectively hold the small, isolated town together and permit it to persevere. However, their is a commonality to all citizens in the community which he describes as follows:

 This is a land of peasants. They had to struggle for centuries, from periods long before the French Revolution, to acquire it, and at last it all belongs to them. They have fought for it, and they intend to keep it.

and

The peasant’s attitude to life is practical and logical. He believes only in the probable. Usually he has a keen wit, which will show itself in repartee, or a sally if a neighbor should show sluggishness in noticing an illogical idea. He can never be sentimental. Self-interest dominates his decisions and opinions in all circumstances. The community understands this, and dealings among themselves are peaceful.

and

He can judge other people only by things he knows and understands. He thinks tourists and tinkers are much the same breed. He probably judges foreigners and strangers by their cars or the way they talk. It does not matter how hard a bargain is driven – – – – he will accept it; but any sign of indecision, politeness or kindness will be interpreted as weakness. The peasant is tough – – – – very tough – – – – in any outside dealings, but at home he feels and behaves like anyone else.

Although not stated explicitly in this book, one has the sense that in writing this book Anthony Gross is doing more than paying homage to his adopted home town and introducing us to its people and way of life. He is, perhaps, making the case that at a certain point in our lives “Less is More”, that greater reward and contentment are to be found in a simpler life in which one reconnects with the land and its people, with simple, direct, unpretentious interactions with neighbors replacing cultural stimulation and technological intrusions. If so, Anthony Gross voted with his own feet. After an adventurous lifetime equally divided between the cultural and artistic capitals of Paris and London and his World War Two experience as an Official War Artist, which took him across several continents in dangerous combat situations, he chose to spend his final years in a tiny, remote town in southwestern France. Four years after this book was published Anthony Gross died and was buried in Le Boulvé.

{Ed. Acknowledgement: Portions of the biographical aspects of this article were taken from the website “West End At War.”}

About the Edition

  • Designed, printed and published by the Rampant Lions Press
  • Written and Illustrated by Anthony Gross
  • Illustrated with 26 etchings and engravings on copper
  • Plates were printed at the artist’s studio by Mary West
  • Foreword by David Garnett
  • Text was edited by Sebastian Carter and set in 18pt Palatino
  • Arches velin mould-made paper
  • Bound in quarter pigskin over tan cloth with raised bands and a green spine label lettered in gilt, contained in a plain matching cloth covered slipcase
  • The patterned paper used in the binding [endpapers] was designed by Anthony Gross and Will Carter and printed at the Stellar Press at Welham Green
  • 250mm x 330mm, 110 pages
  • Limited to 135 copies

Pictures of the Edition

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The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Spine and Cover
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Spine and Cover
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Spine
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Spine
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Front and Back
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Book and Slipcase
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Cover
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Cover
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, End Papers
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, End Papers
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Title Page
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Title Page
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Frontispiece
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Frontispiece
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Colophon
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Colophon
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Illustration #1 (M. Labruyere’s vineyard)
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Illustration #1 (M. Labruyere’s vineyard)
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #1
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #1
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #2
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #2
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Illustration #4 with text (The church at Creyssens)
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Illustration #2 with text (The church at Creyssens)
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Illustration #6 (A shepherdess)
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Illustration #3 (A shepherdess)
Rampant Lions Press, Dedication
The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, Rampant Lions Press, Dedication

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