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25.1.04

Sale of Surrealist Books and Artifacts

In an article (La collection de livres surréalistes de Daniel Filipacchi va être dispersée, January 21) in Le Monde, Harry Bellet reports on an upcoming auction at Christie's in Paris on April 29. American readers may remember that some pieces of Daniel Filipacchi's celebrated collection of surrealist manuscripts and related material, part of which will now be offered for sale, was shown in the exhibit Surrealism: Two Private Eyes at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1999. How Filipacchi ended up with his collection is recounted in the article, here in my translation:

Paris, 1938. A ten-year-old kid, looking for a mystery novel when he got out of school, passed by the display of Pierre Béarn, a bookstore in the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince. A title jumped out before his eyes, which seemed like part of the noir series he was reading: Le Revolver à cheveux blancs [The White-Haired Revolver, 1932]. He bought it without thinking that the author, André Breton, had nothing to do with Dashiell Hammett. "When I got back home and opened it up, I was a little disappointed. The typesetting was odd, with letters of different sizes and strange words aligned in no apparent order and without any obvious meaning..."

Then the war came: in occupied Paris, the teenager, having become a typesetter, was setting in lead a text titled Au rendez-vous allemand [Appointment with Germany, 1944]. Paul Eluard was leaning over his shoulder to correct his typos. He had missed three of them: "I have a copy of this book with the three errors corrected in Eluard's hand," recounts the young man grown old, now himself an editor and newsman, Daniel Filipacchi. "I cherish it."
The collection numbers 200 hundred items and is expected to fetch a price of at least 5 million euros ($6.3 million). It includes valuable books by Apollinaire, Duchamp, Tzara, and the other surrealists. Some of the most precious volumes include:
The first published copy of the Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France [by Blaise Cendrars, from 1913], one of the only ones to have been signed by Cendrars in the time when he still had a right hand and to have been preserved in its original book jacket painted, like the illustrations, by Sonia Delaunay. Or hand-written war letters addressed to André Breton, Théordore Fraenkel, and Louis Aragon by Jacques Vaché.

There is also the Cornet à dés, a four-hand game played in 1917 by Max Jacob and Pablo Picasso, accompanied by 20 manuscript poems by Max Jacob which, according to the expert's research, remain unknown to this day. With them, the most celebrated Saint Matorel, published by Kahnweiler in 1911, one of the 15 principal copies, on Japanese paper. And also the Trésor des jésuites, manuscript and typescript of a surrealist, anticlerical play in three scenes and prologue, the product of a collaboration between André Breton and Louis Aragon, from the time when they still liked one another. Less spectacular, but still interesting, the little copy of the original edition of Ubu roi, accompanied by a portrait of Father Ubu, or rather of "Monsieur Hébert, profezzor of phyzzicks," painted in oil on wood by [Alfred] Jarry when he was still in high school [in 1896]. And let us not forget the copy of Sept Microbes vus à travers un tempérament [Seven Microbes seen through a temperament], given by Max Ernst to Man Ray.
You can see multiple versions of Picasso's etchings and sketches for Saint Matorel, made mostly in the summer of 1910, from the On-Line Picasso Project: Mademoiselle Léonie, Le Monastère, La table, and many others.

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