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LA FONTAINE, Jean de (1621--1695)
Contes et nouvelles en vers, par M. de La Fontaine. Tome I. (II.)
A Amsterdam [i.e. Paris]: 1762.
2 vols ; 18.2 cm. (8º)
I: xiv, [2], 268, [2] p., frontis. port., [39] pl. : engr. illus.
II: [2], viii, [2], 306, [4] p., frontis. port., [41] pl. : engr. illus.

This celebrated édition de luxe of La Fontaine's racy tales was privately published for the 'fermiers-généraux' in Paris (a syndicate of tax collectors) as a douceur for officials in the government in exchange for the continuance of their monopoly. Its production was overseen by J.B.G.L. Seroux d'Agincourt (1730--1814), who was himself a member of the syndicate and later embarked on a distinguished career as an archaeologist, art historian and author of the Histoire de l'art par les monuments, 6 vols, Paris 1810--23 (q.v.). With unlimited funds at his disposal Seroux d'Agincourt was able to employ the finest artists, engravers and printers of the day and to encourage in particular Charles Eisen (1720--1778) and Pierre-Philippe Choffard (1730--1809) to produce some of their very best work as book illustrators. He was also able to finance a print run of 2000 copies - an exceptionally large edition for a book of this type - in which many variant states of the plates have been identified. Eisen's 80 original drawings for the book were executed on vellum and are preserved in the Musée Condé, Chantilly. The edition includes a biographical sketch of La Fontaine by Diderot (vol. I, pp. v-viii), and a 'Dissertation sur la Joconde. A Monsieur B*** Par M. Boileau Despréaux' (vol I, pp.239--268). The five tales at the end of vol. II reprinted from Desbordes edition of 1718 are not by La Fontaine, viz. 'La Couturière', 'Le Gascon' and 'La Cruche' by Autereau; 'Promettre est un & tenir est un autre' by Vergier; and 'Le Rossignol' which is attributable either to Lamblin or to Trousset de Valincourt (see V. Salomons, Charles Eisen, London 1914, p. 120). Hooked on Books 6.3.

For further background, commentary, and bibliographical details relating to this much-collected edition (as also on the re-issued sets of the original impressions published by Plassan in 1792), see the following: Henri Cohen, Guide de l'amateur de livres à gravures du XVIII siècle, 6e éd. rev., corr. et considérablement augm. par Seymour de Ricci, Paris 1912, col. 558--571 (includes details of copies with variant states of the plates); H.J. Reynaud, Notes supplémentaires sur les livres à gravures du 18e siècle, Genève 1955, p. 285; Comte de Rochambeau, Bibliographie des œuvres de La Fontaine, Paris 1911 (reprinted New York 1970), p. 525, no.79; Gordon N. Ray, The art of the French illustrated book 1700 to 1914, 2 vols, New York 1982, no.26; W.R. Deusch, Das Buch als Kunstwerk: französische illustrierte Bücher des 18. Jahrhunderts aus der Bibliothek Hans Fürstenberg, exh. cat., Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart 1965, cat. no.50; Antony Griffiths, Prints for books: book illustration in France 1760-1800, London 2004, pp. 17--23.

Copy Notes Imperfect; wanting the half-titles to vols. I and II.

Binding C18th French red morocco, gilt-tooled panels and borders, gilt-panelled spine with lyre and urn motifs, direct-lettered in gilt, gilt edges, pale blue silk end-papers, dark blue silk bookmarks.

Reference Number 385


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