Thursday, February 3, 2011

Brassai, the Nude and a very rare publication, Formes No. 1

What does it mean to claim a book is rare?  Below, I offer an example of a publication I consider rare, from my library.

I collect books and publications associated with the master photographer Brassai and while I don't have everything Brassai I'd like to own, I do have one extremely rare publication. Brassai, 1899-1984 was born Gyula Halász in the town of Brassó, Transylvania (today Romania).  He was trained as an artist (painting and sculpture), settled in Paris in 1924 and there, took up photography.  He was a close friend and collaborator of both Henry Miller and Pablo Picasso. 

I became fascinated with Brassai after I acquired Henry Miller's, Quiet Days in Clichy, The Olympia Press, Paris, 1958, illustrated with photographs by Brassai.  Ever since the acquisition of that collectible (not rare) Henry Miller book, I started to casually collect all publications Brassai.  I do not own a first edition, first printing of Brassai's most famous book, Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night), Arts et Metiers Graphiques, Paris, 1933. , 12 pages, 62 black and white photographs of Paris at night, but there is always a supply of copies for sale and someday, I'll acquire one for myself. 

What I do own, and it may be the most rare title in my library, is Formes:  Le magazine des artistes peintres et sculpteurs, published in Paris, (9 rue du fg Saint-Denis, 75010) : Formes, 1950, Number 1, dedicated to the photography of Brassai.  This is the premiere issue of a magazine intended to be a source for photographs of nude models suitable for study and the creation of new art by painters and sculptures.  The premiere issue offers18 photographs of nudes by Brassai.  These are stunning photographs and perfect as a substitute for a live model! 

How rare is this publication?  Formes only published 2 issues and I don't have any idea how many copies were printed.  Today, three libraries, Bibliothèque nationale de France, University of Colorado at Boulder, and Stanford University Library own one copy each of No. 1 and one library also owns issue No.2.  There are no copies of Formes No 1. for sale and only one copy of No. 2 is currently available.  The likelihood that there are numerous copies of this 1950 paperback magazine is very slim.  It may be the case that other Brassai collectors own a copy but I doubt the number of copies privately held and unknown is statistically significant.  I feel safe to state that I own 1 of the 4 existing copies of this unique collection of published Brassai photographs.  That, to me, is a fine example of a rare publication! 


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