Friday, February 18, 2011

Onionskin paper, collecting art books, Fra Angelico and Hieronymus Bosch to start

At least two books in my private library feature extensive use of onionskin paper for reproducing fine art.  These two books are precious for their content and subject matter.  Onionskin paper is very delicate and I am happy to report that both books are in perfect, like new, condition.  I am not expert on the current use of onionskin paper in the manufacturing of contemporary, general audience, art book publishing, but I know that this paper choice is very expensive.  My research so far suggests that it is a rare publisher that will take on the expense, especially for a general audience publication. 

I doubt any other paper option would result in the wonderful coloration and texture to be found when viewing art within a book printed on onionskin paper.  Texture is critically important when trying to experience reproductions of fine art, whether ancient, renaissance, realist, impressionist, or modern.  Next time someone tries to suggest that displaying art on their 50 inch high definition display is  wonderful, just show them a book of fine art published on onionskin paper and note the obvious difference in quality and experience.  They will be ashamed that their aesthetic sense is so lacking.

My two examples of the use of onionskin paper in a general audience, trade, art book publication were published in the late 1980's by Guillaud Editions, Paris/New York and Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., Publishers, New York.


Fra Angelico:  The Light of the Soul, by Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud, Guillaud/Potter, 1986, was the first title in a planned series of similar art books authored by the Guillaud's and published by the Guillaud/Potter partnership.  This edition was the first book to offer photographic reproductions of the legendary Fran Angelico frescoes from the Convent of San Marco in Florence after they were restored.  A first book in a new series is likely collectible.  A first book with photographs of the restored frescoes pubslished so beautifully is also, likely, collectible.

A Monk's Cell with Angelico Fresco, Convent of San Marco

Fra Angelico is a major figure of the Italian Renaissance.  A Dominican Friar, he most likely began his artistic pursuits as a manuscript illuminator working in Fiesole, outside of Florence, Italy.  Between 1436 and 1445, he and his assistants painted around 50 frescoes at the Convent of San Marco, Florence.  Now a museum, it is a must see during any visit to Florence.  Anne and I visited Florence in 1996 and I still clearly recall the power and beauty of the Fra Angelco frescoes adorning the monk's cells and the display of his manuscript illumination.

A Manuscript page illuminated by Fra Angelico

Being able to experience the beauty of Fran Angelico's work is a joy and I can't imagine any other publication offering reproductions that would be as extraordinary as the reproductions on onionskin paper in the Guillaud edition

The second example I own is from the same Guillaud/Potter series, Hieronymus Bosch:  The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud, Guillaud/Potter, 1989, with Isabel Matteo
GómezHieronymus Bosch, died 1516, is one of my favorite artists.  He focused on painting scenes of sin and human moral failing and really, not much is known of his life.  What's not to love for that focus?  Today about 25 works remain officially verified as being by Bosch, all are unbelievable masterpieces of early Dutch surrealism.  The Gulliaud/Potter edition is a work that is brilliant.  The reproductions on the onionskin paper are breathtaking and since on my only visit to the Prado Museum in Madrid, the Garden of Earthly Delights was out for restoration, I am left to wonder at this Bosch masterpiece via this book!
The Guillaud/Potter series includes Rembrandt:  The Human Form and Spirit 1986, Matisse:  Rhythm and Line, 1987, Goya:  The Phantasmal Vision, 1987, Giotto:  Architect of Color, 1988, Piero della Francesca:  Poet of Form, 1989, Degas:  Pastels, 1989, Frescoes in the time of Pompeii, 1990, and Van Gogh: Vertigo of Light, 1991.  I so enjoyed writing this post and revisiting the two books I own, I will probably find space on my shelves to add the remaining books from this series.
Collecting art monographs (general audience, trade) is not to be pursued without careful consideration.  These books have large first printings and they are priced to attract the impulse art book buyer.  Art monographs are often well cared for and seem abundant in the used book marketplace.  They do not always hold their value and over time become simply another art monograph easily acquired in the special sales bin of your local rare and used book dealer.  I've never seen a book from the Guillaud/Potter Series with onionskin paper discounted for immediate sale and while upon publication, the books were expensive, they have held their value!

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