One of thirty printed on Japon Ancien, bound by Madeleine Gras
35. Bonnard, Pierre (1867-1947) - Mirbeau, Octave (1848-1917)
Dingo. Ambroise Vollard, 1924.
4° (371x274 mm). 193,  pages. Fifty-five original etchings, some with drypoint: fourteen hors-texte plates, forty inthe text, one at the end; etched initials, headpieces and vignettes, all by Bonnard. Black and red morocco binding with white and red accents by Madeleine Gras (1891-1958), title lettered in gold in 'dymo' style on spine. Black suede endleaves and flyleaves. Gilt edges. The original wrappers preserved inside. Copy no. 23 of a total 350 copies, one of thirty printed on Japon Ancien. With a separate sheet showing the Indication pour le placement des eaux-fortes hors-texte, and a double suite of the fourteen plates sur papier d'Arches. A beautiful, pristine copy.
A fine copy of the famous French dealer-printer Ambroise Vollard's deluxe printing of one of Octave Mirbeau's final texts, illustrated throughout by the celebrated French painter and printmaker Pierre Bonnard. No. 23 of 350 copies printed – and one of only thirty copies printed on Japon Ancien – it is one of the best examples of early twentieth-century livres d'artiste, counting among Bonnard's masterpieces, and further enriched with a design binding by Madeleine Gras, pupil of the great binder Noulhac.
Dingo is an autobiographical tale of the author's adventures with his semi-feral Austrialian dog – the titular Dingo – in a lowly French country village reminiscent of the town in which Mirbeau grew up. It was published by Eugène Fasquelle in May 1913 although some months earlier, on 23 January, Vollard had written to Mirbeau stating that Imprimerie Nationale had agreed to print it for Éditions Vollard and on 29 December 1916 the dealer paid Bonnard 9,200 francs for illustrations for Dingo as well as another project he was illustrating. In failing health, Mirbeau turned to his long-time friend Léon Werth to help complete the work and passed away less than a month after Vollard's letter, on 16 February 1917. It is still a matter of debate as to why the printing of the text then shifted from Imprimerie Nationale to Émile Féquet, but by 26 November of that same year Vollard wrote to Mirbeau's widow announcing that the printing of Dingo was to commence that same day.
Regarded as the champion among champions of young avant-garde artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Vollard was endowed with a great eye and an incredibly energetic creative spirit, constantly moving from one novel project to the next. It was likely in 1893 that Vollard met a young Bonnard, now known for his intimate Post-Impressionist style and painterly approach to printmaking, and the former acted as the latter's 'impresario' for over twenty-five years thereafter.
Already an established dealer, in 1895, Vollard entered the world of print publishing and set out to issue annual collections of fine prints commissioned from an array of contemporary artists. This included Bonnard, who was increasingly involved with these efforts; indeed, in 1897, Vollard published his second collection, Album d'estampes originales de la Galerie Vollard, for which Bonnard designed the wrapper, inside covers, and contents page, and also contributed a lithograph to the collection itself. Although Vollard's early efforts in this domain were both critically and commercially unsuccessful, it was to Bonnard that he turned when he decided to begin printing his livres de luxe, Dingo being the second of five such works that Bonnard worked on with the great printer-dealer.
Bonnard, for his part, seems to have begun working on illustrations for Mirbeau's text shortly after it was published, and his 'croquis d'après le Dingo de M. Octave Mirbeau' was published in the June 1913 issue of Les Cahiers d'aujourd'hui. His illustrations mark Bonnard's first use of line etching and drypoint, and his excitement at the new technique – which to Vollard's dismay rendered his a more lengthy task than had been anticipated – can be felt in the animated strokes that enliven his illustrations; they capture at once the nobility, savagery, and freedom of the animal spirit and the powerfully dynamic nature of one's relation to space.
Vollard also had a lengthy relationship with Mirbeau himself. The French journalist, art critic, travel writer, pamphleteer, novelist, and playwright – who travelled breezily around popular and avant-garde domains alike – wrote a catalogue preface for a Manzana-Pissarro exhibition at Vollard's gallery in April 1907 and purchased a number of works from him around 1904; by 1907 the author had still not paid what he had owed, and it has been suggested by former Metropolitan Museum curator of Modern art Rebecca A. Rabinow that, 'given the nature of their relationship, it is possible that Mirbeau offered Vollard the opportunity to publish his latest work to defray his debt' (Rabinow, Cézanne to Picasso, 333).
N. Rauch, Les Peintres et le livre, 1867-1957, Genève 1957, 26; U. Johnson, Ambroise Vollard, Editeur, New York 1977, no. 169; F. Bouvet, Bonnard the Complete Graphic Work, London 1981, no. 90; C. Ives - H. E. Giambruni - S. M. Newman, Pierre Bonnard: The Graphic Art, New York 1989, no. 103; R. Jentsch, Ambroise Vollard, Éditeur, Stuttgart 1994, no. 17; R. A. Rabinow - D. W. Druick - M. A. di Panzillo, Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-garde, New York 2006, no. 20; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 281.