From the Vault: Enamel Book Art

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 5:26pm -- mfarias

This week at the Redwood, we became detectives again, searching for information on a book in our collection that recently caught our eyes. Our copy of L’Email des Peintres (1866) by Claudius Popelin (1825-1892) was stored in its own personal box, hiding its magnificent binding from immediate view. Today, we decided to open it up and begin to try and piece together its origins.


Popelin, born Claudius Marcel Popelin on November 2, 1825 in Paris, was a French painter, enameller, and poet. He was a pupil of François-Édouard Picot (1786-1868), a French neo-classical painter, and Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), one of the masters of French romantic painting. Written in French, L’Email des Peintres contains a history of enamel painting and a range of techniques, skills, and tools from his expert perspective.



Published in 1866 by A. Lévy, the book in our collection was printed on vellum. Vellum is produced from animal skin, rather than the mix of rag or wood pulp that is used to create paper, and our copy is in incredibly good condition. There is no limitation statement, a traditional means of identifying how many copies of a work were printed, especially how many special or unique copies, so there is no way for us to currently know how many of Popelin’s book were printed on vellum.



On the inside of the front cover, just below the gold endpaper, is a signature hidden in the border. It reads “Joly R.D.” After some investigation, we discovered a French bookbinding house operating under the name Joly. Antoine Joly (1838-1917) apprenticed in his province and moved to Paris to work with Léon Gruel. In 1874, he began a partnership with Thibaron and succeeded him 11 years later. In 1892 he turned his business over to his son Robert (1870?-1924) who continued with his work (Source: Pirages). According to the design on the front of L’Email des Peintres, the book was bound in 1887, which would have been during the period when Antoine Joly assumed control over his shared business, but it is not clear how many apprentices or employees he may have had working for him at the time who may have actually bound this work. It is not signed with a first name, only the last and the initials following it.



The book also contains two bookplates. The more recent plate displays the name Roderick Terry, likely Rev. Dr. Roderick Terry, Sr. (1849-1933) who served as President of the Board of Directors of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum from 1916-1933 and was instrumental in the restoration of the Harrison Room. The book was likely then passed down to his son, Roderick Terry Jr. (1876-1951) who served as President of the Redwood Library from 1940-1948. The book was gifted to the Library from the estate of Roderick Terry, Jr. in 1951.



The older bookplate belongs to Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904), an American connoisseur and art dealer born in New York City. He began working as an art dealer in 1865 and by 1867 he was appointed commissioner in charge of the American art department of the Exposition Universelle in Paris, a year after the publication of this work. He was a founder and a long-time trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and founded the Avery Architectural Library at Columbia University. Avery’s identity provided the best source of information on the book because it lead us to a sale catalogue of his private collection of books from after his death.



Entry 759 is illustrated and features dark brown morocco over heavy bevelled boards and a morocco case. The title of the book is said to be decorated in blue and red enamel in the banderole of silver gilt at the top with a sunken panel featuring a border and a plaque of Limoges enamel, all bound by Joly, all of which matches our copy and corresponds with the signature on the inside of the cover. The listing also confirms that our copy is printed on vellum and provides the new information that the enamel panel is the work of F. Thesmar, also known as André Fernand Thesmar (1843-1912), a French enameler who succeeded Popelin. His signature is found in the symbol directly below the enamel and can also be found on his other artwork. The most telling line in the entry is that the enamel was made expressly for Mr. Avery, explaining how this elaborate, decorative binding came to be.



There are still plenty of questions surrounding this work: How many were printed on vellum? Was it originally bound in a simpler binding? How are other copies of the work bound? Who exactly did the work at Joly? Hopefully, we will be able to answer some of these new questions, but this book will likely hold onto a few of its mysteries for a little while longer.