A "superior issue" (#298 of 300 issued on handmade paper) of the Aubrey Beardsley illustrated Morte Darthur as written by Thomas Malory, and printed by J.M. Dent in 1893 (to 1894).
From its wonderful typography, to its beautiful illustrations, this work has been stunning readers for over a century. Copies of the "superior issue" reside in the world's finest libraries, including the Morgan, Beinecke Rare Book Library, etc..
When the Swann gallery auctioned several of the original Beardsley embellishments, they wrote, "To please Dent and emulate his artistic heroes, Beardsley's first drawings were modeled after the Kelmscott artist, Edward Burke-Jones. This enraged (William) Morris, who accused Beardsley of plagiarism".
These volumes are richly garnished. Lorraine Janzen Kooistra writes, "240 chapter headings, 43 large and small borders, 25 initial letters, 20 full-page and double-page illustrations, 19 small ornaments, and 4 head pieces" (Beardsley's Reading of Malory's Morte Darthur).
Unfortunately, this copy is missing one plate, "Merlin & Nemue". There is no damage at the gutter, nor is there the ghosting common to all the other plates; it seems the binder simply never inserted it.
About the Work -
Morte Darthur is a 15th-century Middle English prose reworking by Sir Thomas Malory of tales about the legendary King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table—along with their respective folklore. In order to tell a "complete" story of Arthur from his conception to his death, Malory compiled, rearranged, interpreted and modified material from various French and English sources. Today, this is one of the best-known works of Arthurian literature. Many authors since the 19th-century revival of the legend have used Malory as their principal source. Written in prison, Le Morte d'Arthur was first published in 1485 at the end of the medieval English era by William Caxton.
This text was taken from that of the Caxton edition.
About the Illustrator -
Aubrey Vincent Beardsley (1872 –1898) was an English illustrator and author. His black ink drawings were influenced by Japanese woodcuts, and emphasized the grotesque, the decadent, and the erotic. He was a leading figure in the aesthetic movement which also included Oscar Wilde and James McNeill Whistler. Beardsley's contribution to the development of the Art Nouveau and poster styles was significant despite his early death from tuberculosis. He is one of the important Modern Style (British Art Nouveau style) figures.
These volumes have the stamp (verso of flyleaf, v2) of the bookbinding firm Bradstreet's of New York. In Henri Pene du Bois' Historical Essay on the Art of Bookbinding (1883), he writes: "Certainly, none can put a varied colored morocco coat on a book, and gild it with greater perfection in choice of ornament and splendor of gold, and with greater care, taste and success, than Bradstreet's" (p.35).
Full (Descriptive) Title -
THE BIRTH LIFE AND ACTS OF KING ARTHUR OF HIS NOBLE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE THEIR MARVELOUS ENQUESTS AND ADVENTURES THE ACHIEVING OF THE SAN GREAL AND IN THE END LE MORTE DARTHUR WITH THE DOLOROUS DEATH AND DEPARTING OUT OF THIS WORLD OF THEM ALL.
THE TEXT AS WRITTEN BY SIR THOMAS MALORY AND IMPRINTED BY WILLIAM CAXTON AT WESTMINSTER THE YEAR MCCCCLXXXV AND NOW SPELLED IN MODERN STYLE. WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY PROFESSOR RHYS AND EMBELLISHED WITH MANY ORIGINAL DESIGNS BY AUDREY BEARDSLEY. MDCCCXCIII
Bookplate of Myra Arthur, likely the wife of Chester Alan Arthur II, the son of the United States President Chester Arthur.
Limited Edition -
"This edition of Le Morte Darthur is limited to 300 Copies on Dutch Hand Made paper and 1500 ordinary copies, after printing which the type has been distributed. This is No. 298 of the superior issue."
Physical Attributes -
Each measures approx. 26 x 21 x 4.5 cm, 4to. Red morocco spine and corners, ruled in gilt, with marbled paper coving the hardcover boards. Spine with five raised bands; four compartment with a central gilt crown, and two compartments with the title and volume in gilt, year of printing in gilt at bottom of spine. Two-color endbands. Marbled endpapers. Pages: v1- (2 blank) xc, 290, (2 blank), v2 - (2 blank), 1/2 title, title, 291-664, (2 blank), v3 - (2 blank), 1/2 title, title, 665-990, colophon, (2). 19 full-page illustrations (Merlin and Nimue missing). Rubricated initials. Numerous in-line illustrations.
See pictures. A little wear to bindings. Rubbing at corners, edges, and front joint of v1. Spines just slightly sunned. Rub at the bottom of the rear board of v3.
Bookplate on pastedowns ("Myra Arthur"). Bookseller notes on verso of flyleaf. Some fox spots at the 1/2 title fore-edge margin v1. Some toning, a little darkening of the edges, and occasional fox spot throughout all three volumes. Illustrations have ghosted onto the facing leaf. No Merlin and Nemue plate in v1. Especially for volumes 2 and 3, where the tissue guards remained in place, the facing page and plate was toned heavily, and also some of the rubricated chapter headings; most of the illustrations in the last two volumes are affected such. In the margins there is a very occasional thumb and, more often, a few spots of rust likely caused by thumbing (fore-edge location, and some bottom edge). Despite notes, overall an attractive and beautifully illustrated "superior" set.
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