Back in August, I posted about a unique artists’ book from 1995. Today, I’d like to showcase an example from the other end of the twentieth century, an artists’ book created in 1908 by American painter Pinckney Marcius-Simons (1867–1909). In his altered copy of a French edition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream printed in 1886, watercolor and gouache (opaque watercolor) cover every page from edge-to-edge. Even the vellum binding is completely painted over.
Although born in New York, Marcius-Simons spent much of his life in Europe, particularly in Bayreuth, Germany, home of the Richard Wagner Festival. As a Symbolist artist, he was fascinated by Wagner’s notion of uniting music, literature, and the visual arts into a single experience. In a sense, that is what Marcius-Simons tried to do in this book, which contains bits of music notation as well as words and pictures, and is signed and dated “P. Marcius-Simons, Bayreuth, 1908.” The last page, a blank end leaf, shows a crowned figure (presumably Titania, Queen of the Fairies) with an inscription at the bottom that references Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Parsifal:
It reads as follows, “ceci est le lien qui unit cette oeuvre au Ring comme le temple du gral dans le tableau du Crepuscule unit le Ring avec [illegible] du Parsifal.” In other words, “this is the link that unites this work with The Ring, like the Hall of the Grail in the Twilight scene unites the Ring with [illegible] from Parsifal.” The ink is maddeningly the same shade as some of the strokes of watercolor. Can anyone make out the illegible bit?
Still visible underneath the paint in the body of the text, the words of Paul Meurice’s adaptation of a Midsummer Night’s Dream (as performed at the Théatre national de l’Odéon in 1886) interact with the paintings. At least, the words are mostly from Paul Meurice’s version. Marcius-Simons includes a visualization of “And there the snake throws her enamelled skin, Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in” even though that line of Oberon’s had been cut from the production:
Using tiny writing, the artist added Oberon’s line, in English, in the inner margin of the left-hand page, at the point where where it ought to have been if it had been included in the French translation:
One of the biggest surprises about this book might be that it is not a recent acquisition. Mr. and Mrs. Folger purchased it in 1924, a prescient piece of collecting given the importance artists’ books came to have by the end of the twentieth century.
[UPDATE 28 February 2014: The book has been digitized, cover to cover.]