Michel Laurent Simon Béret, a Parisian graphic artist who has now been almost forgotten, must have had a great passion for the illustration of books. Not only did he illustrate nearly ten of them, he also published a number of them himself, although he was not a professional publisher/printer. Such labours of love therefore usually depended on sponsors for their financing: Béret's works were regularly printed 'aux dépens d'un groupe d'amateurs'. One of the better-known bibliophile books to which Béret contributed was Mistriss Henley by the eighteenth-century Dutch author Belle van Zuylen. This work was published in 1952 by the foundation De Roos in Utrecht. Other special editions for which Béret supplied the illustrations are for instance Le monde comme il va (1944) by Voltaire, and Venise masques et façades (1953) by André Fraigneau. The latter book was published by the artist himself. The printing costs of Le monde comme il va were paid for by the bibliophile society 'Cent femmes amies des livres', just like Contes de Voltaire (1965).
A future as a book illustrator
In the early 1950s, Béret's artistic career seemed to be looking up. He had three exhibitions in Paris between 1945 and 1953, and The French Culture Centre in New York also showed his work. Books he had illustrated were part of the collections of both the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. Béret came to the Netherlands in the autumn of 1951, where the Amsterdam art dealer Santée Landweer N.V. organised an exhibition of his illustrated books and graphic artwork. The reviews of these exhibitions were generally favourable; Béret's work was characterised as gracious, precious, airy, refined, imaginative and humorous. J.M Prange, who was a graphic artist himself, as well as being an art critic for newspaper Het parool, found that Béret's playful and confident working methods and his illustrative, 'generally acceptable'style 'guarantee him a future as a book illustrator'. Unfortunately, he was wrong. In 1953 The Paris review published a modest portfolio of the artist, and in 1958 Les fastes de la Seine by Charles-Joseph prince de Ligne appeared- printed independently. An announcement in le Figaro in 1965 about the edition of Contes de Voltaire was the last sign of life from this artist. Things grew quiet directly afterwards.
12 sonnets de Ronsard (1950) was a private initiative of Michel Béret's. He selected twelve sonnets by the famous French romantic poet from the sixteenth century, supplying each poem with a copper engraving. 'Embellishment' seems like an appropriate term to describe Béret's style. The front cover illustrates this, as the title and other information on the book have been framed by a baroque drawing of a portico. He drew flowers, plants, and shells alongside Ronsard's poetry. His drawings also feature female figures in part cubist, part baroque style, and surrealistic landscapes. He often produced images of plants and flowers that change into female figures. The etchings are small: about two inches wide and twice as tall, and they are placed beneath the poems. For the text, printed in small capitals, the Garamont font was used. The numbers of the poems are printed in red.
The graceful style of the illustrations has been carried through on the cassette, which is printed in lithograph with an image of jewels and palm leaves. A total number of 130 copies was printed by Dominique Viglino. The copy in the Koopman Collection, signed by the illustrator, is number 99. This work has caught the attention of book lovers, witness the note printed in very thin pencil letters by an antiquarian book dealer in the rear of the book; 'très recherché'. Béret hardly left any trace in art history, which makes him - paradoxically - so interesting to true book collectors.
|Description:||12 sonnets de Ronsard / ornés de burins sur cuivre par Michel Béret. - Paris : Chez l'artiste, 1950. -  bl. : ill. ; 29 cm|
|This copy:||Number 99 of 130 on chiffon pur fil Lana|
|Note:||Signed by the artist|
|Shelfnumber:||Koopm A 366|
- 'Michel Beret', in: The Paris review, (1953) 4, p. 110-113
- J.M. Prange, 'Exposities in Amsterdam: knappe kopergravures en Japanse houtsneden', in: Het parool, 7 december 1951
- DocumentationRijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie (The Hague)