Little was known about collector and publisher Jean Gondrexon (1905-1985) until recently. During his time in The Hague in the 1920s he published three bibliophile works by Jacques de Lacretelle, Pierre Girard and Valery Larbaud under the publisher's name 'Le bon plaisir'. He met Larbaud through publisher A.A.M. Stols, and their contact led to the most beautiful editionto come off his printing press: 200 chambres, 200 salles de bain. The story is reminiscent of the adventures of the best known character in Larbaud's novels, Barnabooth, and takes place in a hotel. Curiously, E. du Perron declared in a letter to Larbaud (dated 26 July 1932) that he had met one of Barnabooth's brothers in real life: his name was Gondrexon. Larbaud's story was written in the form of a letter, sent from Bussaco (near Coïmbra in Portugal), at some point early in the twentieth century: 'le …… 19..'. The author begins by apologizing for the letterhead. He has taken the Palace Hotel's stationery, from which he has torn off the name and address, but has forgotten to remove the advertising slogan beneath it. Hence the letter's opening with the line: '200 rooms, 200 bathrooms'.
Upper and lower cover of binding
Frontispieceby J.E. Laboureur
Page 21with etching by J.E. Laboureur
Autograph dedication by René Arcos to Jean Gondrexon and a second dedication to Louis Koopman. Manuscript by René Arcos, 'Ce qui nait' (77 G 1)
A permanent outsider
Larbaud characterizes hotel life as the life of a permanent outsider: a guest who sometimes lives in the middle of the city, but who will always be a stranger there. But he also compares it with the life of a patient in a sanatorium or a hospital, as a partially voluntary stay and a life of dependence. Hotel life takes up an intermediary position between an active existence and that of a patient. Larbaud has his narrator reminisce about events and visitors from all the countless hotels where he has stayed: the bowl full of the first strawberries of the season that was served at his table, but that was actually intended for the next table: that of the enigmatic countess 'la comtesse X'. She later invites him to tea several times, followed by a vague note about a proposed loan, which he declines. After this, they lose touch with each other and she apparently loses her line of credit with hotels and suppliers in the city. But things quiet down again, and bills are paid. The narrator suspects her of being an adventuress, and indeed: she is arrested one day, and turns out to have left a trail of substantial unpaid bills behind her.
Jean Gondrexon moved from Antwerp to The Hague permanently in 1927, and lived there at various addresses. The first of these, in 1927-1928, was Van Aerssenstraat 58, from which he sent his publications out into the world. Larbaud's book was printed by Joh. Enschedé and Sons in Haarlem. The text was set in an old typeface by Didot, and according to the colophon, the first edition was finished on 15 June 1927: 250 on Dutch Pannekoek paper, and 25 on Japanese paper, besides which several minor editions appeared with extra suites, and 25 copies also appeared on Pannekoek paper, printed for Alexandre d'Almeida, the owner of the Palace Hotel in Bussaco (Portugal).
The genesis of the book is complicated. Gondrexon was already living in The Hague by December 1925, where he asked Stols to mediate the purchase of a Scève edition for him. He hadn't begun yet in June 1926, although Larbaud did allow him to. In November 1926, the list of publications about which Gondrexon wanted to negotiate with Larbaud had grown to four: Le sécret du Belvédaire (by Emmanuel Lochac), Lettres à deux amis (enlarged edition), fragments from Larbaud's diary (without a title) and 200 chambres, 200 salles de bains. But Larbaud found Gondrexon's proposals overly complicated: he applied conditions to publications, and only wanted to print some things if he could also have access to other texts, besides which some of his proposals also conflicted with Stols' interests.
By late November, the matter had apparently been settled anyway. In April 1927, Gondrexon wrote 'de ravissantes choses' about the story to the author, and meanwhile he persuaded the famous Laboureur to create ten etchings for this edition. In June 1927, Larbaud was informed that the book's publication had been postponed for another month. At that point, he hadn't seen Laboureur's illustrations yet. The book didn't appear until September 1927. Gondrexon was slow to send out the copies: some bibliophiles didn't receive theirs until October. Larbaud later remarked that Gondrexon treated the illustrator poorly and that he only received his fee after the longest possible delay. The book got a good review in leading art magazine Arts et métiers graphiques of February 1928.
Dubious book lover
Although the Dutch publishing career of this French bibliophile and printer may have been brief, his career as a collector was long and capricious. His library was ultimately auctioned in 1996 at Christie's in London, and that wasn't the first time that his books were put on the market. In 1996, the collection consisted mostly of English books, but it was originally made up mainly of French literature, which he had long collected with great care. Copies were printed especially for him, or signed by the author with autograph dedications. He sold off a great number just before World War II, and some of those books were purchased by Louis Koopman in Paris, after which they were presented once again to the authors, who would - sometimes rather spitefully towards Gondrexon - add a new dedication below the original one. Charles Vildrac hoped that Koopman would give the book a good home. François Mauriac was not amused, adding an exclamation point to his original dedication behind Gondrexon as book lover. René Arcos - whose 119-page manuscript Gondrexon sold off - also alluded to this affectionate enthusiast who apparently chose to rid himself of his book. The reason why Gondrexon sold off part of his collection around 1937 remains unknown.
Books from his collection sometimes became available in The Hague. His friend Stols noted in his diary on 24 August 1947 that he had discovered a very rare copy of Le secret du Belvédère at antiquarian book store Minerva: 'This copy had been given to Gondrexon by Larbaud to have it reprinted. It contained typographical notes pencilled in by Gondrexon, which I erased. I have let G. Jean-Aubry know about my discovery for his Larbaud bibliography'. The erasure of Gondrexon's typographical notes was typical, signifying not only the cancelled plans for publication, but also Gondrexon's disappearance from the Dutch publishing world - he was forgotten until the auction of his heritage in 1996...
|Description:||200 chambres, 200 salles de bains / Valery Larbaud ; ill. de 10 grav. au burin par J.E. Laboureur. - La Haye : Gondrexon, Le bon plaisir, 1927. - 42 p. : ill. ; 22 cm|
|Printer:||Joh. Enschedé en Zonen (Haarlem)|
|This copy:||Number 52 of 250 on Dutch Pannekoek and number VII of 10 on Japanese paper (with two series of illustrations), printed for Librairie Dorbon-Aîné|
|Binder:||A.L. Jirout (no. VII)|
|Bibliography:||Bénézit 8-119 ; Carteret IV-231 ; Édouard-Joseph II-295 ; Mahé II-582|
|Shelf-mark:||Koopm C 1824 ; Koopm M 770|
- Arts et métiers graphiques, 3 (1928), p. 190
- Bibliothèque de Madame Louis Solvay, III: Éditions originales et autographes d'écrivains français contemporains. Bruxelles, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, 1966
- Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
- C. van Dijk, Alexandre A.M. Stols, 1900-1973, uitgever/typograaf: een documentatie. Zutphen, Walburg Pers, 1992
- Valery Larbaud, Lettres à Adrienne Monnier et à Sylvia Beach 1919-1933. [Paris], Imex, 1991
- Valery Larbaud, A.A.M. Stols, Correspondance 1925-1951, I:[Correspondance].Paris, Éditions des Cendres, 1986
- E. du Perron, Brieven, III: 1 april 1931-31 december 1932. Amsterdam, Van Oorschot, 1978