Corps mémorable
Year:
1957
Author:
Paul Éluard
1895 to 1952
Artist:
Pablo Picasso
1881 to 1973
Publisher:
Seghers

Although several artists contributed to the book Corps memorable, it is not an artist's book published in a small edition, but a photo book, which is a popular object among collectors. There could be no intense collaboration between poet Paul Éluard and photographer Lucien Clergue, as Éluard had already passed away. This is however still a remarkable edition, not only because of the interplay between Éluard's poems and Clergue's nude photographs, but also because of Cocteau's opening poem, Picasso's cover design, and especially the fact that this was to be the first book of nude photography that was allowed to be sold publicly in Paris.

Dedication

The identity of the buxom lady in Clergue's twelve photographs is unknown. She is not named in any of the dedications that precede the actual text. The photographer dedicated the book to the memory of his mother ('A la mémoire de ma chère mère Jeanne Grangeon'). But Éluard's poems were not dedicated to the 'she' ('Elle') he commemorates in the poems. That term referred to Maria Benz, Éluard's great love, 'la parfaite' Nusch, who had died a year before the first edition of Corps mémorable (without Clergue's photographs) was published. He dedicated the book to Jacqueline, who supported him in his mourning and despair:

Ah! mille flammes, un feu, la lumière,
Une ombre!
Le soleil me suit,

Jacqueline me prolonge

Four aces

At a young age, Lucien Clergue developed friendships with people he would later refer to as his four aces: Picasso, Cocteau, Éluard and publisher Pierre Seghers. With them he shared his predilection for bull-fighting and nude studies. Clergue put down roots in the famous town of Arles in the south of France, where Van Gogh had lived and worked. As an autodidact, Clergue first started out with photography in 1949. Jean Cocteau saw Clergue's photographs and encouraged him to send them to Seghers. Seghers then requested the 23-year-old photographer to illustrate a new edition of Corps mémorable. This would be Seghers' first step on his way to the artist's book. Picasso's design on the front cover is an abstract version of Clergue's nude photo on the rear.

Slipped through the net

The text of Corps mémorable is set in red and black by Jean Paul Vibert. The introductory poem ('poème liminaire') was written by Cocteau and is titled 'A Clergue pour ses nus'. Seghers secretly hoped that the nude photographs – in which the breasts and pubic hair of a young woman are visible – would generate some publicity. But because no face was visible in the pictures, the publication escaped the whims of the censorship board. These kinds of pictures were usually sold off in secret, but this book was freely available and therefore attained cult status. It was reprinted several times.

Bibliographical description:

Description: Corps mémorable / [texte de] Paul Éluard ; couverture par Pablo Picasso ; avec un poème liminaire de Jean Cocteau ; et 12 photogr. par Lucien Clergue. – Paris : Seghers, 1957 – 37 p., [14] bl. pl. : ill. ; 28 cm
Printer: Jean Paul Vibert (Grosrouvre)
Bibliography: Bénézit 10-873 ; Saur Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon 19-529
Shelf-mark: Koopm L 514

References:

  • 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
  • Paul Éluard, Derniers poèmes d'amour. Paris, Seghers, 1962
  • Paul Éluard, Œuvres complètes. Paris, Gallimard, 1968
  • Fabien Simode, 'Régions, Portfolio, Lucien Clergue, né photographe?: Première rétrospective de l'Académicien en France', in: L'œil, 591 (2007), p. 80-85
  • Violaine Vanoyeke, Paul Éluard: Le poète de la liberté. Paris, Julliard, 1995

Front and back cover: photograph by Clergue, illustration by Picasso
Front and back cover: photograph by Clergue, illustration by Picasso

Front and back cover: photograph by Clergue, illustration by Picasso

Titel pages
Titel pages

Titel pages

Photograph by Clergue with a poem by Jean Cocteau
Photograph by Clergue with a poem by Jean Cocteau

Photograph by Clergue with a poem by Jean Cocteau

Photograph by Clergue with text by Paul Éluard
Photograph by Clergue with text by Paul Éluard

Photograph by Clergue with text by Paul Éluard