BURLINGTON FINE ARTS CLUB -- Exhibition of Bookbindings. [Catalogue by E. Gordon Duff and Sarah T. Prideaux.] London: printed by Metchim & Son (plates by W. Griggs & Son) for the Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1891.
Large 4o (382 x 310 mm). 152 reproductions on 113 plates, mostly in color.
ART NOUVEAU MOSAIC BINDING OF STUNNING BEAUTY, DESIGNED BY HENRY VAN DE VELDE AND EXECUTED C. 1897-98 BY PAUL CLAESSENS FOR HIMSELF: crimson morocco, over thick pasteboard, the covers inlaid with night-blue, bottle-green, scarlet, citron and light-brown morocco to a bold, sinuous flowing design, all shapes outlined in blind, broad flat spine similarly decorated, doublures and endleaves of dark-citron morocco decorated with borders of curved fillets in blind and scarlet, blue and green inlays, signed by designer and binder on turn-ins, leaf-edges gilt. IN REMARKABLY FRESH CONDITION, THE COLORS BRIGHT AND PERFECTLY PRESERVED. Provenance: Paul Claessens (1861-1909), who also executed other fine bindings for his own reference library on the history of bookbinding (sold by his heirs in Brussels, 19th November 1966, lot 784) -- Maurice Naessens (Belgian collector, d. 1982), anonymous single-lot Drouot sale, Paris 28th January 1983 (expert Christian Galantaris [catalogued by Paul Culot]).
The lavishly illustrated catalogue of the first really comprehensive loan exhibition of historical bookbindings, which showed almost nine hundred decorated bindings lent by the foremost British collectors and several institutional libraries. It remains useful as a record of provenance and for its numerous reproductions. B.H. Breslauer, The Uses of Bookbinding Literature, pp. 25 and 31.
Because of the abstraction of Henry van de Velde's design, its three-dimensional quality and the total absence of gold tooling, this may be called THE FIRST TRULY MODERN ARTISTIC BINDING and it is certainly one of the very finest. Paul Claessens' execution is exceptionally accomplished. He realised about twelve bindings from Van de Velde's designs, four of them on works concerning bookbindings for his own collection. All date from the 1890's, but only two others are reliures mosaïquées. It is remarkable that all were immediately reproduced in contemporary art magazines or exhibition catalogues (The Studio, "Art Nouveau Belgique", "Libre esthétique", Pan, L'Art appliqué, L'Art décoratif), but very few can presently be localised: three in private collections, two in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe at Hamburg. Van de Velde's early maquettes for bindings and designs for tools, including some that were no doubt never executed, are now preserved in the Bibliotheca Wittockiana, Brussels.
The great Belgian artist Henry van de Velde (Antwerp 1863-1957 Zurich) was one of the founders of the Art Nouveau movement and its greatest protagonist, whose influence on painting, architecture and all branches of decorative arts, including book design, can hardly be overestimated, especially in the Low Countries, Germany and France. He designed edition bindings for Belgian and German publishers, and later during his Weimar period a few modest but interesting creations for his binding class at the Decorative Arts School there, but THIS CLAESSENS BINDING IS UNQUESTIONABLY VAN DE VELDE'S MASTERPIECE. P. Culot, "Ornements pour reliures de luxe", in: Henry van de Velde dans les collections de la Bibliothèque royale Albert Ier (Brussels 1993). BBB Wittockiana 46; BBB Harvard 44. Also reproduced in: L'Art appliqué 1898, pl. 13; L'Art décoratif I (1898) p. 44; Europa 1900 (Ostende, Musée des Beaux Arts 1967) no. 21; Art Nouveau Belgique (Brussels, Palais des Beaux Arts, 1981), p. 209.