‘O’ RARE & MUCH SOUGHT-AFTER

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Histoire d’O by Pauline Réage with a foreword by Jean Paulhan, was initially published in an edition of 600 copies by Jean-Jacques Pauvert and appeared in Paris in June 1954. Some copies – nobody seems to know how many – carried a small engraving by German artist Hans Bellmer on the title page. Happy is the man who can afford to add the Bellmer-embellished edition to his library. One re-bound copy made available by the Christie’s auction house (in November 2014) fell to the hammer at UK£2,125.00 (US$3,326)

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This is what Christie’s had to say about the first edition of Story of O:

FIRST EDITION OF THE MOST
INFLUENTIAL EROTIC TEXT OF THE 20TH CENTURY. One of only 600 copies, this one with the fine Bellmer etching found in less than half of the edition. Desclos began Histoire d’O as a private lover letter to Jean Paulhan, a towering literary figure, in part to
keep the attention of her lover, in part responding to his quip that women were incapable of writing erotica. Proven wrong, Paulhan urged her to publish, and took the manuscript to Pauvert who, after an overnight reading, exclaimed ‘it’s marvelous, it’ll spark a revolution’. Histoire d’O became an unqualified commercial success. The identity of its author caused intense speculation, many doubting that it could be the work of a woman, let alone the demure h-1200-reage_pauline_histoire-do_1954_edition-originale_tirage-de-tete_5_48276-3and bookish Desclos, who denied authorship for four decades. In February 1955 Histoire d’O won the literature prize ‘Prix des Deux Magots’, which did not stop French authorities from bringing obscenity charges against the publisher. These were dropped, but a publicity ban was imposed for a number of years. Number 471 of 480 on vergé paper. Cf. Pia Enfer, 634.

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Currently a Swiss bookdealer has a copy for sale featuring the Bellmer vignette (and signed in a dedication by Jean Paulhan) priced at US$ 6,735.28 (plus shipping), and maintains the etching “would have adorned only 200 [copies] of the 480 announced”. Another bookdealer, this time in France, proffers, “the engraving of Hans Bellmer, theoretically reserved to the 20 first copies on Arches paper.”

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Hans Bellmer (13 March 1902 – 24 February 1975) was a German artist, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. He was born in the city of Kattowitz, then part of the German Empire (now Katowice, Poland). After WW2, Bellmer lived the rest of his life in Paris. He gave up doll-making and spent the following decades creating erotic drawings, etchings, sexually explicit photographs, and paintings. The Ubu Gallery in New York rightly maintained;

Although most acclaimed for the life-sized
adolescent female dolls he produced and 1photographed, Bellmer was a master draftsman formally trained in engineering, design and perspective. His drawings evince exceptional quality of line and he is a worthy successor to the northern European classicists, such as Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald, whose “Isenheim Altarpiece” exerted such a profound impact on his creative psyche. He applied the precision of the Old Masters to his own distinctive figurative style of drawing marked by eros, duality, metamorphosis and abstraction. Bellmer succeeded in rendering a sexually-laden atmosphere that realized a personal language of desire which, in his own words, “made it possible to recreate physically the dizzying heights of passion and to do so to the extent of creating new desires.”

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Bellmer lent his artistry to illustrate other works of literature. It was ‘O’ publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert who commissioned frontispieces for Histoire d’O and for Louis Aragon’s Le Con d’Irènehaving given Bellmer a little exhibition in Paris in 1952. Throughout this final period of his career Bellmer concentrated on engraving, leaving little time for painting. Amongst other works, he illustrated L’Anglais décrit dans le château fermé by André Pieyre de Mandiargues, Madame Edwarda by Georges Bataille, and texts by de Sade. Bellmer explained;

“To transfer my drawings on to copper and to print them on to a heavy Rives paper is the unique means of making good the enchantment, if I may so describe it, of my pencil lines.”

De Mandiargues wrote in his study of Bellmer’s engraved work:

That the engraving, rather than the canvas or the sheet of paper under the brush, pen or crayon should be the ideal support for this grave eroticism from which is banished all facility, all slightness, all frivolity, is not at all astonishing. A biting and burning comprehension of the flesh could not be better served than by the stopped plate, the acid and the small, cruel tools used by the engraver. (Bellmer, OEuvre Gravé pub. 1976)

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