Sunday, 19 October 2008

Koopman Collection

I've just discovered the Koopman Collection in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Netherlands National Library). A digital record of the collection has been launched, allowing the long distance reader to see the books online. Amongst current debate about how best to display valuable manuscripts and printed material online (let alone whether one should do so at all) this site is an exemplary lesson in How To Do It.

There's a poignant story behind the collection. Louis Koopman and Anny Antoine met in The Hague in the 1930s; a shared interest in French literature brought them closer together, and before long they fell in love. Both were collectors of first editions and fine illustrated books. Tragically, Anny was killed in a street accident before their wedding. For the remainder of his long life Louis assembled an impressive collection of artists' books in her memory.

The collection holds artists' books from 1890 to the present day: seminal works by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay (including Prose du Transiberian), Picasso's illustrations to Les Chants des Morts and Matisse's Apollinaire, and contemporary masters of fine printing such as Francois da Ros and Michael Caine.

There are oddities - such as the manuscript of Le Bracelet by Colette, Meccano ou l'analyse matricielle du langage by Raymond Queneau, illustrated with relief prints of Meccano by Enrico Baj, and even a collection of erotic poems by the ingenius Raymond Radiguet - Jean Cocteau's lover, who died of a surfeit of oysters. The sensational (and anonymous) work Le Livre Blanc by Cocteau can also be found in the collection.

I'm particularly intigued by Valéry's Cahiers. This is one of the few works in the collection which is both written and illustrated by the same person. After a spiritual crisis, Valéry stopped writing poetry. Instead he began to keep a private journal, and over the course of fifty years, he filled 261 copybooks - approximately 30,000 pages. His first notebook was called Ship's Journal, a title which suggests the spiritual voyage on which he was about to embark.

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