A livre d’artiste, or artist’s book, is a work of art in the form of a book, often created to illustrate a literary work. A publisher or dealer would typically commission an artist to illustrate, with a series of prints, an agreed upon work of literature. The limited edition book would be published with the accompanying loose prints, often contained in a case or linen box. During the 1900’s, Europe’s well known artists, such as, Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Chagall, collaborated with the most important printers and publishers in Paris to create lavishly printed limited editions books based on great works of literature reaching all the way back to the 2nd century AD. Ambroise Vollard, the Impressionist’s dealer and innovative publisher, was deeply committed to the production of artists’ books throughout his career from 1900 to his death in 1939. Esteemed publishers such as Teriade and Cercle D’Art also collaborated with prominent artists of the 20th century to produce artists’ books that left a legacy of beauty in printmaking.
It was often the intention of an artist’s book that the literary work was secondary to the artist’s illustrations, serving as an inspiration for a series of prints. The illustrations varied in print media and size, from full-page illustrations to chapter headings and elaborate tailpieces. They were created in lithography, woodcut, aquatint, etching and monotype. Sometimes an artist would use a combination of these to achieve a desired effect. Andre Suares, a well known publisher of the last century once said of Vollard’s artists’ books; “Books like these have never been done before and will never be done again.”