Watelet 1760, French book design in small 8vo


Watelet, L’art de peindre, 1760.

French book design combining letterpress and intaglio on a diminutive scale.

Please do get in touch if you would like to purchase this or would like more information:  roger@rogergaskell.com.


WATELET, Claude-Henri (1718–1816)


L’art de peindre. Poëme. Avec des réflexions sur les différentes parties de la peinture.

Paris: de H. L. Guerin & L. F. Delatour, rue Saint jacques, à Saint Thomas d’Aquin, 1760.

8vo: a8 b4 A–I8 K4  (E1 signed E* and H2 signed Hij* are presumably cancels, 88 leaves, pp. xxiv 152. Etched device on title signed ‘pierre in C H Watelet sc 1860’, 5 vignettes and 8 portrait medallions similarly signed, 10 culs-de-lampe, three signed ‘margueritte le comte sc 1760’.

Engraved title and 2 outline plates at p. 72, all signed by Watelet after Pierre.   

Condition: 147 x 90mm. Marginal stains on a few leaves. 

Binding: Contemporary red morocco, roll-tooled borders to sides, flat gilt spine with black lettering piece, marbled endleaves, gilt page edges. Joints rubbed. 

There was a (very) large paper issue, 29 x 23 cm, papier fort. References. Cohen-de-Ricci col. 1051.

Watelet’s didactic poem on art, dealing with design, colour and invention, won him election to the Académie française. A talented etcher, Watelet’s decorative vignettes and culs-de-lampe were praised by Diderot who said that they should be cut out and framed and the rest of the book burned, although Watelet had been charged with writing the entry on engraving for the Encyclopédie (in vol. 7, 1757). Watelet’s etchings are after designs by Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (1714–1789) and three of the culs-de-lampe were etched by Marguerite Lecomte (1717–1800) who shared a ménage à trois with Watelet and her husband Jacques Lecomte for 40 years.

A model of French book design on a small scale with a vignette (headpiece) to start each section of the poem and a cul-de-lampe (tailpiece) at the end. There was also a large paper de-luxe issue but this does no favours to the layout, given the small type-size used for the poem, equivalent to roughly 9 on 91/2pt, and the already generous margins. 

Antony Griffiths uses this book as an example of the combination of intaglio and letterpress, noting that the platemarks overlap the text which was printed first (The Print Before Photography, 2016, p. 182).

A calligraphic manuscript version was made for Mme de Pompadour in 1755. The book is very common and must have been in just about every other fashionable house at the time. Watelet was a wealthy Fermier General and perhaps financed the publication himself. This is a pretty copy in what is probably a bookseller’s rather than a bespoke binding.

Cohen-de-Ricci 1051.