“There is for me something essential in your appearance and the particular tone of your voice which seems to me quite like a dew drop at the very tip of grass…Reading it brought me here, presently, in the light of things half revealed, half secret, dear to me, above all, in the passionate and contained language which I understand most fully…It is not exactly a book that I am looking at, it is a talisman.” -André Breton, 1939 letter to Alice Paalen
“A shapeshifter, in other words, fluid to the core. Alice was, by all accounts, a magical person and… she made herself an extraordinary artist in words and paint. She and her work embody the promise of surrealism.” -Mary Ann Caws, Alice Paalen Rahon: Shapeshifter
MARCEL DUCHAMP’S COPY, WARMLY INSCRIBED TO HIM BY ALICE PAALEN.
ALSO WITH ORIGINAL FRONTISPIECE ETCHING SIGNED BY JOAN MIRÓ.
BOUND BY LEGENDARY FRENCH BOOKBINDER MONIQUE MATHIEU.
Signed limited edition, number 23 of only 75 copies, signed by Paalen on the limitation page (in addition to the signed inscription).
On Alice Paalen:
In a poem dedicated to her lover Pablo Picasso, the poet and visual artist Alice Paalen wrote, “I’ve been living in a map on the wall. I think I am at the crossroads of the wind. I converse with it.” Bicultural, bisexual, and wildly independent, she was referred to as a shapeshifter who defied categorization. Born Alice Marie Yvonne Philppot in 1904 in eastern France, she moved to Paris with her family in 1920 and delighted in the bohemian scene. By 1934 she had married Austrian artist Wolfgang Paalen and been introduced to Paul Éluard, André Breton, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso. In 1935 Alice had a brief love affair with Picasso, which ended when her husband threatened to kill himself. In 1936 André Breton officially invited Alice and Wolfgang to join the surrealist group, the same year that Alice became the first woman to have work published by Breton’s renowned Editions Surréalistes. Alice had a far-ranging imagination and fully embraced the surrealist movement, modeling for Man Ray (in some of the hats that she created with Elsa Schiaparelli) and working closely with André Breton, Paul Éluard, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and Roland and Valentine Penrose (who later became her lover). When Breton opened the doors to his Galerie Gradiva in 1937 he included Alice in the dedication of his gallery and continued to be her champion throughout her career.
Alice Paalen’s second collection of poetry, Sablier Couché (The Reclining Hourglass), is considered one of her most important literary works. The “reclining” hourglass was meant to represent the female body shape as both a vessel and a timepiece. This signed limited edition is a collection of six poems and includes an original red etching frontispiece by Joan Miró on cut and mounted yellow paper, signed and numbered by the artist. Miró, a close friend of Alice and Wolfgang Paalen, created this illustration specifically for Sablier Couché.
Sablier Couché was published in 1938 by Editions Sagesse and the poems in this collection are known for their dreamlike quality and Alice’s use of nature, animals, and mythology. It’s likely an autobiographical piece with Paalen as the narrator who suffers from abandonment, distress and mistreatment by her male and female lovers. In fact, it is believed that she revealed her bisexual tendencies in print for the first time in this collection.
Paalen’s inscription to Duchamp:
Inscribed by Paalen on the front free endpaper: à Marcel Duchamp avec l’admiration et la profonde sympathie d’ Alice Paalen” [“To Marcel Duchamp with admiration and deep companionship from Alice Paalen”]. She also inscribed an excerpt from one of her poems by hand at the bottom of the same page: Coupe les pieds du cheval pour qu'il se ressemble. Coupe les ponts pour mieux sauter.” [Cut off the horse's feet so that it stays in one place. Cut out the bridges, to better leap ahead.”]. In the year of publication (1938), Duchamp and Wolfgang Paalen worked with Breton and Éluard to arrange the central room of the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris, thus strengthening the friendship between Duchamp and the Paalens.
The binder, Monique Mathieu:
Bound by arguably the foremost binder of her generation, Monique Mathieu, with her initials and the date (1966) stamped in gilt. Mathieu (born in 1927), specialized in binding books by contemporary poets and illustrated by prominent artists. This copy of Sablier Couché is spectacularly bound in smooth slate calf with brown patterned leather in relief on front and rear boards, with suede pastedowns and decorative endpapers. Housed in suede-lined chemise and slipcase. With original wrappers bound-in. See: Catalogue des reliures de Monique Mathieu, 131.
WITH: Laid-in folded folio sheet printing of Paalen’s poems titled “Casse-Nuit” (the name Paalen originally considered for the collection).
Provenance: From the collection of Paul Destribats (1926-2017), legendary collector of books on the avant-garde.
Paris: Éditions Sagesse, 1938. Octavo, approx. 8.5 x 6.5 in (213 x 166 mm). Deluxe binding by Monique Mathieu (described above), original wrappers bound in. A FINE COPY.
A MAGNIFICENT VOLUME UNITING PAALEN, MIRÓ, DUCHAMP, AND MATHIEU – FOUR MAJOR FIGURES OF THE EUROPEAN ART WORLD.
Tere Arcq. “Following the Trail of the Marvelous: Alice Rahon.” Catalog of the Exhibition Alice Rahon. Una surrealista en Mexico, Museo de Arte Moderno de México, 2009.
Mary Ann Caws. “Alice Paalen Rahon: Shapeshifter.” The New York Review of Books, Sep 14, 2021.
Georgiana M. M. Colvüe. Through An Hour-giass Lightly: Valentine Penrose and Alice Rahon Paalen. University of Nottingham. January 7, 2013.
Nancy Deffebach. Alice Rahon/Poems of Light and Shadow, Painting in Free Verse. Bombshelter Press, 1991.
Georgina Fooks. “Now You Fly and Sing: Alice Paalen Rahon’s Shapeshiter in Review.” Asymptote. October 14, 2021.
Price: $30,000 .