“A NEW AVENUE OF EXPRESSION OPENING UP”
SHAHN, Ben. The Dreyfus Affair. The Ben Shahn Prints. Cincinnati: Crossroads, 1984. Large folio portfolio (13 by 17 inches), book in original gray paper boards, eight color pochoir lithographs in descriptive paper sleeves, loose as issued, clamshell box. $2600.
Limited first edition, number XXII of only 60 copies withheld from sale (450 total), a magnificent portfolio production with the first collected publication of Shahn’s 1930s Dreyfus prints—eight exhibition-size color lithographic prints en pochoir—printed on Grandes Arches handmade vergé paper, loose as issued in descriptive sleeves, with a book of essays, in the original box.
In the 1930s Ben Shahn and his friend Walker Evans made plans for an exhibit, and Shahn was drawn to the subject of the Dreyfus affair, the scandalous turn-of-the-century French trial of a Jewish officer that prompted Zola's legendary J'Accuse! (1898). Shahn later recalled: "I set to work and presented the leading malefactors of the case, the defenders and of course Dreyfus himself. Under each portrait I lettered in my best lithographic script a long or short legend setting forth the role which the original of the portrait had played in the celebrated affair. What had been undertaken lightly became very significant in my eyes. Within the Dreyfus pictures I could see a new avenue of expression opening up" (Shape of Content, 36-7). In these vivid color images, Shahn "presented his understanding of the personalities of these men through a series of details—their pose, facial features, clothing, and the style and length of the script he used." This approach marked a turning point in his work, compelling Shahn to "integrate these broad, loose areas of color, the result of encounters with modernist art in Europe, with the sharp, distinctive line he had developed during those early years in the lithography shop" (Pohl, Ben Shahn, 38). This rare limited edition, the first collected publication of Shahn's 1930s prints, contains eight exhibition-size color lithographic prints en pochoir, housed in a large clamshell case, each print loose as issued within a descriptive paper sleeve, accompanied by a book containing the never before published reproduction of Shahn's "Portrait of Émile Zola" (1938), along with a printing of Zola's J'Accuse! and essays by Shahn's wife Brenarda Bryson Shahn, historian Egal Feldman and Charles Westheimer. Lithographic prints titled: Captain Alfred Dreyfus, Georges Picquart, Paleologue and Demange, Labori and Picquart, Marie-Chjarles-Ferdinand Walsin-Esterhazy, Major Armand-Auguste-Ferdinand-Marie Mercier du Paty de Clam, Fernand Labor, and The Experts.
Plates and book fine; box with expert restoration.