Catalogue Review: Librairie Metamorphoses

The second catalogue to appear from Librairie Métamorphoses is a tour de force. No surprise, considering that the Parisian firm was founded by Michel Scognamillo, former librarian and confidante to French collector Pierre Bergé, the lifelong business and romantic partner of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Before we talk about the contents, let’s look at the front matter. Smartly sheathed in a matte black binding and illustrated with a black-on-red silkscreen self portrait of Marcel Duchamp (#21 in the catalogue; price available on request), this volume is dedicated to Cédric Herrou, the 39-year-old olive farmer who ferried dozens of asylm seekers through France via what has been dubbed the French Underground Railroad. It is a fitting tribute, considering the contents of the catalogue are dedicated to the ideals of equality and freedom of expression.

 

So, what’s inside? Where to start? With the selection of material dedicated to poet Guillaume Apollinaire? Or the handwritten sheet music by George Bizet (€15,000)? Correspondence from George Sand to her dear friend Gustave Flaubert (€12,000) is marvelous, too, but perhaps the pièce de résistance is a 1671 edition of Molière’s The Middle Class Gentleman (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme), printed at the playwright’s expense and bound in its original vellum.

 

This particular volume is exceptional as a masterpiece of French literature and as a turning point in the editorial emancipation of Molière, who had personally financed the publication of his play Tartuffe in 1669. With The Middle Class Gentleman, Molière declined to transfer his rights to a bookseller after the play became successful, as he had done with Tartuffe. Now, the playwright retained all legal rights and profits for himself. And yet the haste with which this edition was printed is evident: typographical errors, erratic punctuation, and sloppy copy calibration abound, but these characteristics only add, according to the catalogue, “a certain charm” to the volume and to its rarity. Price available upon request.

There’s no website for Librairie Métamorphoses, but interested parties can visit the shop at 17 rue Jacob in the 6th arrondisement in Paris, call 33 06 13 92 76, or email at scolivre@gmail.com.

More treasures fill this beguiling catalogue, while the bibliographical notes are reason enough to seek it out. If only I had more than “pure praises” for Libraries Métamorphoses, but for now it will have to do