Dr Peter Hacker, Fellow in Philosophy at St. John’s College, became friends with Stanley Hayter, acquiring two illustrated livres d’artiste directly from the artist’s studio while Fellow Librarian (between 1985 and 2006). Hayter’s collaboration with Paul Eluard and his translator Brian Coffey produced Poèms d’amour = Love poems in 1984. The book is one of the two Hayter livres d’artiste stored in the college’s Special Collections Room, and can be viewed on request. Bound in limp paper, with a dust-jacket in crushed-finish green paper, it had been typeset in Bath, where its letterpress was printed on standard paper. However the engravings were printed on hand-made paper, and the half-title and main title are in lithographed handwriting thought to be Eluard’s own. This rare hand-craft typifies the livre d’artiste genre, which developed primarily in Paris during the twentieth century. The livre d’artiste came to be distinguished by the ubiquitous involvement of the artist in its production process.
Poèms d’amour = Love poems represents Hayter’s last decade in our collection. Three simultaneous multicolour engravings are inserted between letterpressed pages of poems and loose pages of lithographic illustration. Their vibrancy, energy and brilliant colour epitomise Hayter’s ‘late’ work both in painting and in printmaking. He developed a technique of multicolour printing after the 1940s, printing multiple colours from a single plate to create arresting effects. He maximised the possibilities of the technique in his last few years, employing flourescent colours in bold works such as the three engravings which can be found in the book.
The semi-abstract lithographs include figurative elements, which widely reappeared in Hayter’s paintings and prints during the 1980s. The artist was open to change throughout his career, collaborating constantly with his fellow artists in Paris and New York. The printmaking workshop he established in 1927 allowed him to do this, becoming Atelier 17 – a famous hub of artistic cross-fertilisation which provided an important meeting place for the avant-garde over sixty years. There he associated with the Surrealists in the 1930s, working with figurative imagery. He remained loyal to his friend Paul Eluard after the poet had broken away from the Surrealist movement, and Poèms d’amour = Love poems testifies to the endurance of their friendship.
Hayter had a life-long interest in science, and had been trained in the subject at university. His scientific interest informs the lithographic illustrations of Poèms d’amour = Love poems, giving a precise indeterminacy to their lines. Science informs the coloured engravings in a different way: the psychological science of colour influences the artist’s deployment of coloured lines. Hayter made the engravings in his signature ‘whip lash’ style, embodying the evolution of his abstract expressionist work. Their full double-pages illustrate poems which are printed elsewhere in the book. They illuminate both the poems which precede them and the poems which follow them, affecting readers’ moods. And they bear a contrapuntal relation to the lithographs, their scale and colour playing against the other illustrations.
P. M. S. Hacker, ‘Hayter, Stanley William (1901 – 1988)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; online edn.
[http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/39959, accessed 10th September 2014]
Eunice Martin, ‘Introduction’, in: French Livres d’Artiste in Oxford University Collections (Bodleian Library: Oxford, 1996): pp. 3-6.