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Poèmes à voir, with etchings by Pierre Alechinsky

New at Olla Art is a beautiful etching with aquatint by Pierre Alechinsky. The etching was printed on the hand press of Atelier Dutrou, and published in 1986 by Édition Dutrou in Paris.

The etching is part of ‘Poèmes à voir’, an artist’s book with poems by Jean Tardieu. Pierre Alechinsky has added a suite of fourteen etchings (including a frontispiece) in black and black & red to the artist’s book – one etching for each poem.

Jean Tardieu

Martin-Scherrer on Poèmes à voir
Jean Tardieu (1903-1995), the author of Poèmes à voir, was a French poet, musician and playwright. Frédérique Martin-Scherrer, expert in the field of Jean Tardieu’s poetry, published a reflection on Poèmes à voir (Martin-Scherrer, 2010), included in a volume on Tardieu’s work. Martin-Scherrer appears to be particularly interested in the connections between poetry and visual art, connections that are particularly evident in artist’s books such as Poèmes à voir. Martin-Scherrer believes that Tardieu’s handwritten ‘poèmes à voir’ – the author chose this title for a reason – come close to the painting.

“When the author arranges the poem on the page in such a way that it forms a true visual composition, as Jean Tardieu does with his Poèmes à voir, a work is created that is right on the border between literature and visual art.” According to Martin-Scherrer, such a ‘poem to see’ approaches the status of printed visual art, such as photography or graphics, “since reading the text is inseparable from its visual perception.” The poem is, as it were, presented as a drawing to read, and is less easy to read than a poem presented in the usual way. According to Martin-Scherrer, there is always a sliding scale from the ‘verbal’ to the ‘pictorial’ pole. The ‘poem to see’ “appropriates the plastic dimension, it is its own illustration. The proportion of the visible increases as we proceed along the line from poetic to plastic.”

Martin-Scherrer also pays attention to the collaboration between poet and visual artist. In the case where the visual artist ‘follows’ the poet, as in Poèmes à voir, she distinguishes three ‘main forms’. First she mentions the ‘referential’ illustration, where the image, literally or figuratively, provides a direct representation of the thematic content of the text. A second main form that she distinguishes is the ‘interpretive’ illustration, in which the visual artist goes a step further and controls the interpretation of the text through his visualization, comparable to the musician who interprets a score.
Martin-Scherrer gives a few nice examples of this, but for us the third form is especially important, which she summarizes with the term ‘accompanying’. This is the case “when the two works, poetic and plastic, are brought together and, as it were, move together, without it being possible to determine the order of intervention, except through additional information: the painter refers less to the text than to the affinity that connects him to the poet’s creative universe.”

Pierre Alechinsky, uit: Poèmes à voir, 1986

Pierre Alechinsky, etching from Poèmes à voir, 1986
51 x 49.2 cm (sheet), 22.7 x 15.7 cm (image)

According to Martin-Scherrer, this is what Pierre Alechinsky did for Poèmes à voir. He has not attempted to ‘translate’ the poetic content, but he does show that he has developed a ‘deep understanding’ of it.

Moulin de Pombié
Poèmes à voir was printed in an edition of 170 copies, but only the accompanying etchings of the first thirty-five copies were signed by Alechinsky. The etching offered by Olla Art comes from this limited edition.
Robert and Lydie Dutrou printed the etchings on handmade paper from the Moulin de Pombié, a mill dating from 1450 in the French town of Cuzorn (Nouvelle-Aquitaine). This water mill, which initially housed a forge and to which a textile mill was added a century later, was put into use as a paper mill in 1741. Paper has been produced ever since and is now in demand worldwide.

For more information about the etching from Poèmes à voir or for a viewing appointment, please contact Olla Art:
More work by Alechinsky at Olla Art can be found here.
Also read our newsletter published in May 2023 about Ivan Alechine, the son of Pierre Alechinsky, for whose book ‘Oldies’ Alechinsky made an etching: ‘Ivan Alechine, the son of’.

Martin-Scherrer, F. (2010). Poésie et peinture: petite typologie portative. In: J.-Y. Debreuille (ed.), Jean Tardieu. Des livres et des voix. ENS Éditions, pp. 245-255.