The collaborative project that brought together the poet Paul Éluard (1895–1952), the publisher Gérald Cramer (1916–1991) and the artist Joan Miró (1893–1983) for the 1958 publication of À toute épreuve produced one of the finest artist’s books of the 20th century.
Éluard wrote the collection’s poems between 1929 and 1930, when Gala, whom he had married in 1917, was growing distant and began an affair with Salvador Dalí. It was also at this time that the poet met Nusch (Maria Benz), who would become his second wife. The texts were published by Éditions surréalistes in 1930, but it was only in 1947, after a discussion with Gérald Cramer, that the project of publishing the poems as an artist’s book with illustrations by Joan Miró was born.
Much taken by the design of a 1914 edition of Stéphan Mallarmé’s poem Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard, Éluard spread his verses over some forty double pages of the initial layout. Cramer, who oversaw the evolving design of the book step by step, allowed the poet complete freedom in establishing the importance of the typography and its place on the page. Working from their instructions, Miró came up with the idea of making the publication a polychrome sculpture as much as a book. The artist discovered the woodcuts of Paul Gauguin at Cramer’s and, drawing inspiration from Japanese prints, decided to work with wood engraving. In all the artist did 233 woodcuts, which were carved, “sculpted,” and printed in color. With the poems they form a series of landscapes of words and images.
Miró’s letters to Cramer attest to the long hours that went into creating and printing off the woodcuts. The completed book was published in 1958. Just 130 copies were printed off and shown that same year for the first time at Galerie Berggruen in Paris.
Working with the Fundació Joan Miró, which devoted a show to him in 2017, the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature will in turn tell the story of this major publication and artist’s book through correspondence, photographs, woodcuts, and the six conserved mock-ups of the book. Four copies of the original edition on display allow visitors to view all of the pages.
In collaboration with Fundació Joan Miró
Fondation Jan Michalski pour l’écriture et la litterature
En Bois Désert 10
Route de Chardève 2 (GPS)
CH-1147 Montricher, Switzerland