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Le Puits de Jacob

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Le Puits de Jacob

BOOKS. Paris, 1927. Limited edition volume featuring modern illuminations of Jewish life in the Parisian Jazz Age.

Price: $2,200

FIRST EDITION, limited to 300 numbered copies.

Le Puits de Jacob —along with La Tentation de Saint Antoine [The Temptation of St. Anthony]— is representative of a uniquely distinctive period in the career of Arthur Szyk. After moving to Paris in 1921, he met with early success in the form of profit-making gallery exhibitions. He was in demand as an illustrator and gaining rapid fame even with a painting style contrary to the popular French abstractionist school. He was perfecting his miniaturist technique but in an experimental environment which was to change dramatically in the next few years. The faces and background settings in Le Puits are supremely modern in look. They epitomize The Jazz Age. Paris in the 1920s was overflowing with artists and poets, freethinkers and go-getters from every nation in the world. Politics, fashion, religion—all were in a state of flux and re-evaluation.

Pierre Benoit's novel took advantage of this brief window of time to safely ponder the life of a modern Jew in France. Le Affaire de Dreyfus had occurred nearly 30 years before and Hitler's Nazis had not yet disturbed the quiet (but always present) anti-Semitism lurking in French society. The Well of Jacob is the story of a worldly woman, Rachel Bernheim, whose acknowledgment of ancient Jewish tradition and ritual provides her with a spiritual re-awakening. She becomes a Zionist and devotes her time and fortune to supporting Jewish settlers in Palestine.

Szyk was an excellent choice to illustrate this story of modern Jewish Zionists, as he had been sent on a tour of Palestine in 1914. Together with a group of young Polish-Jewish writers and artists, he visited Jewish settlements and made a visual record of the people and landscapes. The outbreak of World War I sent Szyk home again to Poland, where he became a soldier in the Russian army.

In his preface, A. De Monzie, a one-time Minister of Public Education in France, writes of his gratitude toward M. Benoit for providing a meaningful lesson for their country:

“France has a particular duty of being present and assisting in every enterprise of collective emancipation. We have no mandate in Palestine, but we have as many interests there as memories.” This public support, he reiterates, is nothing more than his duty…“the brilliant colors of Szyk are worth more.”

Indeed, the brilliant colors of Szyk presented here have no equal (other than in Saint Antoine) as they were printed on Arches vellum paper in the now lost art form of pochoir printing. This method of illustrative reproduction mimics the artist's work by utilizing actual watercolors and gouaches applied through an elaborate process of stencil guides. It was first used by the ancient Chinese and was brought to perfection by the French from about 1880 to 1935. Each image appears to have been painted on the page by hand.

Le Puits de Jacob is truly one of Szyk's most fascinating books. The rarity of the artist's style and supreme beauty executed in its production confirms its stature as a true Szyk jewel.

BENOIT, Pierre. Le Puits de Jacob [The Well of Jacob]. Illustrated by Arthur Szyk. Paris: Albin Michel, Editeur, (1927). Preface by A. de Monzie. 323 pp. Text in French. Title page color vignette. Twelve full color pochoir plates and 15 full color illuminated letters as chapter headings [representing the 12 Tribes of Israel]. Original glassine covered wrappers in original paper over boards folding case with ribbon tie. Fine Condition.


Illustration of Jews in Palestine, Le Puits de Jacob.