Alexandre de Riquer is one of the most representative figures of Catalan Modernisme. Especially outstanding was his activity in the field of the graphic arts, in which he displayed great creativity. He was the finest representative of international design in Catalonia at the beginning of the twentieth century because he was the best-informed Catalan artist of the time. This was due to the journeys he made to London and also to the great lesson in English art that he was able to learn from his art library, unique in Catalonia and Spain.
After the artist’s death, his heirs sold part of his book collection to the Museums Board. According to the inventory of the sale, dated 1921, a total of 421 titles were purchased (689 documents) that are conserved in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya’s Joaquim Folch i Torres Library.
The importance of his art library, a reflection of his artistic interests and a source of inspiration for the artist, and one of the ways in which Pre-Raphaelite art penetrated Catalan Modernisme, is an aspect that has been pointed out by various experts. In it there are a large number of works illustrated by the most renowned British illustrators of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Aubrey Beardsley, Robert Anning Bell, Arthur Rackham and Alice B. Woodward.
In his short life, Aubrey Beardsley aroused admiration and scandal in equal measure. His style was influenced by the work of Edward Burne-Jones and Japanese woodcuts, and it turned him into a master of black and white curved-line illustration. He took his subjects from classical literature and the Bible, but he endowed them with a grotesque force coming from the artist’s psyche.
Alexandre de Riquer’s private library had three volumes in the series Bon mots… The books contained a compilation of jokes decorated with small grotesque drawings by Beardsley.
The drawings and caricatures in Bon mots…, although unconnected with the text, caught the eye of the publisher J. M. Dent, who gave him the job of illustrating La Morte d’Arthur, an Art Nouveau classic, in a deliberate attempt to compete with the costly rare editions being produced by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press.
Two editions were made: a limited one of 300 copies on hand-made quartos and another one of 1,500 copies on ordinary paper. The copy in the library is on ordinary paper and has the original publisher’s binding, also designed by Beardsley.
Riquer also had the English edition of Oscar Wilde’s Salome (1894). Aubrey Beardsley’s erotic illustrations made him famous, but the author did not like them at all, afraid about the indecency of the drawings.
He was a clear exponent of the Arts & Crafts movement. He became very successful as a children’s book illustrator, although he also magnificently decorated books for adults.
In 1895, the publisher J. M. Dent asked him to illustrate William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his first important assignment, which made his name. Alexandre de Riquer, who had the book, was of the opinion that “the border is in exquisite taste and the central drawing enchantingly ideal; the red and black cover is drawn with ease, it is the work of an artist who masters form at will, and the whole book is full of the taste and severity that Bell has inherited from the artists of the Italian Renaissance, without ever relinquishing his strong personality”.
In 1897 the publishing house George Bell and Sons began the collection Endymion. Two formats were proposed: an ordinary edition with publisher’s binding and another limited one of 125 copies on Japan paper that could be bound subsequently.
Robert Anning Bell was given the job of illustrating the volumes entitled Poems by John Keats and English lyrics from Spencer to Milton, with beautiful publisher’s bindings, publications that Alexandre de Riquer also possessed.
Another important work illustrated by Robert Anning Bell and which Alexandre de Riquer had added to his collection was Grimm’s Household Tales, published by Dent.
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, published by Freemantle in 1901, is considered to be Robert Anning Bell’s best work as an illustrator. Alexandre de Riquer, who had a copy of it with a dedication by the artist, held it in great esteem, given that he thought that, “its double pages are the strongest and most beautiful produced by modern and ancient illustrators”.
After The Tempest, Robert Anning Bell concentrated his efforts on painting and the decorative arts, until in 1906 he was once more persuaded by the J. M. Dent publishing house to illustrate a new edition of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, an anthology of English poets. Apparently, however, the illustrator was not satisfied with the results, an opinion seemingly shared by Riquer. This time, the Catalan artist thought that it was a “book well presented, well printed, but short on margins, especially at the top. Besides this, the majority of the watercolours have a thick strip for a frame that is detrimental to them, and the work in three inks is deficient”.
The Alexandre de Riquer collection is part of the museum library’s reserve collection. To consult it, all you have to do is come to the library and fill in a request form saying which document you want, and library staff will bring it to you. Waiting time is 45 minutes at the most, and you will be able to consult it for as long as you wish. You can also request it in advance through an online form.