Printed Items: Turning the Pages at the Art Institute of Chicago

Single-sheet prints and printed books can be nearly as unique as original manuscripts and sketchbooks, and so some of them are now available through Turning the Pages. These printed objects from the sixteenth to the twentieth century represent some of the rarest artworks in the United States.
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"From the Strongholds of Sleep: Materialized Poems" is one of the rarest and most important photobooks produced in the 20th century. Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Mary Reynolds Collection.
Pablo Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece is an exuberantly illustrated rendition of Honoré de Balzac's nineteenth-century short story about the power and potential tragedy of artistic creation. Picasso drew numerous extra drawings in the margins and over existing prints to embellish this dedication copy for his publisher Henri Matarasso. In some cases, the wood engravings have become unrecognizable as the artist's flourish of color overwhelms the original image.
This pristine unbound copy of Picasso's Unknown Masterpiece shows the book in its original state and paper wrappers, the way it would have been offered for sale in 1931. (This digital version makes it appear bound.)
The prolific German Expressionist painter and printmaker Conrad Felixmüller often depicted his family in his work. He illustrated this charming children’s book for a very personal audience: “my children, Luca and Titus, and for the children of my friends.” His wife Londa wrote the rollicking German verses, which unite two letters of the alphabet on each page within the woodcuts. While some of the subjects—the M for Moor, with a golden nose ring (for N)—are visually striking but politically incorrect today, most of the images reflect the preoccupations and fantasies of early twentieth-century boys, from elephants, giants, and carefree Indians (Native American) to Father Christmas. One of the more curious interpretations, for O and P, translates as “The Hare lays an Easter Egg (Osterei); the Turkey (Puter) makes a loud cry.” The artist himself appears several times, first while carving one of the woodblocks with his children and family cat observing. His son Luca reappears as the letter L. Finally, Felixmüller’s handwritten signature beneath the colophon (held up by another self portrait) confirms that the artist did the hand coloring himself.
Tango with Cows is a supremely fine example of Russian Futurism in print. Subtitled Ferro-Concrete Poems, this collection was printed in letterpress on wallpaper samples, the sheets cut at a provocative angle so that the book’s quality as a visual object overwhelms the legibility of the verses it contains. An encounter between industrial production and personal creativity is compared as a meeting of ballrooms and farm pastures—with the poet merging the two in his guise as a freewheeling, bovine dancer.
Kazimir Malevich put a Cubist and Neoprimitive spin on Russian Futurist books from 1912 to 1914. This one illustrates a poem on the exploits of the devil attempting to trap sinners via the title game of cards. Nathalia Goncharova made her own, very different version of this poem two years earlier, which the Art Institute also owns. Both books were intentionally produced inexpensively on low-quality paper decorated with lithographic image and text, and stapled together. As a result, these works of avant-garde ephemera were never exactly the same, and are now quite rare.
Nathalia Goncharova produced several of these cheaply-made, pocket-sized illustrated books with copious lithographs in an attempt with her Russian avant-garde group of writers and artists to create entirely new ways of relating text and image. Her treatment of Russian Orthodox imagery and icons of saint (in this case, a variety of male and female hermits) and sinners made her work controversial.
Nathalia Goncharova's futurist devil takes many forms as he plays a card game with sinners in this slyly ironic and provocative illustrated poem from the Russian avant garde. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Kawamura Bumpo captures the residents of Kyoto, his beloved hometown, working hard and playing hard through his expressive illustrations on the pages of this Japanese woodblock-printed drawing manual.
A Bavarian monastery librarian's love letter to printmaking and religious imagery, completed on February 14, 1798 and comprising almost 1000 separate prints and drawings.
This rare album contains the frontispiece and 22 etchings of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's Scherzi di Fantasia, as well as Saint Joseph and the Christ Child, forming one of nine known sets of the Scherzi di fantasia and the only one preserved in its original cover.
Lucas Kilian's set of three 'Visions' are interactive anatomical flap prints that allow the viewer to dissect the paper bodies themselves.
Lucas Cranach's patron, the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony in sixteenth-century Germany, asked the artist to illustrate a catalogue of his famed collection of saintly remains so that visiting pilgrims and dignitaries could take a souvenir of the experience home with them.

While we encourage personal discovery and interpretation of works of art in our care, the commentaries associated with the works in My Collections have not been reviewed or approved for accuracy or content and are expressly not endorsed by the Art Institute of Chicago.

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