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Ă€ rebours bernard jacobson gallery


For further information, please contact Constance Aehlig constance@jacobsongallery.com tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3431


Ă€ rebours bernard jacobson gallery

28 duke street st james’s london sw1y 6ag tel +44 (0)20 7734 3431 fax +44 (0)20 7734 3277 | mail@jacobsongallery.com www.jacobsongallery.com | Bernard Jacobson Limited Registered No 00962605 VAT No GB 510329685


William Tillyer has long been fascinated by Joris-Karl Huysmans’s famous, indeed scandalous, novel, À Rebours, published in Paris in 1884 and immediately received as a key work of the Decadence. In England it is known as Against Nature, in America as Against the Grain. It is scarcely a story, more a detailed description of how its hero, the Duc des Esseintes, keeps the real world at bay by means of what we would now call his lifestyle. Boredom is the great enemy. Conventional morality is of no account to him, nor any thought of his image vis-à-vis society. He has servants that mostly function unseen. Apart from that he lives a hermit’s life. In an age of Realism (the tradition of Courbet), Naturalism (Zola and the Impressionists) and mysticism, often conveyed in naturalistic terms (Symbolism), Huysman’s hero keeps aloof from the world. Aware of its latent artificiality, he chooses blatant artifice.

The portfolio 1974/2018 Set of 52 images in edition of 25 Signed in pencil lower right, numbered lower left. Studio stamp lower right margin. Printed by Clifton Editions Published by Bernard Jacobson

Tillyer is no des Esseintes. There is a touch of hermit about him, but no more than that. His artistic interests are couched, he has claimed, in “the tension between the artificial and the real,” on the irreconcilable ontological difference between the two. Here is an actual vase, filled with flowers: real; and here is a depiction of them: artificial. Tillyer makes images – often, though not exclusively – with subjects derived from the natural world, which, through varying degrees of transformation, are turned into something essentially different: pictorially and materially. Tillyer’s approach to painting – his facture – is playful. He tests, and ultimately expands, the limits of how far he is able to distance the artificial depiction from its real-world referent, without losing the reference itself. Do we suppose, for example, that the central, quasi-abstract motif in Obstacles and Protests (2000) was derived from a vase, or a wine glass? It could be interpreted as representing both, or neither. The point of this enterprise is to investigate and to demonstrate ever more fully the axiomatic contrivance and conceit implicit in the creation of all art. This is the des Esseintes in him. Tillyer’s on-going attachment to À Rebours reveals a self-identification not with des Esseintes, however, but with the author who conceived


him. There is something manifestly demonstrative about the French novelist’s detailed and insistent description of everything he has invented as a statement against the conventions of his day. There is a similar drive in Tillyer to confront the conventional priorities of contemporary art by making radical works, using means of his own inventing, that undermine and mock some of them while developing methods and forms that belong to painting’s old and recent past. In 1974, exactly a century after the novel’s original publication, Tillyer began work on a set of 52 etchings, conceived in response to Huysmans’ text. He spent 54 years completing the portfolio (1974–2018). Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the gap between their conception and completion, the etchings are marked by their relentless variety. As illustrations of Huysman’s text these prints are close, sometimes, freely discursive often. Taken together, they add up to a wide-ranging account of what intaglio printing can do: drypoint, engraving, etching, with and without aquatint, with and without colour. Some images come in subsets, some stand by themselves. Among the earlier works are two sets of three prints, all called Plants, in black and white and in colour. They start from a photographically imprinted pattern of fine wavy lines running across a tall oval format. By variously biting or blocking out these lines, Tillyer produces an impression of foliage and intervals that is rich and decorative, but also nearly abstract. So different as to appear almost to be by another hand are three etchings printed in red, the Crimson Cubicles set, entitled Standing Figure with Circular Mirror, Bending Figure with Circular Mirror and Sitting Figure with Circular Mirror, respectively. These titles are too modest. The first depicts a standing nude, almost frontal, arranging her hair, and behind her part of a lying figure, legs and lower abdomen only, displaying her sexual parts. The large, titular mirror situated behind the standing figure, the contrived nature of her pose and the way her companion is splayed so demonstratively lend the work a theatrical aspect, exposing the cubicle as being something akin to a stage set: an always already artificial space.

The heavy curtains, half parted, support this interpretation, while also echoing back through the history of Western painting via Manet’s Olympia and Rembrandt’s Woman in a Bed to Titian’s Danaë, transforming the viewer from bystander to complicit voyeur. The setting of Bending Figure is the same. A woman, this time viewed from behind, genuflects, a towel grasped in her right hand to dry her leg. Another female nude is seated on the floor to the left. Like the bending figure, she is turned away from the viewer, giving the viewer an intimate view of her backside. A perspectival lattice in the lower register serves to suggest a tiled floor, which, when considered in juxtaposition with the curtains, the mirror and the pervasive nudity transforms the space: from ambiguous crimson cubicle to bathroom, a circuitous nod, perhaps, to Velasquez’s Venus at her Toilet. There are touches of aquatint in all three cubicle etchings, but mostly they were drawn, and from the style of drawing we know them to be modern, akin to, and done with much of the grace of, Bonnard and Pascin. The Acrobat is an entirely different kind of image. She is made from coloured lines only: blue, red, yellow, green; and, as Lynton writes, “stands there provocatively, arms akimbo, wearing Lolita shades, her hair in a pony-tail of impressive dimensions, her torso clad in a striped bathing costume that leaves her generous haunches bare and prominent.” She stands, on one foot and on one toe, like a dancer, in a perspectival circle drawn in yellow and green. Otherwise there is no setting, no space, not light or shade, nothing. This selection gives some idea of the variousness of the À Rebours prints – in style, in method of representation and engraving, in colour, in subject and in tone. If the cubicle nudes take us back to early Modernism with, perhaps, a hint of Degas in their portrayal of women unconscious of being observed, The Acrobat is more an American Pop art icon, not at all the sort of character one might expect to find in a French fin-de-siècle novel. But then, like Huysmans, Tillyer was never one to adhere to expectations.


The Ancestors Those high hung dark faceless portraits Six gravure plates, black and red inks intaglio, on Arches cream paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 28.5 x 34 cms (11 1/4 x 13 3/8 ins)


‘They would be ushered in and seat themselves side by side, in church stalls; then he would ascend an imposing pulpit from which he would preach a sermon on dandyism’ Line etching on copper on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 50.5 cms (26 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 18 x 10.5 cms (7 x 4 1/4 ins)


‘the guests were waited on by naked negresses wearing only slippers and stockings’ Collage relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 50 x 40.5 cms (19 5/8 x 16 ins)


‘to the accompaniment of funeral marches’ Plumb ink on zinc plate and collage relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 50.3 cms (25 5/8 x 20 ins) Plate size: 30 x 25 cms (11 7/8 x 9 7/8 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise ‘He derived, too, a peculiar pleasure from being in richly illuminated room, the only person up and about amid shadow-haunted, sleeping houses. Slowly, one by one, he went through the various shades of colours.’ Heavy relief and intaglio etching on cream Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 45.4 x 35.4 cms (17 7/8 x 14 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise ‘He derived, too, a peculiar pleasure from being in richly illuminated room, the only person up and about amid shadow-haunted, sleeping houses. Slowly, one by one, he went through the various shades of colours.’ Heavy relief and intaglio etching on cream Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 45.4 x 35.4 cms (17 7/8 x 14 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise ‘He derived, too, a peculiar pleasure from being in richly illuminated room, the only person up and about amid shadow-haunted, sleeping houses. Slowly, one by one, he went through the various shades of colours.’ Heavy relief and intaglio etching on cream Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 45.4 x 35.4 cms (17 7/8 x 14 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses The Red Curtain Relief embossing on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 50 cms (25 5/8 x 20 ins) Plate size: 49.5 x 37.5 cms (19 1/2 x 14 3/4 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 18.2 cms (10 x 7 1/4 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25.3 x 18.2 cms (10 x 7 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 18.4 cms (10 x 7 1/4 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 18 cms (10 x 7 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.5 cms (26 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 25.5 x 18.5 ins (10 x 7 1/4 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 50.5 cms (26 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 25 x 18 cms (9 7/8 x 7 1/4 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Palte size: 25.2 x 18.3 cms (10 x 7 1/4 ins)


Interior at Fontenay aux Roses with Large Tortoise Skylight screen and vase of articial looking flowers Intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25.2 x 18.3 cms (10 x 7 ins)


‘he was convinced that the eyes of those who dream of the ideal, who require illusions and prefer the truths of the bedroom’ Soft ground etching with intaglio and relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 28.3 x 30.3 cms (11 1/8 x 12 ins)


‘Like those Japanese boxes that fit one inside the other’ Intaglio print from two zinc plates on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 20 cms (9 7/8 x 7 3/4 ins)


‘he would study the ingenious mechanical fish, wound up like clockwork’ Line drawing on zinc plate and intaglio on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.5 cms (26 x 20 7/8 ins) Plate size: 20.5 x 11.5 cms (8 1/8 x 4 1/5 ins)


‘for there in the window was an enormous tortoise in a tank’ Chevet’s Tortoise Intaglio on zinc plate on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 48.5 cms (25 5/8 x 19 ins) Plate size: 25.3 x 20.2 cms (10 x 7 8 ins)


‘From a Japanese collection he chose a design’ Intaglio on zinc plate on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 48.5 cms (25 5/8 x 19 ins) Plate size: 25.3 x 20.2 cms (10 x 8 ins)


‘Des Esseintes now watched the tortoise crouching in a corner of his dining room, as it gliettered in the half-light’ Coloured relief and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 48.5 cms (25 3/4 x 19 ins) Plate size: 25.3 x 20.5 cms (10 x 8 ins)


Night Rain Intaglio zinc plate on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 26.5 x 21 cms (10 1/2 x 8 1/4 ins)


Night Snow Intaglio zinc plate on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50 cms (26 x 19 3/4 ins) Image size: 21 x 11.5 cms ( 8 1/4 x 4 1/2 ins)


The Hanging Tree (Jan Luyken prints - and from the 1633 drawings by Jacques Callot) Line drawings on copper plate on Arches cream paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 20.3 cms (9 7/8 x 8 ins)


The Hanging Tree (Jan Luyken prints - and from the 1633 drawings by Jacques Callot) Line drawings on copper plate on Arches cream paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 20.3 cms ( 9 7/8 x 8 ins)


The Hanging Tree (Jan Luyken prints - and from the 1633 drawings by Jacques Callot) Line drawings on copper plate on Arches cream paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 20.3 cms ( 9 7/8 x 8 ins)


The Crimson Cubicles - ‘a series of crimson rooms decorated with circular mirrors’ Drawings on copper plate on Arches cream paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 34.7 x 27.3 cms (13 5/8 x 10 3/4 ins)


The Crimson Cubicles - ‘a series of crimson rooms decorated with circular mirrors’ Drawings on copper plate on Arches cream paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 34.7 x 27.3 cms (13 5/8 x 10 3/4 ins)


The Crimson Cubicles - ‘a series of crimson rooms decorated with circular mirrors’ Drawings on copper plates Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 34.7 x 27.3 cms (13 5/8 x 10 3/4 ins)


The circular house: ‘D’Aigurande proceeded to buy furniture constructed on the round’ - The Eileen Gray Chair Deep etching and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 19.8 cms (9 14/16 x 7 3/4 ins)


The circular house: ‘D’Aigurande proceeded to buy furniture constructed on the round’ - The Bel Geddes Rotunda Deep etching and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 51 cms (26 x 20 1/16 ins) Plate size: 25 x 20 cms (9 13/16 x 7 7/8 ins)


The circular house: ‘D’Aigurande proceeded to buy furniture constructed on the round’ - The Eileen Gray Chair - The Rotaflex Lamp Deep etching and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66.1 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 25 x 19.5 cms (9 3/4 x 7 11/16 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ Madame Mame / Dickus Sequoia ‘it all comes down to syphilis in the end’ Copper plate line drawings on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 50 cms (25 3/4 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 35 x 27.5 cms (13 3/4 x 10 5/8 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ Caladiums ‘it all comes down to syphilis in the end’ Copper plate line drawings on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 50 cm (25 3/4 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 35 x 27 cms (13 3/4 x 10 5/8 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ Bosphorus ‘it all comes down to syphilis in the end’ Copper plate line drawings on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 50.5 cm (25 3/4 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 35 x 27 cms (13 3/4 x 10 5/8 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ Cypripedium ‘it all comes down to syphilis in the end’ Copper plate line drawings on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 50.5 cm (25 3/4 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 35 x 27 cms (13 3/4 x 10 5/8 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ Tillandsia Lindeni ‘without the shadow of a doubt, the horticulturists are the only true artists left to us nowadays’ Relief and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 50.5 cms (25 5/8 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 24.2 x 20.5 cms (9 1/2 x 8 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ Floral follies Relief and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 50 cms ( 25 3/4 x 19 5/8 ins) Plate size: 24.3 x 20.2 cms (9 1/2 x 11 15/16 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ ‘without the shadow of a doubt, the horticulturists are the only true artists left to us nowadays’ Relief and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 49.5 cms (25 5/8 x 19 1/2 ins) Plate size: 25 x 19.6 cms (9 7/8 x 7 3/4 ins)


‘real flowers that mimicked artificial ones’ Copper plate relief and intaglio printing on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 50.5 cms (34.5 x 27.3 ins) Plate size: 34.5 x 27 cms (13 5/8 x 10 5/8 ins)


‘He saw the wild Nidularium blossoming between her wide-open thighs, its sword-blades gaping to reveal the bloody interior.’ Line drawing on zinc plate on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.5 cms (26 x 19 7/8 ins) Plate size: 26 x 21 cm (10 1/4 x 8 1/4 ins)


This box was full of violet bonbons ‘Pearls of the Pyrenees’ Intaglio print from zinc plate on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.8 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 24.5 x 21 cms (9 5/8 x 8 1/4 ins)


The Acrobat - Miss Urania ‘This notional trading of sexual places between Urania and himself had aroused him’ Line drawing on copper plate on Arches paper Paper size: 65.5 x 50.8 cms (25 3/4 x 20 ins) Plate size: 34 x 27.5 cms (13 3/8 x 10 7/8 ins)


Extract of Tillia Line drawing on copper plate with intaglio printing collage on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 34.5 x 27 cms ( 13 1/2 x 10 5/8 ins)


Extract of Meadow Blossom Soft ground etching and aquatint on zinc plate with collage on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.5 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 24.5 x 19.7 cms (9 5/8 x 7 3/4 ins)


Syntax of marks shapes and textures Soft ground etching on zinc plate with relief printing collage Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 39 x 26 cms (15 3/8 x 10 1/4 ins)


These aromatic stanzas Line drawing and relief printing collage on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 24.8 x 19.5 cms (9 3/4 x 7 3/4 ins)


Artful Frangipani Embossing and relief printing collage and watercolour on Arches paper Paper size: 65 x 50 cms (25 5/8 x 19 3/4 ins) Plate size: 45 x 38 cms (17 3/4 x 15 ins)


Balsam of Mecca Soft ground etching with aquatint on zinc plate and collage on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 24.6 x 19.6 cms (9 5/8 x 7 3/4 ins)


Fragrant Odours Soft ground etching on zinc plate and collage on Arches pape Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Plate size: 29.7 x 24.5 cms ( 11 3/4 x 9 3/4 ins)


‘porcelain box containing schnouda’ Line etching with relief printing on Arches paper Paper size: 66 x 50.7 cms (26 x 20 ins) Image size: 41 x 20 cms (16 1/8 x 7 7/8 ins)


Against Nature by Joris - Karl Huysmsns Translation by Theo Cuffe Illustrations by William Tillyer 21 Publishing February 2018 ISBN: 978-1-901785-17-3 £ 25

Published in Paris in 1884, Joris-Karl Huysman’s Against Nature (original title, À Rebours) was immediately received as a key work of fin-de-siècle “Decadent” literature. The novel concentrates almost entirely on the reclusive life of its protagonist, the Duc Jean des Esseintes. The last member of what was once a powerful, aristocratic family, des Esseintes elects to retreat from his luxurious Parisian existence to lead a life devoted entirely to sensual pleasure in an isolated country house on the outskirts of the city, until he is forced to return to the capital through ill-health. In this new translation by Theo Cuffe, the narrative is brought artistically to life with illustrations by the renowned British artist William Tillyer (1938). Born in Middlesbrough, Tillyer has been fascinated by Huysmans’ novel since his student days at the Slade in the late 1950s. In 1974, he began work on a suite of limited edition prints inspired by passages from the book. From representations of the interiors at des Esseintes’s country house, Fontenay aux Roses, to surreally abstracted owers ‘that look like fakes’, the artist illustrates the text through the use of various intaglio printing methods and techniques. The resulting volume constitutes as much a reappraisal of Huysmans’ text as it does a unique artistic response to the self-imposed solitude of its eccentric antihero.


For further information, please contact: Constance Aehlig constance@jacobsongallery.com

bernard jacobson gallery 28 duke street st james’s london sw1y 6ag tel +44 (0)20 7734 3431 fax +44 (0)20 7734 3277 | mail@jacobsongallery.com www.jacobsongallery.com | Bernard Jacobson Limited Registered No 00962605 VAT No GB 510329685

William Tillyer: À rebours  
William Tillyer: À rebours  
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