A new kind of illustrated publication arose in the fin de siècle: the artist’s book.
These were deluxe limited editions, mostly of contemporary literature or poetry, illustrated with prints by modern artists like Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis.
Rather than literal illustrations subordinate to the text, the prints in artists’ books were often free interpretations in a decorative or caricatural style.
In some cases, they were even sold as separate prints with the book, or published as artworks in their own right.
Though illustrated books had always been sought-after collectors’ items, during the fin de siècle, demand for special editions grew in response to the mass production of cheap paperbacks.
Aficionados banded together in bibliophile societies to initiate and fund production together.
One of the most progressive book-lovers, Octave Uzanne, collaborated with young, promising printmakers like Félix Vallotton.
Text and image are, however, kept strictly separate, just as book-collectors preferred.
The book as autonomous artform
The art-dealer Ambroise Vollard is seen as the great innovator in terms of the illustrated book.
He continued to commission book illustrations from the peintres-graveurs in his stable until the 1930s, giving them a great deal of freedom.
His publications stand out for their artful typography and unconventional layout, with illustrations that weave playfully between and around the text.
Bibliophiles were initially scandalised by such artistic liberties — after the First World War, however, the artist’s book grew in popularity and became an art form in its own right.
Gordon N. Ray, The Art of the French Illustrated Book, 1700 to 1914, Ithaca 1986
Anna Sigrídur Arnar, The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist's Book, and the Transformation of Print Culture, Chicago 2011
Willa Z. Silverman, The New Bibliopolis: French Book Collectors and the Culture of Print, 1880-1914, Toronto 2008