Books & Manuscripts

Rose Adler, One of the World's Greatest Bookbinders

By Sotheby's
French bookbinders were once considered the finest in the world, particularly from the 1920s to the 1950s. Two leading proponents of this master craft were Pierre Legrain and Rose Adler. Sotheby's upcoming Books and Manuscripts sale on 21 November will feature a selection of Adler's bindings from the collection of their Highnesses Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan.

R ose Adler (1890–1959) entered UCAD (Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs) in 1917, and was taught gilding by Noulhac. She had her first exhibition in February-March 1923 at the Pavillon de Marsan in Paris, and then in May-June at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs at the Grand Palais.

She was noticed by Jacques Doucet, who introduced her to Pierre Legrain. A close collaboration began between them. In 1934 she became a member of UAM (Union des Artistes Modernes), and very soon developed a new style of book-binding, using supple skins that she dyed and playing with the titles of the books.

In her 1929 introduction to L’Art International d’aujourd’hui she wrote: "Book-binding was mute, ignorant of what it contained. Like a flock of sheep, books often bore the mark of their master, and most importantly they glorified, with their fine coats of arms, the great house to which they belonged. […] Modern book-binding is really modern in this respect: it is at the service of the text. He wants to understand it, to have it understood. He marries it, he glorifies it. And yet he refuses description, because all description would be an illustration…"

Her art appealed to some of the greatest collectors: Jacques Doucet, Jacques André, David David-Weill, Louise Solvay to mention only a few. She made a mark on her century, and is recognised today as one of the greatest book-binders of her age.

Rose Adler, "thanks to the suppleness and extreme elegance of her compositions, suggests something quite different from Paul Legrain, although she admired his work. The sense of melody that marks her constant inventiveness as well as her deep love of literature make a priceless contribution to the art of book-binding.’ (Yves Peyré in Art Deco Bookbindings: The Work of Pierre Legrain and Rose Adler, 2004).

This exceptional set of 20 bindings by Rose Adler – assembled with great passion over almost 40 years by Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan – testifies, through the grace of the decorations and the choice of skins and colours, to Rose Adler’s talent and inventiveness. They were all shown in 2007 at the Bibliothèque Historique de la ville de Paris ‘Hommage aux relieurs fondateurs de la Société de la Reliure Originale’ (the SRO, the Society for Original Book-Binding, was set up in 1946, and Rose Adler was the only woman among its founder members).

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