Czech Avant Garde

BLOK (Alexander)

Dvanáct [The Twelve]. Revolucni epos preložil Bohumil Mathesius kreslil Václav Mášek [Revolutionary Epic translated by Bohumil Mathesius and illustrated by Václav Mášek].

Prague, Nákladem Plamja, 1925.

4to, publisher’s illustrated card wrappers. 47 pp., (8) pp. Czech text. Complete.

Woodcut cover illustration and 7 original blocks by Václav Mášek.

First Czech edition of one of the great texts of 20th century Russian literature, widely considered “one of the first poetic responses to the October Revolution of 1917”.

The Russian Symbolist poet Alexandr Blok (1880-1921) centered his story on “The march of twelve Bolshevik soldiers (the Twelve Apostles) through the streets of Revolutionary Petrograd, with a fierce blizzard raging around them”. The highly evocative woodcuts by the important Czech artist Václav Mášek (1893-1973) powerfully complement Blok’s verse.

Dvanáct is an example of the flourishing avant-garde print culture in 1920s Prague, when artists and writers radically re-thought the aesthetics of the book, experimenting with cover design, typography, illustration, and the relationship between word and image. Mášek was close to the Devětsil  Artistic Union, a group of avant-garde Czech writers, artists, and designers who had strong artistic ties to the Russian and French modernist movements, as well as to the Russian theorist Roman Jakobson. Devětsil was both a political and aesthetic movement, with an “avowedly Marxist” orientation, closely following the artistic developments in the young Soviet Union (Penka).

The son of a law professor and a writer, Alexandr Blok studied law and then philology at the University of Petersburg. A supporter of the Russian Revolution, he joined both the Russian army and the Communist Party in 1916 and served in civil defence near Pinsk, followed by a two-year stint on the provisional government’s commission interrogating Czarist ministers. In 1919, he was arrested, and nearly executed, for alleged counter-revolutionary activities. During the last three years of his life, he worked as a translator for the publishing house Vsemirnaja Literatura, served as chairman of the Bolshoi Theatre, and led the Petrograd chapter of the All-Russian Union of Poets. In his early work, Blok often treated themes of spiritual beauty and mysticism; in his later poems, he explored the nature of political revolution. In his polyphonic long poem The Twelve (1918), he juxtaposes images of chaos, violence, and Christ in engaging with the Russian Revolution.

A very good copy.

Price: 650,00 euros