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Henry Somm. 1810-1889.

Illustrations for Richard Lesclide's play La Maison de fous.

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L'esclave du Devoir. (A Slave to Duty.) 1876. Etching. 4 3/16 x 2 5/8 (sheet 11 7/16 x 7 3/4). Printed by Delâtre on cream laid paper with one side deckle edge. Illustration for Richard Lesclide's play La Maison de fous. Published in Paris à l'eau-forte. Signed in the plate. $175.

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Les Fous. (Crazy People.) 1876. Etching. 3 5/8 x 2 3/8 (sheet 11 1/2 x 8). Printed by Delâtre on cream laid paper. Illustration for Richard Lesclide's play La Maison de fous. Published in Paris à l'eau-forte. Signed in the plate. Extremely scarce. $175.

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Le Mariage. (The Wedding.) 1876. Etching. 3 5/8 x 2 5/16 (sheet 11 3/8 x 7 7/8). Printed by Delâtre on cream laid paper with one side deckle edge. Published in Paris à l'eau-forte. Extremely scarce. Signed in the plate. Extremely scarce. $175.

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Le poète. (The Poet.) 1876. Etching. 3 5/8 x 2 3/8 (sheet 10 3/4 x 7 5/8). Printed by Delâtre on cream laid paper. Illustration for Richard Lesclide's play, La Maison de fous. Published in Paris à l'eau-forte. Signed in the plate. Extremely scarce. $175.

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Rosine et le Docteur. (Rosine and the Doctor.) 1876. Etching. 3 1/2 x 2 3/8 (sheet 11 7/16 x 7 7/8). Printed by Delâtre on cream laid paper with one side deckle edge.Illustration for Richard Lesclide's play La Maison de fous. Published in Paris à l'eau-forte. Signed in the plate. $175.

Illustration for Auguste Sauliëre Les solutions conjugales.

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Les Solutions Conjugales. (Conjugal Solutions.) 1876. Etching. 4 1/4 x 2 5/8 (sheet 9 15/16 x 7 5/16). Illustration for Auguste Sauliëre Les solutions conjugales. Printed by Delâtre on cream laid paper. Published in Paris à l'eau-forte. Signed in the plate. Extremely scarce. $175.

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Somm was born François-Clément Sommier in Rouen in 1844. By the time he settled in Paris he was known as Henry Somm, the name under which in 1870 he illustrated his first book, La Rapinéide. He had an essentially humorous turn of mind, and while some of his wit is satirical, much of it revels in sheer nonsense and horseplay. He was an indefatigable contributor of comical sketches to the press: La Charge, Le Cravache, Chronique Parisienne, High-Life, Frou-Frou, and Le Rire were among the publications where you might expect to encounter cartoons by Henry Somm.

As the friendship with Toulouse-Lautrec indicates, Henry Somm was very much part of the nightlife of Montmartre, most particularly through his involvement in the nightclub Le Chat Noir. In 1885 Somm and George Auriol set up the famous théâtre d’ombres in Le Chat Noir. Although the most famous creator of shadow-plays for this raffish venue was Henry Rivière, the first production was Somm’s L’Éléphant. This play, and others such as La Berline de l’émigré and Cythère à Montmartre , are now regarded as important precursors of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu plays, and by extension of the entire Theatre of the Absurd. The connections between Somm and Jarry have been explored in an essay by art historian Elizabeth K. Menon with the wonderful title Potty-talk in Parisian Plays. I’ve only been able to find scraps of this on the net, so don’t know if Menon takes the story further back to the absurdist playlet La Maison de fous by Richard Lesclide, which Somm illustrated with etchings in 1876. These appeared both in a book and in the journal Paris à l’eau-forte, which was edited by Lesclide. This play and others by Lesclide such as La Diligence de Lyon, which is famously based on an unresolved dirty joke, also anticipate the theatre of the absurd.

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Prints $175 and Under.

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