Rare & Beautiful

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler: Publishing Artists and Authors in the Early 20th Century

The art dealer published Gertrude Stein illustrated by Juan Gris and other notable artist/writer pairings.

By Peter Kraus November 5, 2019

If one person stands out in the pantheon of publishers of twentieth-century artist’s books, it is the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884–1979).

Interior pages from Le Piège de Méduse by Erik Satie with woodcuts by Georges Braque, 1921, published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

Kahnweiler was born into a wealthy German family and moved to Paris, where he opened an art gallery in 1907. Along with being one of the first dealers to appreciate the work of Pablo Picasso, Kahnweiler became the champion of Cubism and its artists. Like his fellow art dealer Ambroise Vollard, one of the ways in which Kahnweiler sought to promote the work of his artists was by publishing illustrated books. Unlike the others, he was focused on combining the works of the artists he represented with the writings of their contemporaries. Also, in contrast to other artist’s books of the period, Kahnweiler’s books are notable for their modest appearance and small size. Measuring roughly 320 x 230 mm (12.5 x 9 in.), they were issued sewn in plain paper wrappers, usually with an illustration on the front cover. They were almost all published in an edition of 110 regular copies with another ten on large paper.

Woodcut by André Derain for  L’Enchanteur Pourissant by Guillaume Apollinaire (The Rotting Magician), 1909, published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

Just as Vollard began his publishing venture in 1900 by issuing Paul Verlaine’s poem Parallèlement illustrated by Pierre Bonnard and creating an iconic template for all to come, so Kahnweiler’s first book set a new standard. It is true that Picasso illustrated Ovid and Matisse illustrated Ronsard, but for Kahnweiler it was important that his artists collaborate with their contemporaries. Thus his very first book, published in 1909, was L’Enchanteur Pourissant  (The Rotting Magician) by Guillaume Apollinaire with illustrations by André Derain, thereby creating a triple first. Everything about the book was new and striking—from its modest format to the bold typography and remakable woodcuts, which reflected the recent embrace of African art by Parisian artists. In 1911, Kahnweiler published the book for which he is perhaps best known today, Max Jacob’s Saint Matorel, illustrated with four Cubist etchings by Picasso.

Kahnweiler, though, is perhaps mostly remembered by the art world today for his championing of the Spanish painter Juan Gris, and his monograph on Gris is still considered the standard work on the artist. He published three books with Gris illustrations, of which the most important is arguably Gertrude Stein’s A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow for which Gris provided four lithographs (1926). This pairing of Stein and Gris is typical of Kahnweiler’s understanding of the importance of combining art and literature to create a unique work.

Lithograph by Juan Gris for A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow, by Gertrude Stein, 1926, published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

As a result of World War I, and as a consequence of Kahnweiler being considered an enemy alien, his stock was seized and subsequently auctioned off. Nevertheless, showing remarkable resiliency, he returned to Paris and set up a new gallery, Galerie Simon (named after Kahnweiler’s partner, André Simon), and continued to publish books illustrated by his artists, who now numbered Surrealists, such as André Masson. in their midst. Of Kahnweiler’s postwar production, the finest and most important are probably Lunes en Papier (1921), illustrated with six woodcuts by Fernand Léger, his first original book illustrations, accompanying a text by André Malraux, the author’s first published work; and Le Piège de Méduse (1921), consisting of a text by the composer Erik Satie accompanied by three original color woodcuts by Georges Braque, the artist’s first original illustrations. World War II sent the dealer into hiding, and after the war he started his third and final gallery, Galerie Louise Leiris (Leiris was Kahnweiler’s step-daughter).

Kahnweiler’s output, like his books, was not large, but its impact was huge. To look at a collection of the books he published is to get a unique insight into the artistic ferment that marked the early twentieth century.

Lithograph by Fernand Léger for Lunes en Papier by André Malraux, 1921, published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

For those interested in finding out more about the books highlighted in this article, including possible acquisition (A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow), please contact Peter Kraus at Ursus Books & Gallery: (212) 772-8787 or ursus@ursusbooks.com:

Peter Kraus is the founder and current owner of Ursus Books & Gallery in Manhattan, which offers a comprehensive selection of art reference books, superb copies of rare books in all fields, and decorative prints.


This is the fifth installment in a collaboration with Peter highlighting important books from the past.

Previous articles in this series are “Paris and the Artist’s Book in the 1920s and ’30s,” “Discovering Old Design Books in Japan,” “A Dialogue with Color,” and A Flowering of Creativity: Ladislav Sutnar and F. T. Marinetti.”

Please note that Designers & Books will receive an accommodation from sales resulting from this collaboration.

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