A Frenchman in Cairo

Woodcut and poem by Emile Bernard from 'Couronne d'amour' (1902)


Twenty-seven percent of the Frick Art Reference Library's book collection has no other library location in WorldCat. One recent addition to these "uniques" is Couronne d'amour: poemes by the cloisonnist painter, Emile Bernard (1868-1941). It was published in 1902 by the Imprimerie E. Messina & Cie., Cairo, who also published Bernard's Extaxes et lutes, liberté: poemes in the same year.

Initially, Bernard, wanting to avoid conscription, had intended to travel to Polynesia with Gauguin. They had first met at Pont-Aven, in 1886, but a bitter quarrel led them to go their separate ways. One wonders what would have happened if Bernard had gone to Polynesia with Gauguin. Instead, Bernard went to Italy, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Tanta, and Cairo (1893), where he settled, financially supported by Comte Antoine de La Rochefoucauld (1862-1959) and by Andries Bonger (1861-1936). He lived in the native quarter of Beth el Baahri, adopted local dress and married Hanenah Saati (ca. 1875-1937), who was of Syrian descent (sometimes described as Lebanese). They had three children who all died in childhood.

Bernard was busy as a painter and writer — besides his own poetry, he contributed to various reviews, such as L'Ymagier. His painting meanwhile swerved away from his avant-garde style as he became more academic and orientalist. Both his sister, Madelein, three years younger, who followed him to Cairo in 1895 (and died of tuberculosis in November of that year), and Hanenah modeled for him.

The muse — and musician — of this volume of poetry is Andrée Fort, whom Bernard met in 1901 and who returned to Egypt with him. They had three children and finally married in 1938 on the death of Hanenah.

This volume of poetry was published in an edition of fifty — our copy is number fifteen. It consists of fifty-three poems, seven of which have been set to music by Fort, a title-page woodcut vignette, and a half-page woodcut by Bernard. The title page is printed partly in gold.

Bernard also wrote poetry under the pseudonyms of Jean Dorsal and Jean D'Orsal.


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