KAUFFER, Edward McKnight (artist ) and Enoch Arnold BENNETT. Venus Rising from the SeaWith Twelve Drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer. London: The Curwen Press for Cassell & Company Ltd, 1931.

Folio in 4s (270 x 195mm), pp. [4 (blank ll.)], [2 (blank, limitation statement)], [2 (half-title, blank)], [2 (title, imprint)], 110, [4 (blank ll.)]. Pochoir-coloured frontispiece and title-vignette, 7 pochoir-coloured plates, and 2 pochoir-coloured illustrations in the text, all after Kauffer. (Very occasional very light marking). Original grey cloth binding designed by Kauffer, upper board and spine lettered and decorated in grey, top edges cut, others uncut, original with grey printed label on the spine. (Extremities very lightly rubbed and bumped, slipcase rubbed and bumped causing cracking on joints and small losses at extremities). A very good, fresh copy.

First edition illustrated by Kauffer, no. 297 of 350 copies signed by the artist. Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) had entered the publishing world as the editor of the weekly journal Woman, and inspired by the fiction of George Moore, wrote A Man from the North (1898) alongside becoming a prolific and well-off journalist. His early life as a writer was marked by a series of successes: Bennett’s friend H.G. Wells helped him secured J.B. Pinker as his agent, ‘an agreement which not only led to a lifelong friendship between the two men but eventually made Bennett one of the highest-paid authors of his age’ (ODNB). Life and work in Paris and America saw Bennett develop as a successful writer of lighter fiction and (under the guidance of the American dramatist Edward Knoblock) pieces for the theatre. An exponent of realistic fiction of the time, Bennett he was sent to France as a public servant in World War I, and was put in charge of propaganda in France in 1918. Further successes followed in peacetime and ‘[f]or much of the 1920s he was famously the highest-paid literary journalist in England’ and from his very first novel onwards ‘could produce fictional work of rare distinction’ (op. cit.). 

Bennett’s long short story ‘Venus Rising from the Sea’ had been written in April-May 1929, and published in the journals Story-Teller (November 1930) and Woman’s Home Companion (three instalments from May 1931 onwards). This limited edition was the first publication in book form, and was illustrated by the Anglo-American artist E. McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), who was one of the most important graphic artists and illustrators working in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, when his ‘sprightly, jazzy, designs were part of the social fabric of progressive, forward-looking Britain in his time’ (ODNB). Kauffer, whose ‘lifelong love of books – of which he became a distinguished illustrator’ (op. cit.) began when he was working for a bookseller and art dealer in San Francisco in 1910, had previously illustrated Bennett’s novel Elsie and the Child (1929) for Cassell, and these two handsome editions of Bennett’s books ‘were beautifully produced, desirable and collectible’ (E.W. Gordon ‘Kauffer, Art, Markets and the Hogarth Press’ in H. Southworth (ed.), Leonard and Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press and the Networks of Modernism (Edinburgh, 2010), pp. 179-205, at p. 185).


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