Jacques Doucet, collector
As a collector from his youth, Jacques Doucet became passionate about Impressionism at a very early age. From 1880 to 1910, he gathered an exceptional collection of the 18th-century works that adorned his residences: his private mansion on rue de la Ville-l'Evêque, then the one he had built on rue Spontini. In 1912, he sold the entire collection so that he could turn resolutely toward the art of his time. From 1913 onward, in fact, he set about a new program to give an account of modernity along four axes: art (painting and sculpture), writing, decoration, and the artistic expression of other civilizations. His last residences, the apartment on Avenue du Bois and the studio on Rue Saint-James, are the realization of this quest through the creation of two Art Deco showpieces. In spite of the admiration aroused by all of the artists who visited them, they were saved neither from dispersion nor destruction. Of these constructions, only the literary library survived.
The idea of a library dedicated to francophone literature was born in 1913. It has its origins in the meeting of Doucet and André Suarès, and in the correspondence that was established between them. For Doucet, Suarès commented on artistic and literary life and drew up a list of indispensable books that may constitute the ideal library.
Under their council, Doucet built his new building around four pillars: Claudel, Gide, Jammes and Suarès. On his own, he adds Paul Valéry to the quartet, which he appreciates. Doucet collects all the publications from Suarès, but also manuscripts, from le Livre de l’Emeraude to Amour, which Saurès edits. From Gide, he obtains the manuscripts of l’Immoraliste, l’Enfant prodigue, Saül, la Symphonie pastorale, and the first editions of all of his works, including le Corydon of 1911. Claudel reserved the manuscripts of La Ville and Tête d’or for him. The manuscripts of Francis Jammes include those of Ma fille Bernadette, Le Rosaire au Soleil, a few sonnets, and some isolated poems. From living authors who give him their manuscripts, Doucet obtains an autograph presentation of the text that he joins to the work; this is the case for the manuscripts of Charmes by Paul Valéry and l’Immoraliste by Gide.
The precursors of modernity
Doucet began with the precursors of modernity, Chateaubriand (les Mémoires d’outre-tombe), Stendhal, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Nerval, Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud. He bought copies of all of Stendhal’s publications in the best condition, except for la Chartreuse : le Rouge et le noir, which was still paperback, Armance with the ex-libris of Mareste, and about twenty volumes from his library enriched with annotations. From Flaubert, he obtains, with all the editions on large paper, the head print of Madame Bovary, enriched with the dedication to Sainte-Beuve, the manuscript of le Château des coeurs, which was used for printing in la Vie moderne, as well as about ten letters to Emile Bergerat, director of the magazine, relating to the publication of the fairy tale in 1880. From Baudelaire, he acquires letters addressed to Poulet-Malassis, Wallon, or Janin, but most notably, a letter to Wagner, which Cosima Wagner agrees to give him, Du dandysme by Barbey, corrected by him and enriched with an ex-dono by Baudelaire to Narcisse Ancelle, to Wagner from Baudelaire dedicated to Vigny, from Verlaine the proofs and the partial manuscript of Romances sans paroles, originally dedicated to Rimbaud, and l’Après-midi d’un faune by Mallarmé dedicated to Suzanne Manet.
In 1916, thanks to the bookseller Camille Bloch, who helped him with his acquisitions, Doucet met Pierre Reverdy. Doucet obtained from him a periodic letter of his ideas and reflections on the literary movements of the time. Introduced by the writer to Cubism, Douet helps him finance the launch of his publication Nord-Sud. He applies the method of paid writing to André Salmon and Max Jacob, from whom he buys manuscripts, including that of the Cornet à dés. Blaise Cendrars, for his part, delivers a monthly chapter of a novel to the patron, which will become l’Eubage. Cendrars’ books and various manuscripts are included in the collection. Correspondence between Doucet and Apollinaire is rare, but Legrain’s bindings on the first edition of Alcools and the manuscripts of Bestiaire et of Poète assassiné are indications which testify to their acquisition from Apollinaire during his lifetime, with one of the 25 autographed copies of la Case d’Armons. Other pieces were later sold by Jacqueline Apollinaire, including certain pieces from Alcools and prints from Calligrams. In 1919, at Doucet’s request, Raymond Radiguet gave him manuscripts and agreed to write a chronicle for a fee.
André Breton, librarian and adviser
Jacques Doucet installs his literary collection on rue de Noisiel, in an apartment above his garage. In 1920, to make his collection accessible to researchers, he decided to hire a librarian. The position fell to a young and unknown André Breton who, at age 24, became Doucet’s advisor for art and literature. Their collaboration lasted four years. In practice, Breton carried out the true job of a librarian, managing invoices, organizing collections, preparing bindings, and rectifying or specifying assignments. In his letters, Breton suggests books and manuscripts. Many autographed pieces by Rimbaud, Verlaine, or Mallarmé, not to mention Lautréamont’s letters, are acquired on Breton’s initiative. With his friend and assistant Louis Aragon in 1922, Breton wrote a plan to transform the library into a laboratory of Surrealist experience. Aragon, who was charged with writing a proposal on contemporary literary history, also provided fragments of le Défense de l’infini and pages from Paysan de Paris. The inclusion in the collection of manuscripts of his friends Eluard, Aragon, Tzara, Desnos, and Leiris, makes the collection one of the most representative of the Surrealist movement. Picabia gave away various manuscripts and models of the publication 391.
The last few years
Aragon and Breton moved away from Doucet in 1924; the separation was not definitive until 1927 following their adhesion to the Communist Party. Robert Desnos takes over the collaboration. He had already carried out a work on eroticism for the patron. He then gathered a documentary collection on Surrealism made up of leaflets, catalogs, and various magazines for Doucet. Finally, Doucet commissioned one of the last literary studies for his library was investigating the marvelous modern work entrusted to Michel Leiris in 1927. At that time, his dream was realized with a film library entrusted to Léon and Denise Moussinac. In 1925, Doucet entrusted the vacant librarian position to Marie Dormoy, who had been named the muse of André Suarès. After five years of private management of the collection on behalf of the patron, from 1925 until his death on October 30, 1929, it was her responsibility to transform the company into a public institution.
The Bibliothèque littéraire de Jacques Doucet, which became a collection of the State by accepting the bequest made to the University of Paris in 1932, was then installed in the reserve of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. Marie Dormoy carried out the transfer of collections and continued to develop and enhance them until 1957. The literary library set up by Jacques Doucet was remarkable and innovative in every way, giving the literary manuscript its letters of nobility, giving the authors’ correspondence a place of its own in their work, and highlighting the links between painting and poetry. He was also very attentive to the creative field that the publications that were in the process of being born constituted, hence his assistance to Pierre Reverdy for the publication of Nord-Sud, and then to André Breton and Aragon for the financing of the publication Littérature. Doucet also invented, with the help of bookbinders Pierre Legrain and Rose Adler, modern bookbinding. To protect his manuscripts and rare editions, the collector wants a binding that does not yet exist; no longer decorative, but allusive, in the service of the text behind which it fades away to enhance it. Legrain and Rose Adler were able to translate this expectation.