Mary Reynolds and Marcel Duchamp

“Rabelais and Jarry are my gods,” Marcel Duchamp once stated. Jarry’s engagements with machines, science, alter egos, wordplay, and the letter r certainly resonate in Duchamp’s works. His friend Mary Reynolds (1891–1950) was one of the few Surrealist devotees of Jarry to express herself through the art of bookbinding. She created unique bindings for all of Jarry’s major works. Her first project, shown at left in the case, realized Duchamp’s design for an edition of Ubu roi. The U-shaped covers synthesize the work in one letterform—a gesture Jarry himself made in reference to the second letter r in the play’s first word, “merdre.” It also suggests a pun in English (you are Ubu).

Reynolds’s extraordinary binding design for Docteur Faustroll, shown at right, suggests an assimilation of Jarry and Duchamp. The perforated copper sheets on the covers, which allude to Faustroll’s sieve-bottomed boat, are framed like the windowpanes in versions of Duchamp’s miniature readymades. Inside the book’s covers, Reynolds chose the color green for the silk endpapers, reflecting both Ubu’s signature expletive (“By my green candle!”) and the green silk lining of Duchamp’s The Green Box (1934).

At left in case: Mary Reynolds (1891–1950) and Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), bookbinding, ca. 1934–35, goatskin, gilt, silk, and glassine, on Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Ubu roi (Paris: Librarie Charpentier et Fasquelle, 1921). The Art Institute of Chicago, Ryerson and Burnham Libraries. At right in case: Mary Reynolds (1891–1950), bookbinding, ca. 1940, calf and other leathers, copper, gilt, and glassine, on Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Gestes et opinions du Docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (Paris: Librairie Stock, 1923). The Art Institute of Chicago, Ryerson and Burnham Libraries.