Jarry’s ideas about book illustration coalesced in 1894—the year he visited the painters’ colony in Pont-Aven, Brittany, then dominated by Paul Gauguin. In a wide-eyed account of this formative experience in a letter to his sister Charlotte, he described how the beautiful landscapes and local “peasant” culture had enabled him to finally understand Impressionist painting. According to Jarry, Gauguin and the artists advised him to stop drinking water and instead drink rum all the time. He found it difficult to keep pace with their carousing given the rough Breton roads and his long rides back to the inn on a bicycle.
Gauguin and the painters Armand Seguin, Charles Filiger, and Roderic O’Conor were also engaged with printmaking. They helped shape the aesthetics of Jarry’s book design by encouraging him, above all, to make his own art, loaning him crude tools to create his first woodcuts.
Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Sainte Gertrude, woodcut, in L’Ymagier, no. 5 (October 1895). The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Gift of Robert J. and Linda Klieger Stillman, 2017. PML 197080.