New York: Dodge Publishing, 1916. 20 Hand-Painted Photographs By Adelaide Hanscom Leeson. First Edition. Full Leather. 4to - over 9¾" - 12" tall. Very Good. Item #005501203
A landmark of Photography and Book Arts Copy "A" of only 4 hand-painted copies of this brilliant Pictorialist illustrated book.
The only recorded surviving copy of the hand-painted version of this stunning triumph of Pictorialist book arts work, which in other editions was issued with the images in black and white. The hand-painted limitation page notes: "Of this edition four copies have been specially bound and decorated with hand painted watercolors. No two are alike. Copy A." The plates, text, and binding are all stunning. Each of the 20-plates are hand-painted, as is every printed page, including essentially all decorations, initials, etc.
Adelaide Hanscom Leeson (1875-1931), Pictorialist photograph, Associate Member of Alfred Steiglist's Photo-Secession, and American pioneer in the use of fine art photography in the illustration of literary works. She is credited with being among the first to publish a book with photographs incorporating male nudity in America. Adelaide Marquand Hanscom, as she then was, studied design at the University of California (Now UC Berkeley), and art at the California School of Design. She also privately studied photography with Emily Pitchford and Laura Adams.
In 1902 she opened her first photographic studio in San Francisco in partnership with Blanche Cummings. The next several years were a whirlwind of increasing success, including acclaim for her entries in San Francisco's Third Photographic Salon in 1903, which "Camera Craft" noted "secured her a place among the foremost Pictorialists of the Pacific Coast." This was followed by publication in 1905, after three years of work, of her landmark "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam", a work which caused a sensation in both the US and UK, and went through a number of editions, and won a silver medal at the Liverpool Exposition. Some of her photographic studio work was hand-colored (or "hand-painted" as she termed them), drawing upon her earlier art education, and was in practice, through manipulation of negative and print, the ultimate extension and expression of her Pictorialist philosophy. This was also the case with some of the editions of her "Rubaiyat", and some of the reprints use color reproductions of these hand-painted prints.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed her studio and negatives (including those for the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"). Hanscom moved to Seattle and opened a studio in partnership with Gertrude Wilson, where her work quickly attained prominence locally, perhaps helped by Alfred Stieglitz naming her as part of the Photo-Secession, and and by his inclusion of her work in one of his members-only shows. She was the only Washington resident to be be included by Stieglitz.
One of the highlights of her stay in Seattle was her victory in the national competition in 1907 to select an emblem for the The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, which opened in 1909. Her winning entry, selected by unanimous vote of the committee, depicted three women representing Seattle, Alaska, and "the Orient". It was used as the logo for the Exposition, and was turned into medals and other collectible memorabilia. Her choice of women as the focal point of this work was a reflection of their importance in her larger creative practice, including both her fine art and studio work.
Hanscom began work on the photographic illustrations for Browning's "Sonnets" immediately after arriving in Seattle, though the road to the completion of the work was a long one. She married in 1908, to a British-born former Mountie named Gerald Leeson, becoming Adelaide Hanscom Leeson. Her husband's work took them for much of the year to Alaska, but she would return to Seattle each year, and kept her studio there through ca. 1911. After her marriage (and two children), work on the substantially completed "Sonnets" slowed to a crawl. The family moved to Danville, California in 1912.
1916 proved to be a year of both triumph and tragedy for Leeson. "Sonnets" was finally published to widespread acclaim and commercial success, going through several editions. But her husband Gerald, volunteered to join the British Army, returned to England, was quickly sent to the Western Front, and quickly killed in action. His death marked the the end of her artistic work, and the beginning of a long downward spiral, including spells in mental institutions.
"Sonnets" is one of the two great photographically illustrated works of Leeson's career, begun and primarily completed during her Seattle years, completed just before her world fell apart and her creative work ended. This is the finest imaginable copy of the work, the only known surviving hand-painted copy of the four copies known to have been issued. Every single page of the work (including the copyright page), every initial, every decorative headpiece and tailpiece, is beautifully hand-painted in watercolor. It is one of the more important early works by a woman artist in the fields of book arts and photography to come out of the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest as a whole.
The custom binding by MacDonald, is as extraordinary as the work itself, featuring no less than 44 inlays. The binding is a rich full dark brown crushed Levant morocco, spine with raised bands, two title panels, and four panels tooled in gilt with floral designs, each featuring a red morocco floral inlay at center, surrounded by twin gilt rules, each cover is bordered with twin gilt rules and surrounded by a wide hand-tooled gilt border of twenty unusual repeating designs, reminiscent of the Crown of João VI, also known as the Portuguese Royal Crown, each featuring a large red morocco inlay tooled in gilt, the boards are edged with single gilt rules, the extra-wide inner dentelles feature four gilt rules in pairs surrounding a repeating floral scroll, anchored by gilt rosettes at each corner, surrounding a silk doublure, top edge gilt, silk endpapers (some rubbing to joints, small nick to foot of spine). Outwardly stunning, internally pristine. Notes: Illustrations are hand-painted collotype prints, mounted onto grey card and tipped in to leaves, all with guard sheets. Description:  leaves : ill., 20 tipped-in hand-painted photographs . Responsibility: Elizabeth Barrett Browning ; with photographic illustrations by Adelaide Hanscom Leeson.