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Plan de Paris

  • Author: KARASZ, Ilonka (artist)
  • Publisher: Washington Square Bookshop, New York (publisher)
  • Date: 1927
  • Dimensions: 91.5 x 66 cms


A rare and decorative 1927 Plan of Paris designed by the Hungarian-born artist, illustrator & designer, Ilonka Karasz [1896-1981]

About this piece:

Plan de Paris  – Ilonka Karasz (artist)

Vivid printed colours originally heightened with gold. Heavy stock paper. Traces of old folds. Some minor splits and separations at old fold junctures in mid and upper centre of map and at ends of a couple of the vertical and horizontal folds at upper right and lower left, all now expertly closed, repaired and reinforced with conservation quality archival tissue on verso, with some very minimal cosmetic retouching to recto image in these areas as required. In all a very attractive and well preserved example of this uncommon map.

The Hungarian-born artist, designer and illustrator Ilonka Karasz [1896-1981] moved to New York in 1913 after studying with her sister at the Budapest Royal School of Arts and Crafts. She settled in the then bohemian district of Greenwich Village, where she quickly established a reputation as one of the leading figures and practitioners of modern art and design in the United States. Her unique artistic talents spanned a whole range of media that included furniture, silver, ceramics, wallpaper, textiles, graphic design & illustration, and mapmaking. Perhaps one of her most enduring visual legacies are the designs for the 186 covers of the New Yorker Magazine, of which she became one of the principal artists, from 1924 through the following five decades. In about 1920 Karasz married Dutch-born chemist William A Nyland [1890-1975], who had also come to the United States as a young man. Shortly after their marriage, they purchased land at Brewster in upper New York State where they subsequently maintained a house in addition to their New York home. It also appears as if, during this early period of their marriage, the couple lived for several years in Indonesia and Europe. It is known that during a lecture tour to New York in 1924, Nyland & Karasz became dedicated followers of the enigmatic Armenian-born mystic, philosopher and spiritual teacher, Georg Ivonivich Gurdjieff [1873/7 7-1949] who had settled near Paris in 1922. It is possible that this map of Paris was one of the first works that Karasz designed and had published after the couple’s return to New York, and that it very probably drew its design inspiration from the couple’s stay in that City during in the mid 1920’s. It is known that they made frequent visits to France over the years to visit their spiritual mentor Gurdjieff and that Nyland was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Gurdjieff Foundation after the latter’s death in Paris in 1949.

We certainly know that Karasz’s multi-faceted artistic career had been fully re-established in New York by the late 1920’s. Karasz’s work as an illustrator for the New Yorker Magazine has already been mentioned, and two of her covers from 1926 and 1927 depicting Florida and the Caribbean have a distinct cartographic content but she did also produce a number of maps for book illustrations and cover designs at around this same time.

The two books for which she is best known as the map designer are The Outline of Man’s Knowledge: The Story of History, Science, Literature, Art, Religion, Philosophy [1927] by Clement Wood, which included three double page maps showing the World in Ancient Times, in 1492, and in the present day. A further book, which she very attractively illustrated, was New York: Not So Little and Not So Old [1926] by Sarah M. Lockwood. This small volume included an attractive colour map of historic New Amsterdam in 1664 on its cover and incorporated decorative historic map endpapers and numerous small line-cut illustrations and detailed maps of different parts of New York throughout its pages.

It is interesting that Karasz came together with the Washington Square Bookshop to publish this map. The bookshop was in one of the great centres of bohemian and bibliophile culture in Greenwich Village, initially located on the corner of West 8th Street. Karasz also resided in Greenwich Village. For nearly sixty years it was run by the influential literary power couple, Chase Horton [1897-1985] and his wife, Josephine Bell Horton [1888-1967]. It was Chase who later became closely connected with the author John Steinbeck and with Steinbeck’s agent, Elizabeth Otis. However it was Josephine, who with her first husand, Egmont Arens [1887-1966], had first taken over the running of the Washington Square Bookshop in 1917 from Frank Shay, shortly after they had married.

Josephine herself was a native of Topeka, Kansas, the daughter of a dry store salesman and real estate developer. She had studied at the Chicago School of Art and during the First World War taught at the Parson School of Design. Josephine’s political outlook gravitated strongly towards Marxism and she actively embraced the views of Max Eastman’s avant-gard left-leaning journal The Masses, which had its offices in Greenwich Village and for which she wrote periodically. One of her poems, “A Tribute”, written in support of the anarchists Emma Goldman and Alex Berkman, would land her a brief stint in jail in 1917, as it was considered part of a wider conspiracy “to induce persons not to register (for military service)”. The poem was scheduled to be published in The Masses in August 1917 but was blocked by the authorities. The court case was eventually dismissed. As Brian Kannard has noted in his book Steinbeck : Citizen Spy, Arens was one of the leading literary and artistic figures of the day, an editor of Vanity Fair Magazine 1922-23 and founder of the Flying Stag Press and imprint, which also issued Playboy : A Portfolio of Art & Satire (no links to Hugh Heffner’s publication), for which Karasz is also known to have worked. Josephine spent much time running the bookstore during this period and sadly in 1923 she and Egmont divorced. Within a very short time of their divorce, Josephine had met and married Chase Horton and they soon established the Washington Square Bookshop as a fixture of the Greenwich Village intellectual and cultural landscape through their mutual love of books. It is interesting to note that illicit underground copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses were published in instalments in the Magazine Little Review from an office in a building directly behind the Washington Square Bookshop and that Josephine became ensnared in the prosecutions relating to these illicit publications in 1920, having offered copies of the Little Review for sale in the Bookshop. The Bookshop would remain an established feature of the New York literary landscape until its final closure in 1969.

What is especially interesting during this late 1920’s period is that Josephine Bell Horton appears to begin to promote many of the decorative maps of contemporary mapmakers, such as C V Farrow’s Wondrous Map of the Isle of Manhattan [1926], Max Gill’s Wonderground Map of London Town [1914/1924] and Karasz’s Plan de Paris [1927] as a new and attractive field of collecting and selling, making special orders from London of Gill’s smaller Wonderground map. With Farrow’s Manhattan map for example, Horton appears to have bought the publishing rights and rather than printing a new revised edition, simply pasted her own Washington Square Bookshop labels over the top of the imprints of the previous publisher (Fuessle & Colman) on both the maps covers and even the map itself. The May 12 1928 issue of Publishing Weekly, draws attention to the potential of “Decorative Maps for Bookshops” & offers a useful checklist in an attractive new field of selling compiled by Josephine Bell Horton, Washington Square Bookshop”. A detailed and comprehensive list of these very same decorative maps is given. Gill’s Wonderground Map, Farrow’s Wondrous Isle of Manhattan and Karasz’s Plan de Paris are all listed with retail prices of  $1.50!

Karasz’s design and the vivid colour printing used for this map of Paris are especially unusual and striking. As if displayed on a theatrical stage, two winged cherubs hold a banner title top centre whilst a pair of luxuriant red curtains are drawn back to reveal a detailed plan of the City of Paris. Drawn on a grid (labelled 1-10 (vertically) , A-I (horizontally) ) and extending from Montmatre in the North to Chatillon, Bvd Jourdan and the vestiges of the southern City walls in the south, to Nanterre and Courbevoie in the West and Vincennes in the East, all of the principal avenues and throughfares of the City are clearly depicted and appear heightened with a matt gold coloured finish that enhances the sense of decorative “old style” luxuriance that pervades the whole composition. All of the major parks and gardens of the City and its immediate environs are equally attractively delineated with their trees and principal features. And the main historic sites and buildings of interest are shown in small well-detailed three dimensional vignettes. A roundel inset lower left shows Marie Antoinette as a bucolic shepherdess beside a fine view of the gardens and facade of the Chateau of Versailles. Key Panels to the left and right sides of the map and along the bottom denote the principal monuments, museums, churches, and sites of historic interest, as well as shops, bookshops, art galleries, banks, bars and restaurants. The lower border of panels is interspersed with roundels of historical scenes. The imprints of the Washington Square Bookshop (29 West 8th Street, New York City ) and of designer Ilonka Karasz appear in separate panels lower centre. It may be that Karasz’s design of this map had also been influenced by the important Paris Exhibition of 1925, considered by many authorities as the moment when Paris’ former image as “a capital of the 19th Century” was transformed into one newly infused with every aspect of early 20th Century modernism, as ever a vibrant magnet of intellectual & literary culture, but now also an up-to-date modern metropolis of commerce, fashion and shopping.

An unusual, uncommon and interesting late 1920’s decorative map of Paris.

Refs: Obituary notice for Ilonka Karasz, New York Times, May 30 1981; Brian Kannard : Steinbeck : Citizen Spy, the Untold Story of John Steinbeck and the CIA [Grave Distraction Publications, Nashville, TN, USA, 2013], Chapter 9; William A Nyland & Gurdjieff : www.nyland.org.