The Heritage of Printing: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale

This is an early notice of what promises to be one of the seminal typographic exhibitions of 2011/2012.

In December 2011 The Grolier Club of New York will host an exhibition on the history of the French national printing establishment, the Imprimerie Nationale, arguably the most important printing house in Europe.  Drawn from the vast and comprehensive archives of the Imprimerie Nationale, the exhibition will document the significant influence of the press, not only on printing and the book arts, but on French—and therefore European—literary culture from the mid-sixteenth century to the present day.  The exhibition is being organized by The Grolier Club, the Groupe Imprimerie Nationale, S.A., and the Institut Mémoires de l’Édition Contemporaine (IMEC), France’s largest archive of authorial and publishing materials.

The exhibition, curated by H. George Fletcher (the retired Brooke Russell Astor Director at The New York Public Library), will tell the story of the Imprimerie Nationale, from a group of royal printers established by François I in 1538, to the Imprimerie Royale created by Cardinal Richelieu in 1640, through many generations of development, marked often by artistic innovation and wide cultural influence, but sometimes by distress and neglect, to survival in the present day.  Some 200 exhibits comprising many hundreds of objects will be on view at The Grolier Club from 6 December 2011 through 4 February 2012, encompassing artifacts of various printing processes, such as punches, matrices, and typefonts from the days of François I to the present, as well as engraved plates and lithographic stones used to produce illustrations.  It will also showcase archival copies of the books produced at the Imprimerie Nationale, from the scholarly products of the Renaissance in France through the royal folios of the Sun King to the culture-changing works of the twentieth century, and thus to the work of postwar and present-day generations of French book artists.  In many instances, original manuscripts, documents, and artwork will allow the visitor to follow the art, craft, and business of book-making from conception to realization. Video installations are planned to provide visitors with an overview of the history of the Imprimerie Nationale, as well as demonstrations of all aspects of book production.

A major publication will be created and produced by the Imprimerie Nationale’s Atelier du Livre d’Art et l’Estampe (ALAE), and a day-long colloquium on the themes of the exhibition is being planned for 24 January 2012.