À Rebours

15th February - 24th March

"gazing at the tortoise where it lay huddled in a corner of the dining room; glittering brightly in the half light" (1974/2018) Coloured relief and intaglio printing on Arches paper, Edition of 25, Paper size: 65.5 x 48.5 cms (25 3/4 x 19 ins), Plate size: 25.3 x 20.5 cms (10 x 8 ins) 

Bernard Jacobson Gallery is delighted to announce À Rebours, an exhibition of the new folio of 52 prints by William Tillyer inspired by Joris-Karl Huysmans’ seminal 19th century novel. The folio will also be accompanied by the publication this February of a new translation of À Rebours by acclaimed author and translator, Theo Cuffe, illustrated throughout by Tillyer. 

À Rebours (Against Nature) has been an enduring source of inspiration and fascination for Tillyer from his earliest practice as an artist, representing the dynamic polarity of the natural versus the contrived - and good versus evil. The tension between these opposing sides is seen repeatedly in Tillyer’s work and perhaps is particularly evident in the use of metal grids in his landscape paintings.

This might seem at odds with an artist who is equally passionate about the naturalism of Constable but this contradiction is eloquently explained by the art historian, Norbert Lynton ‘Constable’s art involved hard-won and hard-worked artifice to achieve the effect of naturalness...Huysmans’s artifice is patent: ascribed to des Esseintes, it is the theme of his book’ (À Rebours) *. Whilst Tillyer is certainly alive to the beauty of the natural world, his attempts to portray it are replica horloges always firmly rooted in an understanding that all art is artifice.

Themes from À Rebours have appeared in Tillyer’s paintings over many decades and the folio for this exhibition began life in 1974 with 61 prints produced over a period of 5 years. These prints are characterised by dazzling variety, both in technique and pictorial approach; Tillyer never appears circumscribed by working within the framework of À Rebours, rather it seems to release a particularly rich seam of invention and experimentation.

In creating this folio Tillyer deploys an array of intaglio techniques including etching, dry point, engraving, aquatint and copper plate, whilst visually they range from the expressionistic use of colour to monochrome and from loose and atmospheric mark-making to precise and detailed representation. This includes the pop-like coloured lines used to render the female curves of The Acrobat, to the dark and gothic cross-hatching employed to atmospheric effect in The Duc de Esseintes Addresses his Servants.

Overall, one is left with an impression of richness and an energetic dialogue with the text, rather than a literal interpretation; the wonderfully confected world of À Rebours re-imagined by Tillyer retains all the power of the original to unsettle and provoke, even after a span of many decades from its first conception.

A new translation by Theo Cuffe of the original novel, with illustrations from the portfolio by William Tillyer, will be published this February by 21 Publishing. For more information visit the Publications list.


Celia Bailey
bailey_celia@hotmail.com | + 44 (0) 7930 442 411


Bernard Jacobson Gallery
was founded in 1969 as a publisher and dealer in prints. Over nearly 50 years the gallery has exhibited many great British, American and European artists including: Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Peter Lanyon, Robert Motherwell, Bruce McLean, Ben Nicholson, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, James Rosenquist, William Scott, Frank Stella, Pierre Soulages, William Tillyer, and Marc Vaux.

Theo Cuffe has translated numerous works from French, including Voltaire’s Candide and Micromégas and Other Short Fictions (both Penguin Classics) and a new translation of The Little Prince replica rolex and Letter to a Hostage by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Penguin Modern Classics). Later this year, 21 Publishing will also publish a new translation by Cuffe of Gauguin’s Noa Noa – Illustrated throughout with new works by William Tillyer.

21 Publishing is an independent illustrated art book publishing company, established in 1997 by David Bowie, Sir Timothy Sainsbury, Bernard Jacobson, and Karen Wright (then editor of Modern Painters) Previous publications have included Blimey! and It Hurts by Matthew Collings as well as the recent critically acclaimed monograph by Bernard Jacobson, Robert Motherwell: The Making of an American Giant.