Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France
Sonia Delaunay (illustrated by)
Blaise Cendrars (poem by)
Editions des Hommes Nouveaux; Paris, France
Size: Various for the multiple parts
Edition: #9/36 on Japon – There seems to be some disagreement regarding the edition size on Japon (see comment below)
Inscription: Signed by the poet 1953
Blaise Cendrars's works can be characterised as part travel journal and part reflection (Murdoch 2013:[sp]). Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913) describes the journey of a young man, in the company of Jehanne, a prostitute (Guérin 2015:[sp]), through Russia during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). Cendrars described the text as prose, despite its poetic characteristics, because he felt that a poem was “too pretentious” and that prose was “more open” (Murdoch 2013:[sp]). The use of prose in the title is intended to be vulgar in the “Latin sense of ‘prosa’, ‘dictu’” (Murdoch 2013:[sp]). The text is displayed in numerous fonts and colours, and is prefaced by a “Michelin railway map of the Trans-Siberian journey from Moscow to the Sea of Japan” (Murdoch 2013:[sp]). The text was written first (Murdoch 2013:[sp]) and then Sonia Delaunay created the illustrations which accompany and illuminate the ‘poem’ (Plastic Arts [sa]:[sp]). The purpose is to make the reader absorb the text and image simultaneously (Murdoch 2013:[sp]). The vivid graphics occasionally juxtapose with the dark nature of the text (Murdoch 2013:[sp]), “a sad poem printed in sunlight” as Cendrars once referred to the work (Murdoch 2013:[sp]). Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France is a weaving of bright colours and geometric shapes that accompany the rhythmic reading of the poem (Plastic Arts [sa]:[sp]).
The work on exhibition here for Booknesses is unusual, consisting of four flat, unbound and unfolded sheets with pochoir illumination by Delaunay. The parchment binding, hand-painted in oil by Sonia Delaunay, remains unfolded plus the original and exceedingly rare prospectus announcement, coloured in pochoir. With three original watercolours on vellum by Delaunay and the corrected proofs of the text on two sheets. Laid in a morocco binding in a matching slipcase by J. P. Miguet, Paris. Original watercolours on vellum, numbered 1-3 laid down on paper. This is a unique and spectacular copy of this landmark in the history of twentieth century art and poetry. This particular set was never cut and pasted together; it remains in its original, large, loose printed sheet format. It was never folded and bound in the Delaunay binding. The Delaunay colours are preserved in the brightest tones. It has none of the cracks and folds through the imagery and text which mars nearly all copies of the work. The Delaunay binding is an original oil painting in its own right and is preserved in perfect condition in its rare, unfolded format. The prospectus is a sublime work of Delaunay’s pochoir art by itself. It is recorded that if all of the 150 copies were placed end to end, (normal copies of the work being cut, pasted and constructed in a long single sheet of almost two meters and folded in accordion style into the hand-painted parchment binding), when unfolded to their full length, they would equal the exact height of the Eiffel tower, a homage from Sonia to her husband Robert and to his most famous painting series, Le Tour Eiffel (1909-1912). The printed justification announces that a total of 150 copies were to be printed; however, it is documented that only 62 copies were actually assembled. This is number 9 of the copies on Japon. Antoine Coron, Keeper of Rare Books at the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, who has been compiling a census of copies of La Prose du Transsibérien, knows of no other unfolded and uncut copies on Japon.
Regarding the edition size, Kitty Maryatt states:
I think the 36 is a simple mistake. The number of books is listed on the book under the title: 8 vellum, 28 Japon for a total of 36 of those two substrates. So your text should say #9 out of 28 Japon copies. Sonia herself said that there were 60 made: 30 for herself and 30 for Blaise. I've discounted that since Blaise was in control of selling the copies and he signed them as he sold them. There are very few signed by Sonia. But to say that there were exactly 62 copies bound, then I would like to know the reference.
Guérin, A.M. 2015. The Prose of the Transiberian and the Little Jehanne of France. [O]. Available:
Murdoch, J. 2013. Trans-Siberian Prose and Little Jeanne from France. [O]. Available: