"A livre d'artiste is a limited edition, handmade book combining original prints with the artist often supervising the production of the book and collaborating with the author of the text. The livres d'artistes acquired by Fondren Library are distinct from another tradition, widely known as artists' books, which has been developing as a genre since the early decades of the 20th century. Throughout the 1960's and 1970's these artists' books were designed, illustrated and produced using inexpensive photomechanical printing for large editions. The objective was to make the books more accessible to a wider audience and to broaden exposure to the artist's work. By the 1980's, artists' books had become the primary medium for many artists. Some are produced in limited editions, others are unique items. Because many of these books are not constrained by the normal limits of a bound book, often assuming sculptural qualities, book art is perhaps a more appropriate term to use in describing these artists' books. The historical and critical literature discussing what constitutes an artist's book, book art or book work is not extensive, perhaps because the broad spectrum of artists' books makes defining the genre almost impossible." Prendeville, Jet Marie. "Livres d'artistes: 1918 to 2000: a Very Special Collection." The Flyleaf, 56 (Fall 2009): 4-11.
For the purposes of developing the collection, a distinction was made between the livres d'artistes and artists' books traditions. Specialists in this field could argue that some of the books in the Fondren collection are deluxe illustrated books rather than livres d'artistes. The original criteria that the works were created by prominent artists and significant literary authors was maintained even though in several cases the livre d'artiste was not a collaborative work. At least two of the works might be considered true artists' books because the artists also wrote the poetry or prose.
This guide presents the livres d'artistes collected since 2004 with selected secondary literature for each artist represented, and a selected bibliography on the history of livres d'artistes, deluxe illustrated books, and artists books. While the guide does not include resources for the rich history of illustrated books, works discussing German Expressionist illustrated books and Russian avant-garde books from 1910-1934 are listed because of the art historical importance of major 20th century artists involved in these movements.
The Woodson Research Center also houses a collection of over 500 Limited Editions Club books printed between 1928 and 1984 donated to Fondren Library in 1982 by General and Mrs. Maurice Hirsch. The Limited Editions Club commissioned artists to illustrate their reissued classics of world literature. Notable artists are Picasso, Matisse, Leonard Baskin, Alice Neel, and Jacob Lawrence.