One of the pleasures of dealing with French material is opening the regular supply of parcels from our French vendor in the field of the fine arts. The books contained, many finely produced and beautifully illustrated, bear testimony to the extraordinary diversity of French fine art publishing. The books arrive under the terms of an approval plan, which allows the vendor to select titles for us in accord with a detailed collection development profile drawn up by the Library.
There are several advantages to such a system. The decision about the suitability of a title for our collection is made book in hand, rather than on the basis of a bibliographical description. New imprints are added to the collection more quickly. Some fine art titles go out of print with alarming speed and our vendor, an expert in the field, can secure copies for us as soon as they appear.
The delivery of 29 titles in early October is a typical consignment. Whilst most of the volumes featured here are substantial items, not all books in the shipment are large and with lavish illustrations. We are concerned with items of academic value, not items for the coffee table. The smallest item is a slight 78-page publication, 16 cm tall, by the professor of French literature at Lyon, Jérôme Thélot, on Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa. The largest item in the package, at 34 cm, is the very substantial L’oeuvre gravé d’Abraham Bosse, graveur parisien du XVIIe siècle: catalogue général avec les reproductions de 451 estampes by José Lothe, published in the series Histoire générale de Paris. And fairly typical of such approval plan packages is a highly illustrated volume by emeritus Professor Pauline Chôné, La renaissance en Lorraine.
Of course exhibition catalogues from major French galleries feature prominently in most deliveries. This one included the catalogue of Modigliani et l’école de Paris held at the Centre Pompidou, but it is not only exhibition catalogues from major institutions. This delivery also contained Femmes artistes en Bretagne, an exhibition at the Musée du Faouët in Morbihan, and the catalogue of the Collection David et Ezra Nalmad, displayed at the Musée Paul Valéry in Sète.
The catalogue of the Georges Braque exhibition at the Grand Palais illustrates both the advantage and a possible problem with acquisition by approval plan. The French catalogue is available in Cambridge shortly after the exhibition opens, but the exhibition then travels to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston from February 16 to May 11 2014, so the Library will then need to decide whether we also need to acquire the English language. Will this simply be a translation, or will it include significantly different material? Had we not acquired the French edition so quickly, might we only have bought the English version?
The shipment also includes the 586-page Cluny : les moines et la société au premier âge féodal. This is certainly a title which should be in the University Library, but its arrival demonstrates a potential shortcoming in using approval plans. While the vendor has considered the book a fine art title and therefore within the scope of the plan, we would consider it a work on church history and would therefore not have expected it to be supplied via this route. Fortunately, however, we had not already acquired a copy elsewhere. Had we done so, we would have returned this new copy to the vendor for a refund, which would have involved the Library in significant extra work. Thankfully, the very clear collection profile we have worked out with the vendor means that the necessity for returns very rarely arises.