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University of Texas at Austin

Pierre Legrain:

An Inventory of His Binding Design Albums in the Art Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Legrain, Pierre, 1889-1929
Title: Pierre Legrain Binding Design Albums
Dates: 1918-1929
Extent: 2 albums (164 items)
Abstract: These two albums contain Pierre Legrain’s original binding designs composed in various media, often accompanied by his handwritten instructions and photographs of the finished bookbindings.
Call Number: Art Collection AR-00329
Language: French
Access: Open for research. A minimum of twenty-four hours is required to pull art materials to the Reading Room.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchase (R9470), 1982
Processed by: Helen Young, 2006

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Pierre Émile Legrain was born October 2, 1889, at Levallois-Perret, Hauts-de-Seine, in the outskirts of Paris. He attended the Ecole des Arts Appliqués Germain Pilon.
In 1908 Legrain joined the studio of the designer Paul Iribe (1883-1935), with whom he collaborated in 1912 on the apartment of the celebrated fashion designer and art patron Jacques Doucet. In 1916 Doucet proposed that Legrain, who had no experience as a book binder, provide designs for bindings for Doucet’s collection of books and manuscripts. Legrain set up in Doucet’s dining room and between 1917 and 1919 designed around 370 bindings, most of which were executed by René Kieffer, but also by Canape, Noulhac, and Germaine Schroeder. After the completion of these bindings, Legrain continued to provide Doucet with designs for furniture and other objects.
Legrain exhibited his bindings at the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in 1919. In 1922 his work started to attract much attention when articles about his bindings appeared in magazines, subsequently increasing demand for his bindings. He was thus able to establish his own studio, and no longer had to send his designs out to the bookbinders’ establishments. He could also now choose among his clients and books, and he had commissions from the leading collectors of modern books.
Most of Legrain’s best work was created between 1925 and his death in 1929. He had developed a complete understanding of binding technique, and he came to prefer to work with bindings, although there was still great demand for his decorating work. His binding designs moved away from geometric styles to more complicated and often asymmetrical compositions; a wide range of materials were used in his bindings. The Legrain bindings exhibited at the Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes of 1925 sealed his reputation as the leading designer of French bindings.
Legrain died in Paris on July 17, 1929.


Corbin, Donna. "Legrain, Pierre(-Emile)."Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 2006, (accessed 6 November 2006).
Ray, Gordon N. "The Art Deco Book in France."Studies in Bibliography 55 (2002): 20-131. Project Muse. John Hopkins University Press, (accessed 6 November 2006).

Scope and Contents

The Ransom Center Art Collection has two albums of Pierre Legrain’s original binding designs, 1918-1929. These layout designs are composed of various media: gouache, pencil, ink, correction white, and a few collage elements. Legrain’s handwritten instructions are on most of the designs. Thirty black and white photographs of finished bookbindings are mounted next to corresponding designs. The albums are bound in cloth with a Legrain design of overlapping circles, with "[Henri] Mercher" stamped on the front turn in.
The designs are numbered consecutively within the albums, but appear in the following Index sorted by author and title of the book. For those designs with corresponding bindings identified in Pierre Legrain, relieur (1965), the citation numbers are included.

Related Material

The Ransom Center’s Library has seventeen books in original bindings by Legrain; the designs for three of these books (Pierre Legrain, relieur numbers 4, 416, and 618) are included in the Art Collection’s Legrain volumes.

Album List