First published in 1923, Sports et divertissements is an album featuring 20 illustrations by Charles Martin, a prominent contemporary French fashion illustrator, alongside 20 short scores for piano written by famed composer Erik Satie. The project was commissioned by publishing magnate Lucian Vogel in 1914 and was intended to represent the sports and leisure activities that were fashionable at the time. Martin's illustrations transport viewers into a world of fashion and luxury rendered in the strong geometric shapes and bold colors that are emblematic of Art Deco. Satie's lighthearted compositions and the humorous, handwritten texts inscribed throughout the scores further imbue the project with the feeling of play. Sports et divertissements is a strong example of the early 20th century Avante Garde's interest in creating works of art that synthesized music, language, and visual art.
This exceptional work of art also has a remarkably strange publication history. Although the work was commissioned in 1914, the outbreak of WWI delayed publication. Because the album would have seemed inappropriately frivolous in light of the war, Vogel put the project on hold. By the 1920s, the mood in Paris had lifted and the Jazz Age brought an atmosphere of luxury and pleasure. In the ten years since the project was commissioned, fashion had changed so drastically that Martin's original drawings seemed dated. To ensure that the album remain au current, in 1922 Vogel commissioned Martin to create 20 new drawings. At long last, publication began in 1923, but the strangeness doesn't end there.
Nine hundred copies of Sports et divertissements were printed, but three different versions were created.
The first version of the album is extremely rare — only 10 copies were printed. This version features the 20 musical scores alongside both the 1922 illustrations and the original drawings from 1914.
The second version, issued in an edition of 215, features the musical scores alongside all of the 1922 illustrations. This is the version that we have in the Burling Library Special Collections.
The third version, comprising the remaining 675 copies, contains the entire score, but each copy only features one of Martin's illustrations.
This strange publication history has shaped how the album has been received. The public is most familiar with the third version; however, that is also the most diminished version because Martin’s contribution to the project is almost completely absent. Today, Erik Satie is often regarded as the primary artistic genius behind the project. This misunderstanding demonstrates that in order to fully understand a creative work, it is essential to research it as an object by delving into the history of its publication.
Sports et divertissements is currently part of our Visual Narratives exhibit. We encourage you to visit the Special Collections and Archives to examine this version of the album that the public rarely gets to see. We are open to the public 1:30-5 p.m. Monday through Friday and mornings by appointment. You can also read an extended analysis of the album’s publication history in “Satie and Martin’s Sports et divertissements: Towards a (re)Object-ive Historiography” published by The Teh Drinking Musicologist blog.