Chamonix Mont-Blanc 1900. Gaston Rébuffat. Grands Vents, Genève, 1981. French text. 143 pages, 8½? × 11½?, black-and-white and color illustrations. Paper.
Gaston Rébuffat has compiled a wonderful and evocative record of both a place and a time. Instead of producing yet another book on Chamonix and Mont Blanc, he has chosen to focus on the year 1900, the peak of the Art Nouveau movement, and to relate this artistic outburst to a flowering of interest in the area—a truly inspired idea.
Although the text, which covers such topics as the development of alpine sports and the rise of alpinism, is useful and informative, it is in the choice and arrangement of the illustrations that the book really shines. No aspect of life in Chamonix/Mont Blanc at the turn of the century has been overlooked and the reader is treated to a visual feast.
First come the eye-catching posters, designed to capture the scenic and sportive attractions of the region. Next are the postcards, both pictorial and photographic, that show everything from climbers in all manner of impractical and improbable garb and tourists viewing the glaciers to mountain railways and scenic vistas. As if all this were not enough, there are also pictures and paintings galore.
For those who still want more, there are examples of alpine music and hotel cards as well as a generous sampling of notices from the press of the day. The pleasures to be enjoyed at Chamonix and Mont Blanc are deliciously depicted on candy boxes, postage stamps, stationery, and on an incredible variety of souvenirs.
This is not a book to be gone through only once but is, rather, one that can be savored many times. Gaston Rébuffat is to be congratulated for his unique approach and for bringing new life to an old subject.
Patricia A. Fletcher