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Summer by the Lake: Travel vicariously through letters and postcards from the Carlton Lake collection

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Looking for inspiration this summer, or maybe just some relief from the heat? Take a trip with these authors and artists from the Carlton Lake French manuscript collection.

Carlton Lake (1936–2006), a longtime curator at the Ransom Center, collected a wealth of modern French materials, including manuscripts, musical scores, and art by Paul Eluard, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, and Claude Debussy.  Below are selected items from his collection. Full-size versions of the thumbnail images can be viewed in the above slideshow.

Catch some rays with Marie-Thérèse Walter

Pablo Picasso’s model and mistress sent this letter to the Spanish artist from her vacation on the Côte d’Azure. She included a “pin-up” picture of their daughter, Maya, who at 13-and-a-half years old still has her “milk teeth.”

Visit the aquarium with Léon-Paul Fargue

The French poet was so taken with the aquatic life on display—part of the famous Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925 that gave Art Deco its name—that he wrote and illustrated this letter to an unidentified friend. “There are not many species, but they are all chosen from among the most beautiful and unusual. Silurids, catfish with astonishingly large and serene snouts barbeled like a French tickler, other tall fish looking like big rusted cleavers swimming with blue scythes, flying fish all in platinum and enameled silver, and others that are exactly like hummingbirds, drops of fire from the seas of China and South America, and whole bushes of thorny seahorses, rambling in their crystal Sabbath. I was delighted. We are going back to find out if one can buy them.”

Summer in Santa Fe with Virgil Thompson

In a 1962 letter to his old friend Alice B. Toklas, the longtime companion of writer Gertrude Stein with whom Thompson had collaborated on several occasions, the composer shares his enjoyment of the West in general and Santa Fe in particular.

Tour Egyptian antiquities with Pierre Louÿs

The poet and novelist disdained money, but he managed to travel anyway. He caught his enthusiasm for Africa from friend and novelist André Gide, and was earnest enough as a tourist to purchase a pass to see the sights.

Cast off with the literati of Paris

In June of 1924, the fair at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris drew crowds to the banks of the river Seine. Novelist and poet Valery Larbaud, poet Léon-Paul Fargue, Marie Monnier, Shakespeare and Co. bookstore owner Sylvia Beach, and Maison des Amis des Livres bookstore owner Adrienne Monnier posed for their portrait aboard the “Seagull.”

Venture to Cannes

French composer Francis Poulenc sent this postcard from the Mediterranean city of Cannes to Surrealist artist Valentine Hugo. Don’t be afraid to lift the apron of the young woman on the front of the postcard; she has pictures she wants to show you!

Relax on the French Riviera

Join artist Stéphane Fanièl vacationing on the French Riviera in Cannes during the summer of 1957. In his letter to poet Georges Hugnet, Fanièl includes paintings to describe the Croisette, the prestigious promenade of the French Riviera. At 6 o’clock in the evening the promenade is filled with people and distractions, but by 10 o’clock at night everyone is asleep. Fanièl sums up his vacation: “I sleep, I eat, I sleep. Sometimes I sleep, I eat, I read, I sleep and at other times I sleep, I eat, I draw, and I sleep. That’s my vacation. Apart from that Cannes is an awful place.”

Hike with Alfred Freuh in Andorra

New Yorker cartoonist and caricaturist Alfred Frueh (pronounced “free”) wrote to his boxing buddy, novelist Henri-Pierre Roché, about a summer trip to a small country between France and Spain called Andorra. Frueh describes the hike he and his wife took from Aix les Thermes, France into Andorra la Vieja, Andorra (also known as Andorra la Vella): “We came over without a guide—just followed the mule path… The natives on this side seemed to think it was something marvelous for a stranger to find his way alone across without a guide but I cant [sic] see where the difficulty was—the path, it is true, is not too plain but when you are in a valley with uncrossable peaks on either side you have either to go forward or backward and forward was Andorre and back was where we started from—so there.”

Befriend a camel

Enjoy a sunny afternoon at an oasis in Biskra, Algeria with artist J. Hamman. Narrating his trip to Tunisia and Algeria, watercolors replace words for Mr. Hamman in this letter to Valentine Hugo. With a camel as a friend in Northern Africa, you can go anywhere.

This text was adapted from label text written by Richard Workman, Catherine Stollar Peters and Monique Daviau.

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