Daragnès in 1917, engraved by his friend André Dunoyer de Segonzac

Jean-Gabriel Daragnès’ talent for bold, expressive illustration was recognised early in his artistic career, such that by 1926 his colleague André Warnod (1885–1960) wrote that ‘he is considered to be one of the finest of the French “artists of the book” of the period’. He grew up in Bordeaux, and moved to Paris to study painting and drawing. He discovered that the woodcut was the medium he felt most affinity with, and developed a distinctive style that moved away from romantic realism towards a more stark minimalism.

It was in the 1920s that his work reached a wide audience, but this was largely due to his early portfolios, several of which explored erotic themes. In 1925 Daragnès set up his workshop on avenue Junot in Montmartre in 1925, financing it through the sale of his works and income as artistic director of Éditions Émile-Paul Frères, one of the foremost publishers of quality illustrated books in the 1920s. He was an active member of the Salon de l’Araignée (Spider Salon), created by the artist Gus Bofa to support and publicise the work of progressive illustrators like Daragnès, Lucien Boucher, Charles Martin, Edy Legrand, Lucien Laforge, A.E. Marty, Pierre Falké, Joseph Hémard, André Foy and Marcel Vertès.