The magnificent Bookride is currently embarked on a series of posts about 'books I have never read'. I suppose when such lists are compiled, the subtext is that these are 'books I have never read but feel I ought to have'. If that's the case then Mary Renault's The Charioteer would be on my list. A classic, I'm told of gay literature and yet I, who claim acquaintance with the subject of gay books, have never read it. I've read the Alexander trilogy, but only very recently, and they provided one of those moments where you wonderingly ask yourself why you've never done something before. But The Charioteer: not yet.
The top picture is of the first edition cover taken from my shelves (so I have no real excuse for not reading it, it's been there for years). I've admired the design and artwork although I know no more than that the artwork is signed by 'Biro'. The lower picture is of a recent reprint by Vintage Books in paperback. I think the design elements of the cover are rather straightforward enough, but the picture stopped me in my tracks (click to enlarge the pic above), and the moment I saw it I knew I was going to be buying the book for its cover and, because it was a paperback, I knew I was going to be reading it too!
The portrait on the cover is credited to Bernard Boutet de Monvel (1884-1949), there isn't a great deal to learn about him online, except that he really shouldn't be confused with his father. If you have a little French you could try l'éditeur singulier which also has a few pictures - the most interesting of which I thought was the almost Metropolis-like industrial image at the bottom of the page. There is also an article from the Chicago Magazine which includes a photograph of a very swish-looking 1930s women sitting below a portrait of herself by de Monvel. However, that portrait on the front cover of The Charioteer I just find utterly compelling and it hasn't so much created a case of judging a book by its cover as buying a book for its cover. How I would love to know the identity of that beautiful young man.