Blogs/ In Circulation/ Pictures and Words: Book Illustration in Interwar France, Part I

Pictures and Words: Book Illustration in Interwar France, Part I

Illustration by Pierre Brissaud

Illustration by Pierre Brissaud for Les Malheurs de Sophie by Comtesse de Ségur (La Lampe d'Argile, 1923)

"Yes, but does the book have pictures?" is a question you might remember having asked as a child. If that is the case, then you will be intrigued by Watson Library's recent acquisition of Les Artistes du Livre, a twenty-four-volume set of folios highlighting the work of French illustrators from 1928 to 1933. Both the illustrations and the range of texts on which they are based, spanning from the innocuous to the irreverent, are guaranteed to captivate the reader of this series. Encompassing novels, children's literature, poems, works of nonfiction, and other forms of writing, the change of tone from one illustration to the next is sometimes quite unexpected. Both posts in this series will include descriptions of selected folios which I hope will give you a taste of the breadth and uniqueness of this collection.

Paul Jouve

Left: Gold-colored cover of the Paul Jouve folio. Right: Portrait of Pierre Bonnard by Odilon Redon from the Pierre Bonnard folio

Published by Henry Babou and printed by Ducros et Colas in Paris, each folio of Les Artistes du Livre is dedicated to a separate artist and includes a striking color cover (above left), a portrait of the artist (above right), a biographical essay, a bibliography of illustrated works, and full-color and black-and-white plates. Each folio also features a title page with the publisher's logo, whose design varies to reflect the style of the artist represented. Notice, for instance, the different configurations of Babou's logo in the images below. The logo design in the Paul Jouve folio is particularly apt since Jouve illustrated Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.

Paul Jouve

Left: Paul Jouve folio title page. Right: André E. Marty folio title page

George Barbier

Left: George Barbier folio title page. Right: Pierre Brissaud folio title page

Artists featured in Les Artistes du Livre include Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Auguste Brouet (1872–1941), Paul Jouve (1878–1973), André E. Marty (1882–1974), Pierre Brissaud (1885–1964), Charles Désiré Berthold-Mahn (1893–1975), Almery Lobel-Riche (1880–1950), George Barbier (1882–1932), and Jacques Touchet (1887–1949), among others, some of whom are also represented in the Museum's permanent collection.

Brissaud Double

Left: Illustration by Pierre Brissaud for Le Petit Pierre by Anatole France (Devambez, 1923). Right: Illustration by Pierre Brissaud for L'Enfant à la Balustrade by René Boylesve (Le Livre, 1922)

The folio dedicated to Brissaud includes several vibrant watercolor illustrations such as the ones featured above. In addition to painting watercolors for the Gazette du Bon Ton, Brissaud illustrated a number of enduring literary works such as Honoré de Balzac's Eugénie Grandet, Anatole France's Le Petit Pierre, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, René Boylesve's L'Enfant à la Balustrade, and the Comtesse de Ségur's Les Malheurs de Sophie.1

Brissaud Bovary

Left: Illustration by Pierre Brissaud for Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Le Livre, 1921). Right: Illustration by Pierre Brissaud for Le Petit Pierre by Anatole France (Devambez, 1923)

The lush, quietly lit forest scene from Madame Bovary in the above-left image depicts the horseback ride Emma takes with Rodolphe, a defining moment in the narrative.2 The bright interior setting in the above-right image is from Le Petit Pierre. Jean Dulac, in the folio's essay on Brissaud, suggests that the artist was perfectly suited to illustrate scenes from this latter text, since Brissaud passed his childhood in the same Parisian neighborhood as that which France so vividly describes in his memoirs.3

Bonnard Sofrege

Left: Illustration by Pierre Bonnard for Petit Solfège Illustré (Quantin, 1893). Right: Illustration by Pierre Bonnard for Histoires Naturelles by Jules Renard (Flammarion, no date)

The folio devoted to Bonnard includes an illustration for Petit Solfège Illustré, seen above-left. Published by Quantin in 1893, this children’s music book marks Bonnard's debut as an illustrator.4 The Bonnard folio also features illustrations for Jules Renard's Histoires Naturelles, a title which also contains illustrations by Toulouse-Lautrec. Bonnard's illustrations for this publication on natural history, one of which is featured above-right, are playfully interspersed throughout the folio's essay, rendering the reader's experience of the text more engaging as one encounters images of ducks, geese, and rabbits across the page.

Bonnard Daphnis

Two illustrations by Pierre Bonnard for Daphnis et Chloé by Longus (Vollard, 1902)

The folio also contains examples of Bonnard's lithographs for the pastoral romance Daphnis et Chloé by the ancient Greek writer Longus. A frequently depicted story, the edition with Bonnard's lithographs was published in 1902 by Ambroise Vollard, one of the leading contemporary art dealers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as an innovative publisher of illustrated books.5

Brouet Circus

Two illustrations by Auguste Brouet for Les Frères Zemganno by Edmond de Goncourt (Grégoire, 1921)

The folio featuring Brouet contains some of the most detailed illustrations in Les Artistes du Livre, as is evidenced in the images above. An engraver, draughtsman, and illustrator, Brouet studied under Gustave Moreau and Auguste Delâtre at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.6 He illustrated several works of fiction including Les Frères Zemganno by Edmond de Goncourt, the tale of the brothers and circus acrobats Gianni and Nello. 7

Additional folios with compelling illustrations from Les Artistes du Livre will be discussed in the next installment of this series. Stay tuned!


[1] Jean Dulac, Pierre Brissaud, Les Artistes du Livre (Paris: H. Babou, 1929), 14.

[2] Jean Dulac, Pierre Brissaud, Les Artistes du Livre (Paris: H. Babou, 1929), 23-24.

[3] Jean Dulac, Pierre Brissaud, Les Artistes du Livre (Paris: H. Babou, 1929), 27.

[4] Claude Roger-Marx, Pierre Bonnard, Les Artistes du Livre (Paris: H. Babou, 1929), 7.

[5] Oxford Art Online, s.v. "Vollard, Ambroise," by Malcolm Gee, accessed December 15, 2014, http://0-www.oxfordartonline.com.library.metmuseum.org/.

[6] Benezit Dictionary of Artists, s.v. "Brouet, Auguste," accessed December 15, 2014, http://0-www.oxfordartonline.com.library.metmuseum.org/.

[7] Raymond Hesse, Auguste Brouet, Les Artistes du Livre (Paris: H. Babou, 1929), 20.



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