Here is my second musing in the series focused on French illustrators. They have been and are superb at caricatures, drollery, the grotesque and the absurd. You will see all these traits in today’s featured book. The French were particularly active with broadsides and posters, often created by illustrators, during the French Revolution and, quite infamously, in recent times with the caricatures of Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo.
The illustrator of today’s book is Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard (1803-1847). He is generally known by the pseudonym of Jean-Jacques, J. J. Grandville or most commonly simply Grandville.
He was born at Nancy, in Northeastern France, At the age of twenty-one he moved to Paris, and soon afterwards published a collection of lithographs entitled Les Tribulations de la Petite Proprieté. He followed this with Les Plaisirs de Tout Age and La Sibylle des Salons (1827); but the work which first established his fame was Les Métamorphoses du Jour (1828–29), a series of seventy scenes in which individuals with the bodies of men and faces of animals are made to play a human comedy. These drawings are remarkable for the extraordinary skill with which human characteristics are represented in animal facial features.
Though the designs of Grandville are occasionally unnatural and absurd, they usually display keen analysis of character and marvellous inventive ingenuity, and his humour is always tempered and refined by delicacy of sentiment and a vein of sober thoughtfulness. He suffered increasingly from grave mental problems and died on 17 March 1847. He is buried in the Cimetière Nord of Saint Mandé just outside Paris.
Perhaps his most original contribution to the illustrated book form was Un Autre Monde, which approaches the status of pure surrealism, despite being conceived in a pre-Freudian age. Leading members of the Surrealist movement such as André Breton and Georges Bataille recognised in Grandville a significant precursor and inspiration for the movement.
British rock band Queen used part of his artwork for their 1991 album Innuendo and alternate pieces for most of the subsequent single releases: the album's title track, "I'm Going Slightly Mad", "These Are the Days of Our Lives" and "The Show Must Go On". The single "Headlong" also featured one of Grandville's characters on the back of the sleeve and as the basis for a picture disc release.
Cent Proverbes; par Grandville et par (Trois Tetes dans un Bonnet); Paris, H. Fournier, Editeur, Rue Saint-Benoit, 7, M DCCC XLV.
Unfortunately, the book is lightly foxed, which is not unusual for this particular volume. But, this does not take much away from the imagination and power of this master illustrator!
The following illustration is my personal favourite. And, no it is not of booksellers, but of lawyers!