Boutet de Monvel, one of inventors of children illustration
Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1851-1913) is probably the most important non-English illustrator from the Golden Age. As many others he started his career as a painter but life had different plans with him and it seems the results very even better than he probably hoped for…
Let’s start with few quick facts!
– he was the second child of nine in a family loaded with talented artists and teachers,
– he studied in the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, one of his teachers was famous and very influential Gustave Boulanger,
– he won numerous awards you probably never hear for, including bronze medal for painting titled The Good Samaritan when he was still in his teens, silver medal for The Lesson Before the Sabbath in 1880 and Jeanne at the Court of Chinon in the World Fair in 1900,
– the turning point in his artistic expression was probably his voyage to Algeria in 1876, where he ‘discovered’ new light and since then orange and blue became kind of his signature colors,
– when he married in 1876 and got first son in 1879, he started looking for steadier stream of income, so he started to illustrate (mostly) children books.
Old Songs and Dances for Young Children (published in 1883) and Songs of France for French Children (1884) were among the most popular ones.
In this random selection of illustrations we can see all the main characteristics of Boutet de Monvel’s style. Moods of the kids are masterfully captured, compositions are simple, yet interesting, his incorporation of text and notes (I erased both on all illustrations except the one with a title) reminds of the Walter Cranes’s teachings about book design. Colors are lively and never aggressive, the final results sensitive and warm what brought many portrait commissions to the artist who could easily stop illustrating (started mainly for financial reasons).
Fortunately this wasn’t the case and one of his next collaborations with Anatole France brought next illustrations:
The books is titled Our Children, scenes from the country and the town and it was published in 1887 by Hachette et Cie. This (and next three illustrations) are from the first story titled Fanny.
Story slightly resembles the Little Red Riding Hood (girl visits her granny) but there is no bad wolf…
There is hardly a story at all, everything goes too smoothly, we can say it is better described as a series of impressions than a classic fairy tale. But it is still beautiful and Boutet de Monvel’s illustrations are executed extremely well.
Well, the subtitle ‘scenes from the country and the town’ actually describes the book well enough.
Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel is placed with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway among the best illustrators of the end of 19. century when children’s illustration as we know it today was born.
He was a top painter for the whole life, but the history will probably remember him as an illustrator. Let’s finish our journey with a look at his masterpiece: Joan of Arc!
Joan of Arc is a French national hero and Catholic Saint.
Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel achieved huge international acclaim with this book which was entirely his project.
It was first published in 1895, soon after translated to English and in 1899 he got an order to make several paintings of Joan of Arc based on illustrations from this book when he visited USA.
His style was recognized as sophisticated, with superb feel for the composition, without unnecessary details.
You can find the scans of Joan of Arc by Boutet de Monvel right here, where you can read it on-line or download it or whatever. It is in public domain.
See? Another example of adjusting the illustration to incorporate a part of text and fuse both media ionto picture books, just like Walter Crane exercised.
The artist described his work with: ‘it is not really about the colors, more like the impression of the colors’. although he was not very satisfied with the existing technology of reproduction, he managed to make many great works and achieved a place among immortals.
Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel died in 1913. His works are still reprinted all over the world.