Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From the Other Side of the Channel

Largely due to our own difficulties with language, most of what we're exposed to is limited to English. (most, not all) Some of the world's promising artists and illustrators during illustration's Golden Age found their way to Britain, or America, because it's where the largest book markets were—Edmund Dulac, and Willy Pogány come to mind. A few, worked across international lines.

Some years back, one of the acquisitions editors brought to my attention an unusual oblong book—well over a century old, by a French illustrator I was not familiar with. Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel, (1851-1913). The book interested me right from the start, largely due to the medieval subject, but the more I poured over it, the deeper it pulled me in. Boutet de Monvel had a fairly successful go with childrens' book illustration in the 1880s. It was not his passion, however, he resorted to it for financial reasons; his training was in painting.

The book, an 1896 retelling of the tale of Joan of Arc, remains the only book of his I've had a real study of, but it's 45 images are enough to find an appreciation for the man's thinking, his planning, and a highly efficient execution of composition. It's a great study of period costume and weaponry as well. The style of finish here is rather sparse, but at the same time, no detail is lacking. Every horse, distant figure, or raised weapon is carefully placed. Many of the images spill across both horizontal pages, creating a long panoramic space for the artist to fill with figures. The color is intentionally softened— Boutet de Monvel calling it "...not color, really, it is the impression, the suggestion of color"
The book brought a good deal attention to Boutet de Monvel in France, and gained him some degree of success in England and America as well.
After numerous considerations, Dover finally did decide to reprint it earlier this year. These are a few of my favorite spreads/images.

The Walter Crane book is on the market—I'll have new copies with me at Illuxcon in two weeks, if anyone wants to pick one up there. If you'd like me to bring a copy of Joan of Arc as well, drop me a line.

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