Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Grandest Ville

I'm working on drawing a new large piece right now, and it's giving me more trouble than usual. I'm swimming around in doubt, erasing as much as I draw, not sure which impulses to trust, wanting to strike into new territory without giving up the parts of what I do that I'm still excited about. I'm trying to make up my mind if an animal, personified, is more expressively human than a picture of a person. I also want to know if animals and people can live together in my work: I'm afraid that the animals will lose their dignity if I let people in.

While I've been thinking about all this, fussing around in doubt, I discovered an amazing artist. Jean Ignace Isidore Gerard Grandville. (French, 1803-1847.) He was an illustrator and printmaker who wrote three Fabulous French books, all of which I will buy if I ever win the lotto. The one I really love is Scenes de la Vie Privee et Publique des Animaux. (Scenes from the Private and Public Life of Animals). I bought a print from this book this weekend. It's a very moving funeral scene involving an old and rheumy crow and his mourning wife and kids. I can't find an image of that print, but there are lots of other prints from this book available on the web, and I've posted images of some of them here.

The Art Guys did a series of fishing lures years ago that were similar to these: they had a lure that looked like a little museum on the end of a fishook.

These little ones are pretty awesome, but they're hard to see.

The problem that putting humans and animals together in one piece presents is that I want every character in my work to have equal agency, and I want to define the power relationships between them. Grandville gives his animals pets.

That one reminds me of my grandmother. Lots of his work seems to deal with power.

And cats. The prints are cheap, because apparently the book was quite popular and people have discovered that they can chop it up and sell it as individual prints. Which is a shame.

Another of his books, Les Fleurs Animees" which translates as "The Flowers Alive", was published in lots of languages. It's a lot lighter than the animal book, but there's some really hilarious incidental commentary. My sense of Grandville is that he's so broad that it's easy to miss how smart he is. His minor characters are always great.

(Note the little beetles in hats clibing up the stem of the flower.)

This print of Narcissus is which is what took me into the window of the print shop. Check out the newt.

And the mimosa's attendant beetle.

Goatleaf flower.


Flesh of Water


And, just when you thought these were getting a little predictable...The Wallflower.

There's another book that I don't know much about called Les Metamorphoses du Jour (Metamorphoses of the Day) that everyone seems to agree is the real masterpiece. I assume the first image in the post, with the composite creatures, comes from that work, and that this one does too..

Grandville also illustrated Robinson Crusoe and some other novels, and he was a big influence on Tenniel. Writing that makes me want to yell, "Of course! How could anyone NOT love these and want to make them themselves?" But hey. That's just me. I think everyone wants to read newspapers that look like this, too.

(This is an issue of Punch with illustrations by Tenniel- click to see it bigger.)

Don't they, though? I know she would. And I'm right with her.

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