Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Rare Suite of Pre-Political Lithographs by Charles Philipon Surfaces

by Stephen J. Gertz

Plate 9. Action du feu sur les corps gras. Gladiateur champêtre.
Gentillesse enfantine. Symptomes de coliques.
Monter est un; bien, monter est autre. Un troubadour.
(Action of fire on the fat. Gladiator country.
Childlike friendliness. Symptoms of colic.
Fit is, well, up next. A troubadour.).

Before Charles Philipon became France's dominant publisher of (and collaborator on) lithographs by the great caricaturists - Grandville, Monnier, Daumier, Traviés, Gavarni, Pigal, etc. - for his magazines, La Silhouette, La Caricature, and Le Charivari, and was, through La Caricature, the pre-eminent  political satirist of his era, a Republican at war, 1830-1835, with the monarchy of Louis Philippe I, he was a designer and lithographer in his own right.

Plate 8. Le baume d'acier. Mépris philosophique. Jouissances de l' vin.
Pauvre pigeon! Quel goujon!
(The balm of steel. Philosophical contempt. Pleasures of the mind ... of wine.
Poor pigeon! What a stud!).

Lithographic art work solely by Philipon (he began in 1824) almost wholly ceases by 1830. Given his later insistent and stinging political commentary through La Caricature, it is somewhat of a surprise that there is not a trace of politics in his early work, which was not at all technically distinguished.

Plate 7. Petit embarras. Cas de concience.  Des gens rassasiés.
Le laid idéal. Fructus belle. Le toutou de ma Grande-mire.
Il achettera.
(A little embarrassment. A case of concience. People filled.
The ugly ideal. Fructus beautiful. The dog of my Great sight.
He will buy.).

Yet "Philipon's fertile imagination partly compensated for his clumsy draughtsmanship, and he found regular employment easily enough as a lithographic artist...The bulk of his production was of a gently erotic nature, anodyne sketches of of the public and private lives of Parisian grisettes" (Kerr, Caricature and French Political Culture 1830-1835, p. 8).

Plate 6. Un invalide. Oh! Oh! Le voisin!!! L'age, l'art et la nature.
L'embarras du choix. Le dos, les jambes et le nez aquilins.
Faire la montre, faire le mouchoir.
(An invalid. Oh! Oh! The neighbor! The age, art and nature.
Spoiled for choice. The back, legs and aquiline nose.
Watch the handkerchief).

Beyond tracing the lives and amours of grisettes (French working-class women), he contributed, for instance, at least nine plates to Album pour Rire (Laugh Album), a now scarce series of lithographs printed by Ducarme and sold through chez Ostervald, a Parisian print shop, that softly poke fun at Parisian manners, customs, and the petit bourgeoisie. Though undated, they were, according to the Bibliographie de la France, published in 1828.

Plate 5. Ce qu'on appele piler du poivre. Ces messieurs vont voir la mer.
Physionomies patibulaires. Braconnier Parisien.
(The so-called crush pepper. These gentlemen will see the sea.
 Physionomies gallows. Parisian Poacher.).

Each plate by Philipon contains three to six vignettes of only fair quality of execution. What sets them apart is the idea for each and their humorous captions. These were Philipon's true gifts.

Plate 4. Un martyr de la chasse. Allons! du sang-froid.
Incompatibilité d'humeur. (A martyr of the hunt. Come on! coolness.
Irreconcilable differences.).

What he lacked in artistic talent he made up for as a great idea man with  a facility  for composing witty text to accompany his lithographs that would prove to be valuable assets when he, aware of his limitations but with a keen eye for talent, put aside his career to closely supervise and collaborate with the artists he later hired to provide lithographs for his magazines.

Plate 3. Mon dieu! J'ai retrouvé ma bourse. Un enfant de choeur.
Gestes du mauvaise société. Satisfaction mélée d'impatience.
Il a appres tout seul!
(My god! I found my purse. An altar boy. Actions of bad company.
Satisfaction mixed with impatience. It was only after all!).

The plates for Album pour Rire were issued separately and never collected into and sold as a single volume; there are no records in OCLC/KVK, nor auction records in ABPC.

Plate 2. Chasse au flambeau. Ces Messieurs doivent avoir une bien belle vue!
Petit-a-compte. Observateurs par etat.
(Torch hunt. These gentlemen must have a beautiful view!
A-small-account. State observers.).

Yet these plates were found within an album of others  by chez Osterwald; it was not uncommon at all for a print shop to gather together miscellaneous unsold prints into albums for sale, the albums routinely issued without title pages or any other identifying information beyond that found on the plates themselves. It was simply a practical way to market slow-moving merchandise. Plates by Philipon's friend and later employee, C.J. Traviés, appear in the Album pour Rire series, as well as the anonymously designed Preuve frappante du danger de faibles Tirant with lithography by Georges Frey that I've included below as a contrast to Philipon's middling work.

Plate 1. Une farce. L'amour des Pénates. Nous de payons plus, Monsieur.
Mise décent. Un rosier dans toute sa portée.
(A farce. Love the Penates. We pay more, sir. Last décent.
A rose in all its scope.).

In 1829, a year after Philipon contributed these plates for Ostervald's Album pour Rire, he became the junior partner in La Silhouette. In 1830, constrained by  his partners and wanting total control over all aspects of production, he established La Caricature. Its success forced La Silhouette out of business. 

Unnumbered Plate. (Anonymous). Preuve frappante du danger de faibles Tirant.   
(Striking proof of the danger of a short pull).

Establishing a second magazine, Le Charivari, in the autumn of 1832, Philipon, an artist of little talent but big ideas and strong entrepreneurial spirit, became the most celebrated publisher of lithographic plates of his time. With a stable of gifted lithographic artists that executed his ideas and became the most celebrated group of caricaturists in history, Philipon's efforts raised a low-brow genre to high-brow art.


We see here, in Preuve frappante du danger de faibles Tiran, from Album pour Rire, what might, just a few years hence, have been an allegory for Philipon against King Louis-Philippe I and the dangers of promising liberalization and then reneging on it.


The king gets a swift kick in the mouth from a gleeful adversary.

Soon, alas, the gleeful adversary is counting the days to his release from prison. Philipon became the most prosecuted publisher of his time.

PHILIPON, Charles. TRAVIES, C.J., et al. Album pour Rire. Paris: chez Osterwald, n.d. [1828]. Lithography by Ducarme, G. Frey, etc. A series of hand-colored lithographic plates of at least fifteen in number, at least nine of which are signed "Ch. Philipon."

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Booktryst recently took a look at one of the great French anti-censorship lithographs  that was part of the Album pour Rire series, La Chasse aux Lettres, which you're sure to enjoy.

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