Monday, May 6, 2013

Kids Give Dog A Colonic, And Other Childhood Amusements In 1824

by Stephen J. Gertz

The Remedy. (Aubry).

Kids Do The Darnedest Things:

It's France's Funniest Home Videos, nineteenth century edition, capturing, in hand-colored stills, those precious cinema verité moments when kids will be kids and memories are forever imprinted on the heart.

Particularly on the heart of a dog being given an involuntary clyster in der keister with a syringe that could pass for a cruise missile.

It's one of six lithographs in Jeux de l'enfance [Childhood Games] by Charles Aubry, a color-plate album printed and published in Paris by François Seraphin Delpech (1778-1825), the great, early French lithographer, in 1824.

The Little Smoker. (Aubry).

Poor children. With Le Gulp Grande banned in Paris by an ancestor of New York's Mayor Bloomberg concerned with 19th century childhood obesity, opportunities to mimic dangerous adult behavior have dwindled, leaving smoking as one of the last bad adult habits for kids to engage in. The leader is a cool little hipster drummer boy; leave it to a musician to corrupt those around him. We do not see, however, the rib-tickling denouement to this scene, when Junior on the left and the girl at right get sick and toss their cookies.

The Paper-Curlers. (Aubry).

After enduring a colon-cleansing and now, presumably, purified of toxins, it's time for Fido's trip to the beauty salon. He doesn't look any happier than when he was fundamentally invaded, and we get a hint of how this tableau will play out as little Jane employs the curling iron and curling papers, a friend rapturously looking on while Fido nears feral, gives the little boy a look to kill and the kid understands to his horror that his nose will soon be Alpo.

The Pioneer's Beard. (Aubry).

Boo! Imitating ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons or Rasputin the Mad Monk is always a sure-fire laff-riot. The girl in the middle is cooly faux-frightened but the bejesus is clearly scared out of her companion at left. It's not, in and of itself, material for France's Funniest Home Videos but it has something extra that levitates above the banal: the poor dog at lower right appears to be suffering from them way down home, 'gainst my will, high-colonic blues.

The Flick. (Aubry).

Revenge of the Girls! While Dennis Le Menace sleeps, his sisters torment him, the youngest gently flicking his cheek to annoy without actually rousing him. Moments later, however, he awakes with a start and bladder accident. That's entertainment!

The Little Actors. (Aubry).

There's an interesting political subtext to the above plate with young boy being dressed-up as the king with pillow to allow for the monarch's girth: Jeux de l'enfance was published in 1824 and on September 16 of that year, Louis XVIII, the rotund progressive who reigned in post-Napoleon, Bourbon Restoration France, died, and Charles X, a hard-core reactionary, assumed the throne. He was not well-liked and in short order had censorship laws passed amongst other regressive and unpopular legislation; he was forced to abdicate in the July (Second) Revolution of 1830. Jeux de l'enfance by Aubry first appears in the Bibliographie de la France in its January 8, 1825 issue, as no. 41 in the Gravures section. The children are celebrating a popular and recently deceased king at the expense of the new king, Charles X. Aubry was playing with fire; such sentiments would soon become dangerous to publicly express.

Artist Charles Aubry made his reputation with hunting scenes and military  subjects. In  1822  he  accepted  the post of  professor of  art at l'Ecole Militaire de  Saumur.  That's about all that's readily available about the man. Note that he taught art in a military academy, an unlikely salon. But this is France and what's wrong with art appreciation for warriors? It's dash and élan du soldat, my friends, dash and élan. With paintbrush.

Grandmother's Bonnet. (Boilly).

This particular copy of Jeux de l'enfance is part of a collection album that includes prints by J.F. Scheffert, and two lithographs by Louis Leopold Boilly, the Boilly prints likely added to the album because they cover the same territory as Jeux..., albeit the scenes less aggressive than Aubry's views, Boilly's placid dog spared the humiliating depredations of Aubry's prepubescent juvenile delinquents gleefully engaged in mischievous play.

Grandfather's Wig. (Boilly).

Boilly's children, in contrast, enjoy completely innocent activity, scenes so charming that they will not be finalists in this week's episode of France's Funniest Home Videos. They lack that certain something, that je ne sais cruel slapstick that inspires peals of laughter rather than pleasant smiles that warm the heart but cool the ratings. In the above tableau, for instance, unless the bewigged little girl subsequently slips on a banana peel, does a header into the air, lands on Grandfather's top hat, then smites her brother with Grandfather's cane, where's the side-splitting guffaw?

On its own, Jeux de l'enfance is an insanely scarce book with only one copy in institutional holdings worldwide, at the Morgan Library. The Bibliothéque National has a set of the prints bound within a collection album.

I am aware of another album containing Jeux de l'enfance bound with the two Boilly lithographs, it, as well as the Aubry-Scheffer-Boilly album under notice, in a contemporary binding likely issued by Delpech to move unsold prints, a tactic routinely and successfully employed by Delpech's successor, Chez Aubert, the esteemed Parisian printing and publishing house owned by caricaturist, journalist and famed publisher of political and social satire (with a stable of artists that constitute the golden age of French caricature), Charles Philipon,  and operated under the nominal stewardship of his brother-in-law, Gabriel Aubert, and his wife, Philipon's sister, Marie-Françoise, the management brain, it appears, in the business.

AUBRY, Charles and BOILLY, Louis Leopold. Jeux de l'enfance. Paris: Delpech, 1824. First (only) edition. Folio. Eight hand-colored lithographs, six in series by Aubry, two out of series by Boilly.

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

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