19th Century, Applied Arts, Arts and Crafts Movement, Etching, Illustrations validated, Japonisme, Jeanne d'Arc, Louis-Maurice B. de Monvel
“God will help you.”
On a Summer day, when she was thirteen, she heard a voice calling to her. It was noon and she was in her father’s garden. She saw a flash of light and Michael the Archangel appeared to her.
He told her to be good and to go to church. He then spoke of the great misery that had befallen the kingdom of France and announced that she would rescue Charles VII, the heir to the throne of France, and lead him to Reims where he would be crowned.“Sir, I am but a humble girl. I would not know how to ride a horse and lead soldiers into battle.”
“God will help you,” replied the angel.
The child was overwhelmed and covered in tears.
- the applied arts
- Sir John Tenniel
Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel was a man of his times. His Vieilles chansons de France pour les petits enfants, published in 1883, and his Jeanne d’Arc, published in 1896, are products of an important turning-point in the history of European art: the acceptability of the applied arts. Successfully illustrated children’s literature could make it easier for artists to earn a living while remaining artists. Such had been and was the case in Britain. Sir John Tenniel was a cartoonist for Punch when he was asked to illustrate Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1872).
If brilliantly illustrated, children’s literature could help ensure a better lifestyle for Sir John Tenniel, it could also benefit Boutet de Monvel without his having to choose a completely different profession. The required attributes were both the quality of the written text and that of its illustrations. Illustrated by John Tenniel, Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass were a perfect marriage of word and art. Therefore, although he lived across the English channel, Tenniel was a precursor.
However, Louis-Maurice’s art was influenced by Japonisme, as was Walter Crane‘s (15 August 1845 – 14 March 1915). Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s illustrations are characterized by his use of flat colours. This was a feature of the Japanese prints that flooded Europe in the second half of the 19th century.
For example, in the images shown above, Louis-Maurice’s black is a flat black. But Louis-Maurice also expressed dimensionality by juxtaposing a light and darker shade of the same colours. Joan’s hair is an example of this technique. However, simplicity is the chief characteristic of Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel’s art, including battle scenes where several human beings are depicted standing, riding a horse, or lying dead.
Word and Art
As for the combination of word and art, Boutet de Monvel’s text is mostly in boxes placed inside the page. Word and art are therefore integrated. Moreover, the text is told by Louis-Maurice himself. He may have had a source, but no author is named. In this regard, the art of Boutet de Monvel resembles the art of Beatrix Potter, except that Louis-Maurice did not invent the story of Joan of Arc. It had been told. Alexandre Dumas had written a Jeanne d’Arc (Internet Archives).
The Technique: Watercolours in Zincotype
In the case of Jeanne d’Arc, Louis-Maurice made a series of watercolours that were reproduced in zincotype, “a new photo engraving process using etching in conjunction with coloured inks.” (See Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel, Wikipedia.) Great progress had been made since the invention of the printing press. In fact, Europe had entered its industrial revolution for more than a century, which meant that duplicating images had become quite inexpensive.
Nevertheless, etching remained a good starting-point. If colours were used, however, it was a time-consuming endeavour. Yet, colours were used. Later, Louis-Maurice’s son, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, perfected etching and “became the undisputed master of this technique.” (See Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Wikipedia.)
Artist and Illustrator
Louis-Maurice’s trajectory is somewhat unique. He was at first an artist who painted one-of-a-kind art works. After he married and his son Roger was born, he needed to supplement his income. He therefore turned to illustrating books for practical reasons only to realize he liked this kind of work. He had many customers. Nobel Prize laureate Anatole France was one of Louis-Maurice’s customers.
But Louis-Maurice also had projects of his own. The first was his Vieilles chansons de France pour les petits enfants (1883). French organist and composer Charles Marie Widor set the words to music. Louis-Maurice’s second project was Jeanne d’Arc (1896). His illustrations were so exquisite that the books he illustrated sold well, which enabled him to be both an illustrator and the creator of one-of-a-kind works of art.
A Lifestyle & a Social Life
Therefore, Boutet de Monvel is one of the artists who inaugurated a lifestyle for today’s artists. It is not uncommon for artists to produce both relatively inexpensive prints and rather expensive paintings. This is how several artists put bread on the table, so to speak. In the early 20th century, artists also hand coloured photographs or combined in some other way photography and painting.
Louis-Maurice’s illustrations also allowed him a rich social life. He befriended not only writers but also artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who made posters, and Edgard Degas, who was a printmaker and taught this technique to Mary Cassatt. Moreover, artist Édouard Detaille (1848 – 1912) introduced him to members of the newly-established Société des aquarellistes français (“the society of French watercolourists”). Louis-Maurice showed one work for approval and it was well received. Consequently, he was voted a member of the Société almost immediately. However, he had already been an ‘artist’ and had continued to produce original paintings.
(Please click on the images to enlarge them.)
Jeanne d’Arc identifies Charles VII
The people and Jeanne d’Arc
Jeanne d’Arc’s trial
Jeanne d’Arc sentenced to death
The Arts and Crafts Movement
Painters may become illustrators, but illustrators do not necessarily turn to painting. Nowadays, however, an illustrator is considered an artist, but someone had to lead the way. More than anyone else, William Morris was eclectic, and so were the artists associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. The comparison is unavoidable. The Arts and Crafts movement validated the applied arts thereby broadening the realm of things artistic and it spread abroad to countries where circumstances paralleled the British experience.
Moreover, not only did Louis-Maurice meet the writers whose work he illustrated, but he was also invited to participate in the Exhibition of Viennese Secession of 1899, the Jugendstil that supported the applied arts and avant-gardisme. (See Art Nouveau, Wikipedia.) Gustav Klimt is the best-known representative of the Vienna Jugendstil.
We associate Alphonse Mucha with Art Nouveau. His art was curvilinear, but Art Nouveau also incorporated innovative art and total art. It was a synthesis: Gesamtkunstwerk, a feature associated with the last years of the 19th century.
In short, Louis-Maurice was a man of his times, as would be his son, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, his nephews, George Barbier and Pierre Brissaud, and ‘artists’ everywhere.
With kind regards to all of you. ♥
- L-M Boutet de Monvel’s “Joan of Arc” (8 January 2016)
- A Glimpse at the Boutet de Monvel Dynasty (3 January 2016)
- The Art of Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1 September 2012)
Sources and Resources
- Jeanne d’Arc, Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (Internet Archives)
- Joan of Arc
- Photo credit: Jeanne d’Arc (Internet Archives)
 “Sir John Tenniel”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 11 janv.. 2016
Music: Carmina Burana by Carl Orff (1935-36)
The Siege of Orleans (12 October 1428 – 8 May 1429)
© Micheline Walker
11 January 2016