Ainsi va le monde

(So goes the world)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Additional handwriting by Pierre-Antoine Tardieu (b.c 1784, d.1869)
Attributed to Style A
c 1740-c 1775 {nd}
1822-1869 {One inscription by Tardieu}
Place of Production:
Paris, France
watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

A man with a long nose and jutting chin faces obliquely towards the right. He steps forward with his right leg, whose foot is elegantly turned out. The index finger of his right hand is extended and points towards a small bird with a swallow tail that perches on his left arm. A second bird perches at the end of his nose, a third on the brim on his hat, and a fourth on top of its tall, thin crown. Another bird flying to the left of the crown is secured by a piece of string attached to the hat. On the man's back is a long cylindrical cage with vertical bars. At the bottom of the cage is a grey rabbit and above it, a bird. Dangling beneath is a mouse tied to a string. A black and white dog sits in a pouch carried over the man's right arm and a box worn on a blue strap over his right shoulder hangs on his left side. A squirrel or marmot with a bushy red-brown tail and whiskers sits up in the box.

The man is dressed in a brown all-in-one type outfit with a white ruff or collar. Red stockings emerge from beneath his ankle-length trouser legs, and he wears black shoes. Plants grow from the patch of land on which the man is situated.

Curatorial Commentary

The inscription contains a pun. “De pie en pie”, evokes the magpies (“pies”) shown, but may also be read as “de pire en pire” – thus making the entire caption, ‘Thus goes the world – worse and worse’.

This drawing is in Style A, attributed to the principal author of the “Livre de Caricatures”, Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin. Style A displays a childish and naïve aesthetic and sometimes subject matter, and is characterised by crispness of execution, clear outlines and smooth application of colour. It is dominant in the early part of the book, from 675.3 to around 675.160. The opening inscription (675.1a) claims that the book was acquired from booksellers on the Paris quays in 1740 already containing drawings in another hand. The inscription states that ‘my friends put captions [underneath the drawings] and got me to continue this miscellany of follies’ (“mes amis y mirent des légendes et m’engagerent à continuer ce melange de folies”). This may be a tall story, explicable by Charles-Germain’s reluctance to admit authorship of the work. Charles-Germain was a versatile artist, and the possibility that he was responsible for the entire process in these initial drawings cannot be ruled out. In the drawings in the book not in Style A, Charles-Germain first made graphite sketches in much the same way. However it is possible that in the sections of the book dominated by Style A, Charles-Germain confined himself to working up existing graphite drawings, as well as adding details and also, with his friends’ assistance as he describes, the captions.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
Ainsi va le monde
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

de pie en pie.
Inscribed, probably by Pierre-Antoine Tardieu, below image, in ink

Top left corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
So goes the world
from magpie to magpie [or worse and worse]


Part of:
Livre de Caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises. 675.1-389
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957

Indexed terms