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Chef d'oeuvre de dessein qui semble respirer Qu'on visitte cent fois, toujours pour admirer.

(Masterpiece of drawing that almost seems to breathe, and which one visits a hundred times always to admire.)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Attributed to Style A
Date:
c 1740-c 1775 {nd}
Place of Production:
Paris, France
Medium:
watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
Accession number:
675.69
One of a set, see others

Commentary

Brief Description:

A masked man straddles the body of a second man, who lies on his stomach along the back of a large fantastical ostrich-like bird. The bird, which faces towards the right, has red and brown tail feathers, a white wing flecked with red and a long neck covered with black-spotted brown plumage. It has a green crest on its head, which also sprouts a bushy black feather, and has a long orange beak.

The face of the man lying along the bird’s back is largely obscured by his black hat. A few strands of his black hair emerge from beneath its brim. He blows on a ceremonial trumpet held in his right hand. A green banner with a red motif hangs from the instrument. He reaches his left hand behind him and with it, presses a second trumpet against his bottom. A white banner trimmed in yellow with a red motif at its centre hangs from this one. The man is dressed in green, except for his red stockings and black shoes.

The man seated on his back wears a black mask that covers his face, except for his mouth, which is open. He faces towards the left. His arms are raised and in each hand he holds double-ended drum sticks. A small snare style drum is visible at his waist and two larger drums, possibly kettle drums, with skins stretched over copper bottoms are attached to either side of the other man’s bottom. The drummer is dressed in a short sleeved red jacket trimmed in white, and a green undergarment. He wears red breeches, white stockings and red shoes, and a hat with a green scalloped brim and tall red and green striped crown, the top of which droops to the left. A red tassel hangs from its end.

Plants grow from the patch of earth on which the bird is standing.

Curatorial Commentary

The masked figure playing a musical instrument while mounted on a strange beast is mirrored in the paired drawing on the opposite page (675.68). Musicians riding on fantastical creatures are also represented in a number of the surrounding drawings (e.g. 675.63, 675.66, 675.67). Both drawings are accompanied by hyperbolic captions.

A worn fragment of printed text (reading “DISCOURS”) is visible to the left of the man's hat. The same text appears in slightly fuller form on 675.88, where the words “UNE ETR[ENNE]” (‘a New Year’s Day gift’) are also legible. Although very faint, the text appears to have been noticed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin and his friends, for on both 675.37 and 675.88, they take their cue from it with drawings and inscriptions that allude to carnivalesque traditions. (Similar fragments are also visible at 675.101 and 675.203.) These words appear accidentally, as a result of the careless handling of the sheets of blank paper used to make the “Livre de Caricatures”: the pressman allowed them to come into contact with (or to ‘kiss’) still standing type that had not been washed down and was still bearing ink (Mark Bland, private communication).

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
Inscriptions:
chef d'oeuvre de dessein qui semble respirer / Qu'on visitte cent fois, toujours pour admirer.
Inscription
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

69
Pagination
Top right corner, in ink

[Fragment of faded printed text, indeciphorable]
Inscription
Left edge of page, running horizontally between the patch of ground and the bird's belly; lettering printed upside-down.
Translation of inscription
Masterpiece of drawing that almost seemst to breathe, and which one visits a hundred times always to admire.
Language:
French

History

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

Bibliography

Bibliography:

Colin Jones, Emily Richardson; Archaeology and materiality; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 31-53; p. 40
Katie Scott; Saint-Aubin's jokes and their relation to...; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 349-403; pp. 374, 381n, 388, fig. 16.9
John Shovlin; War, diplomacy and faction; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 95-116; p. 105

Related literature

Mark Bland; A guide to early printed books and manuscripts; Chichester; Wiley-Blackwell; 2010

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