The Art of Babar

Like his father, Jean, Laurent de Brunhoff trained to be a painter. He studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse and began making and exhibiting abstract work in oils. But at 21, nine years after his father’s death, he decided to carry on the adventures of Babar, his father’s creation, and from then on considered the Babar books his principal artwork.

Mr. de Brunhoff was a master of color and line. When he conceived his stories, he began with an image. If Babar were abducted by aliens, or practiced yoga, what might that look like? He sketched first in pencil, then watercolors, creating dozens of pictures before settling on a final illustration. Each composition advances the story but can also stand alone as a carefully composed painting.

“Babar,” Maurice Sendak said, “is at the very heart of my conception of what turns a picture book into a work of art.”
— Penelope Green

Credit…Laurent de Brunhoff, via Mary Ryan Gallery

“Babar Comes to America” was published in 1965. In this sketch for the book, in which Babar visits that particularly American space, a supermarket, Mr. de Brunhoff made sure to include American brands of the period like Kellogg’s, Heinz and Del Monte. Babar has a bit of trouble navigating the aisles with his shopping cart and causes a traffic jam.

Credit…Laurent de Brunhoff, via Mary Ryan Gallery

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