BABAR JOINS MORGAN LIBRARY'S COLLECTION OF CLASSIC CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND MANUSCRIPTS
The Morgan Library announced today that it has acquired the manuscript and illustrations of The Story of Babar the Little Elephant (originally published in French as Histoire de Babar le petit elephant, 1931) by Jean de Brunhoff (1899–1937) and the illustrations for Babar's Cousin: That Rascal Arthur (published as Babar et Ce Coquin d'Arthur, 1946) by Laurent de Brunhoff (b. 1925). This story of a baby elephant, cruelly orphaned, who has adventures in civilization and eventually returns to the jungle to become king of all the elephants, was Jean de Brunhoff's first book. Babar's Cousin was the first book written and illustrated entirely by Jean's son, Laurent.
Babar began as a bedtime story invented by Cecile de Brunhoff for her sons Laurent and Mathieu. Her husband, Jean de Brunhoff, an accomplished painter in the impressionist tradition, expanded, illustrated, and published the tale in 1931 as The Story of Babar. Over the next years, de Brunhoff wrote six more Babar books until his untimely death in 1937. The series lapsed until his elder son, Laurent, who was an abstract painter, took up the story. Since his father died before completing the paintings for Babar and Father Christmas (English edition, 1940), Laurent finished the paintings for a few pages of this book and designed the cover. He published Babar's Cousin: That Rascal Arthur (English edition, 1948) at the age of twenty-one. Since then Laurent de Brunhoff has produced over thirty books about Babar and his family and friends.
The collection includes the dummy with cover, many of the original illustrations, and the text for the original edition of Histoire de Babar in addition to Jean de Brunhoff's notes on color for his illustrations; pencil and watercolor studies; a sketchbook of watercolor, pen, and pencil drawings; and two different illustrations for the cover. Materials related to Babar's Cousin include the preliminary design and layout for the book in pencil, pen, and watercolor; black line drawings; watercolor drawings over black line proofs; and color studies.
Perhaps the most exciting item in this collection is the one that looks the most humble: the earliest plan for the Babar book (9 1/2 x 6 in.) with forty-four pages of pencil and watercolor sketches and the original text. Though the drawings are rough, the spirit of the final version is already evident. The title page of this first draft lists Cecile de Brunhoff as the coauthor. According to Laurent de Brunhoff, his mother requested that his father be listed as sole author of the published version.
The Babar stories have been translated from the original French into many languages, including English, German, Italian, and Korean, and have inspired many adaptations in other media. Babar has attained importance far beyond its status as a children's book. It is not only an artistic achievement but also a brilliant publishing venture, crossing genres, generations, and national boundaries. The earliest editions were noteworthy for their large format, simple narrative style, and sophisticated psychological insight—touching on the anxieties of children but always reassuring them about the comforts of home, the stability of family, and the benefits of modern civilization.
Charles E. Pierce, Jr., Director of the Morgan Library, stated, "The Babar books are classics of twentieth-century children's literature. Their artistic quality and scholarly significance rank them with the finest Morgan holdings in this area: the illustrated manuscripts of William Makepeace Thackeray's Rose and the Ring and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Little Prince. These works can be considered the cornerstones of the Morgan's modern children's books holdings in addition to the earlier manuscripts of Charles Perrault's Contes de ma Mere l'Oye."
The Morgan plans to display the Babar materials after its reopening in spring 2006.
STATEMENT BY LAURENT DE BRUNHOFF ON BABAR ENTERING THE MORGAN LIBRARY'S COLLECTIONS
I was twelve and my brothers eleven and three when our father died, leaving us to treasure and protect his legacy, the seven Babar books he had written and illustrated in his tragically short lifetime. These books were already famous and beloved by the time of his death, before World War II. Now, about seventy-five years after The Story of Babar was published, it is a classic that many generations have loved in childhood and read to their own children as adults. My brothers and I are old men. Mathieu is a retired pediatrician, Thierry is a Benedictine monk, and I have continued my father's work, writing and illustrating books about Babar and his family. It has taken us a long time to decide what to do with the manuscript of our father's first book, arguably the most precious. Since I came to live in America in 1985 and got to know its cultural institutions, the Morgan Library, with its extraordinary collection of manuscripts and materials focused on the history of the book, has seemed to me the right place for The Story of Babar. When my brother Mathieu came to New York for a visit, he agreed. It has taken many years, but The Story of Babar has found its final home in a city far from Celesteville and far from Paris but where we think Babar will feel very comfortable. I have added the manuscript of my own first book, Babar's Cousin: That Rascal Arthur, which I did when I was twenty-one. The gift is an expression of my love for and an act of homage to my father.