This is a tribe that seems to be blessed by the muses. A clan to the both bourgeois and bohemian, liberal and marxist, which has led to a pachyderm costume green and some of the magazines on the most great of the history. But that also had dramas with the deportation and a teenager shot by the Gestapo. In The Splendour of Brunhoff (Fayard), the reporter Yseult Williams recounts the extraordinary saga of a dynasty to the origins of baltic and germanic came set place Denfert-Rochereau. Maurice de Brunhoff, the father, is the editor of Villiers de L’isle-Adam, the Tutu (a cult novel, signed by a mysterious Princess Sappho), from the Bible illustrated by the English painter James Tissot, or the program of the Ballets russes. Her daughter, working girl, Cosette, wife of Lucien Vogel. This Mozart of the press founded in 1922 the women’s magazine Jardin des modes, beautiful graphics, and then in 1928 the revolutionary weekly Seen, that it grants a central place in photography, and will be a major influence for Life as for the future, Paris Match. One of the sons, Michel, leads to the request of Condé Montrose Nast, the French Vogue and became ” the supreme arbiter of elegance “, in collaboration with Jean Cocteau, Man Ray or Lee Miller. Finally, there is the younger, Jean de Brunhoff, fragile health, it is idealistic that we don’t really know what to do. He dreams of a career as a painter, but finds himself plagued by tuberculosis. In 1930, on the advice of doctors, he and his family spend the summer at Montroc near Chamonix, for his lungs to benefit from the mountain air and the sun. Back at Chessy, his son Mathieu, who was vomiting during the trip (too much almond paste), never ceases to chouiner.

“the Splendour of The Brunhoff,” Yseult Williams (Fayard, 350 p. 22 euros).

© DR

Cecile de Brunhoff rises in the room, and then she is not a great storyteller, launches into the story of a mother elephant and her little pursued by hunters. Mathieu, like his brother Laurent are captivated. It is John who baptizes the young pachyderm by the name of Babar. “Nobody ever knew what that meant,” points out in the book, Mathieu de Brunhoff, ex-paediatrician, now aged 92 years old. “A variant of dad ? Or perhaps was it a reference to the mughal emperor Babur ? My father had a passion for the indian culture at the time. Finally, it has always remained a mystery to all babarologues. “Jean began to draw the scenes. Michel and Lucien decide to publish your own album, wanting a great format for letting them breathe images lush. “The story of Babar the little elephant” was released for Christmas of 1931, the same year that the colonial Exhibition. An icon is born, perhaps the French the most known abroad. “Babar, this is our destiny as it is an Odyssey. A trip. Jean de Brunhoff was a great reader of Homer. The first adventure of Babar, it is that of a young elephant that the death of his mother, away from the forest, and come back after a long detour. And it is rather late, the mention also of Robinson Crusoe, he too, like Ulysses, a victim of the providence, when the torque elephantine lands on a deserted island “, decrypts to The Point the lawyer and writer François Sureau, grand babarologue which will be published in the Nouvelle Revue française (NRF), a beautiful text on this ” monarch republican “.


After you have decorated the nursery of the first class of the ocean liner Normandie, Jean de Brunhoff, 38 years old, died on 16 October 1937. The same day, is buried in great pomp to the communist Paul Vaillant-Couturier. The founder of the PCF had just married his young niece, Marie-Claude Vogel, daughter of Lucien and Cosette. As in the Célesteville of Babar, policy and mere dandyism continued to criss-cross in the Brunhoff. In 1933, Marie-Claude put German soldiers in front of the new camp of Dachau and takes blurry pictures of the prisoners, allowing Saw to publish the first photos of a concentration camp. In 1943, resistant arrested by the police of Pétain, it is she who is deported to Auschwitz, then to Ravensbrück. True saint, it remains after the liberation of the camp on 30 April 1945 to help in the repatriation of the survivors and comfort the dying. In 1946, at the Nuremberg trials in the face of dignitaries, Göring, von Ribbentrop or Hess, the future mp and communist bears witness to the unspeakable. “I thought I was looking at : Look at me, because, through my eyes, there are hundreds of thousands of eyes that look at you, through my voice, there are hundreds of thousands of voices that accuse you “, will remember it for the fortieth anniversary of the Nuremberg verdict.

This is not the only tragedy in the family Brunhoff. If, during the Occupation, the fashion does not suffer, frankly, of the German presence (in the image of a Coco Chanel that is installed at the Ritz…), Michel needs to close Vogue. He refuses the proposal of Eugène Schueller, founder of L’oréal and patron of the secret Committee of revolutionary action, the Hood – to become the artistic director of a corporation of the French publishers controlled by the Vichy government. He made false papers for his jewish employees and has published four albums mode without the help or permission of the occupant nazi. His son, Pascal, a member of the resistance group of the lycée Stanislas, takes the maquis on June 6, 1943, but it is executed on 10 June by the Germans, at the same time that fifty-five other teenagers. “The most precious good, the one that you do not replace it, you have lost it. The child, him, leaves in peace and his fresh youth, but you, how can you console them for his absence ? That can prevent you from constantly thinking about the most terrible end that one has inflicted to one who had before him both live ? ” writes Colette in her father struck down. In 1945, in the first issue of Vogue after the Liberation, Michel stirs also heaven and earth to make it a worthy tribute to his old friend Max Jacob died in Drancy in 1944.


At the age of 92, her daughter Marion de Brunhoff, sculptor, remembers as if it was yesterday the day she saw her brother Pascal from a bicycle with a simple backpack, ” as any boy scout “. “We were on the balcony, and my mother said : We will not live “. In its housing in the 7th arrondissement, in his nineties coquette tells the story of how on a vacation to Montana, she and her cousins, coming back from a session of sledging, should not make noise do not wake up ” Uncle John “, already very tired. “We settled down in the dining room and we were told to make a drawing competition. “The children are used as the first readership test to Babar, one of the keys to success. Marion also remembers a taffeta dress pearl gray received for his twenty-one years, the first in the history signed by… Christian Dior, a great friend of his father. A few weeks later, the designer will launch the New Look. And in his nineties, tells more than simply the burst in popularity of a protégé of his father, a young man, skinny and shy come to Oran to bring him a fifty sketches of fashion : Yves Saint Laurent. “My father said what a talent and, while I was working at the comp, he called me so that I may see the phenomenon. The parents of Saint Laurent knew nothing of the mode. “It is Michel de Brunhoff, who advised the young Yves to follow the courses of the Chambre syndicale de la couture, and then called Christian Dior and he meets the prodigy.

To Francis Elder, there is no doubt that Babar is one of the masterpieces of the Twentieth century, which has revolutionized the picture book. We want to add that it is the whole family Brunhoff, who represent a kind of masterpiece disregarded, at the intersection of the arts, the press, fashion and history. After reading this Splendor of Brunhoff in the casting ruffling, it remains… baba.

“the Splendour of The Brunhoff,” Yseult Williams (Fayard, 350 p. 22 euros).


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