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Selected and Recent Works of Babar

Babar's Exhibition, 2014

Mary Ryan Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of original Babar illustrations by Laurent de Brunhoff in celebration of his latest book,Babar on Paradise Island(2014). The show features a selection of works from de Brunhoff’s newest book as well as graphites, studies, and published watercolors from Babar’s Museum of Art (2003), Babar and the Ghost(1981), Babar’s Little Girl(1987), and Babar’s Celesteville Games (2011), and Babar’s Book of Color (1984).

Laurent de Brunhoff (b. 1925, Paris) is the acclaimed author and artist of Babar the Elephant books. The classic series started as a bedtime story first invented and told by Laurent’s mother, Cecile de Brunhoff, and later illustrated in book form by his father, Jean de Brunhoff (1899-1937). Jean de Brunhoff’s The Story of Babar was published in 1931. After completing only six books, Jean died in 1937 and Laurent, then only 13 years old, colored and designed the cover illustration for the publication of his father’s seventh and last book. Laurent went on to study art at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and lived in Montparnasse, working as an abstract painter. In 1946, at the age of 21, Laurent brought Babar back to life in his own first Babar book, Babar’s Cousin: That Rascal Arthur. Laurent has since written and illustrated more than 50 Babar books. Laurent’s wife, author Phyllis Rose, has written the text for his most recent books, extending the story that began with Cecile.

Babar's Exhibition, 2014

In the 1980s, Laurent moved to the United States and married Rose, and later gave Babar and Celeste a new family member: The adventurous Isabelle in Babar’s Little Girl. In Babar on Paradise Island, Isabelle has grown up; Babar and Celeste are grandparents. Some characters age, while some remain the same age. Paradise Island is inspired by de Brunhoff’s love of Key West. Here, his color palette for the hot tropical setting is bright and intense, in contrast to the more subdued palette he uses for Celesteveille’s dry climate.

Mary Ryan Gallery is the exclusive representative for Laurent de Brunhoff’s art including all Babar published watercolor illustrations, studies and drawings. The gallery has organized numerous traveling museum exhibitions of his work and held solo exhibitions in 1987, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2002, and 2008.

In 2012, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris held major Babar exhibitions of Laurent and Jean’s work, organized by curator Dorothée Charles. In 2008, the Morgan Library and Museum in New York mounted a major exhibition of original drawings and manuscripts by Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff, for which a catalog was published, Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors by Christine Nelson, including an essay about Babar by Adam Gopnik, which was later published in The New Yorker.

Major exhibitions of Laurent and Jean’s work were held in 1981 at the Centre Culturel du Marais in Paris; in 1983-84 at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, Baltimore Museum of Art, Toledo Museum of Art, among others; in 1987 in Japan; and in 1989-90 at the National Academy of Design in New York and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, among others. There have been solo exhibitions of Laurent’s work at many museums throughout America, several organized by Mary Ryan Gallery, recently at the Customs House Museum in Key West, FL; the Dixon Gallery in Memphis, TN; the Speed Museum in Atlanta, GA; and the Davison Center of Wesleyan University, Middlebury, CT.

Original Babar manuscripts and artwork by Laurent and Jean are in the collection of The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Laurent de Brunhoff holds both French and American citizenship and was made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur.