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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Adolphe Willette

Parce Domine, Decoration for the Cabaret Le Chat Noir, Adolphe Willette
It's an interesting fact of life in the art world that the most famous and well-paid artists working today (and no doubt in the past) are those who make funny pen and ink drawings for newspapers. I'm talking about cartoonists. Of course now days their work may be more prevalent and accessible on the Internet (and in greater quantities) than in the print media. Yet, the strange thing is we don't consider such creative figures to be artists. Instead we've carved out a nice little niche for them that's all their own--cartoonists. It's a profession caught between the visual and the literary. In most cases the written words are far more important in conveying the cartoonist's message than anything he or she might draw. Actually, the greatest thing about the cartoonist's art is that it has a message. So much of what is turned out by artists today has so little meaning beyond wall decoration. The cartoonist's message wants to be profound, tries to be humorous, strives for simplicity, and longs for broad appeal, regardless of whether its of the Peanuts brand or the Herblock genre. Although cartoons and cartooning has changed a lot in the past hundred years of so, but those basic principles haven't changed since the days of the French artist, Adolphe Willette.
The many faces of Adolphe Willette
Willette in, black Pierrot print,
Marcellin Desboutin, L'artiste 1886
Like so many (perhaps most) cartoonist, Adolphe Willette did not wake up one morning during his early adolescence and announce to the known world, I think I want to be a cartoonist when I grow up. Born in 1857, young Adolphe grew up in Châlons-en-Champagne, (northeastern) France. As a young man, Willette studied at the École des Beaux-Arts under Cabanel, training which gave him a unique position among the cartoonists of France. Whether slapstick comedy or tragedy, dainty triviality or sharp political satire, his work is instinctively profound, demonstrating the distinct sincerity of the artist. He set his ever-lovable Pierrot (right) on a lofty pedestal among the imaginary heroes of France, and established his Mimi Pinson as frail, lovable, and essentially good-hearted, in the affections of the nation.

The Cancan ca.1900, Adolphe Willette
Apotheosis of the Guillotine,
Adolphe Willette
Willette has often been considered a modern Antoine Watteau with a pencil, having emotionally intense sentiments that move the public. Willette was a poet, usually light, fresh, and delicate, in his presentation of the im-agination and exquisitely dainty characteristic of the French. illustrating the more "charming" side of love, often pure and sometimes extremely materialistic. However, Willette at times reveals himself to be bitter and fierce, even ferocious, in his hatreds. He was often a violent, but at the same time, generous partisan of political ideas. He could be amazingly compassionate with love and pity for the people whether they be ground under the heel of political oppression, or were merely the victims of unrequited love. There is charm even in his thrilling Apotheosis of the Guillotine (left), and in the introduction into his caricatures of the Figure of Death itself.

Poster for an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Adolphe Jules Cheret
Sculptor cartoon, Adolphe Willette
Willette used several pseudonyms including "Cemoi", "Pierrot", "Louison", "Bebe", and "Nox", but more often he published under his own name. Willette illustrated Melandri's Les Pierrots and Les Giboulles d'avril, Le Courrier français, then published his own Pauvre Pierrot and other works, in which he tells his stories in scenes in the manner of Busch. He decorated several "brasseries artistiques" with wall-paintings, stained glass, and most notably Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) and La Palette d'or (The Gold Palette). Willette also painted the highly imaginative ceiling for La Cigale (The Cicada) music hall. A remarkable collection of his works was exhibited in 1888, while his surreally fantastic Parce Domine (top) was shown in the Franco-British Exhibition in 1908. His V'almy is in the Luxembourg, Paris. Adolphe Wallette died in 1926.


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