This exhibition is dedicated to Georges Remi, the multi-talented artist known as “Hergé”.
Co-produced with the Hergé Museum of Louvain-la-Neuve, the show brings together an important selection of documents, original drawings and various other works by Tintin’s creator, through which visitors can decipher the art behind this creative genius who deployed every means available to his compositions, from illustration to cartoons, advertising, print, fashion design and visual arts.
Inspired by several artistic movements of his time – from pop art to abstract art through to minimalism –, this self-taught artist was also interested in ancient civilisations and the so-called “primitive arts”.
What makes Hergé's art truly unique and distinct from other cartoonists is his extraordinary capacity to represent reality in such a creative but familiar way that readers can easily see themselves in this universe built from scratch. With simple lines made with impressive precision, under the banner of his inimitable "clear line", Hergé created emblematic characters that embody society's great values.
This exhibition is a unique opportunity for visitors to discover some of the treasures from the Hergé Museum: original storyboards, paintings, photographs and archive documents.
It also provides an occasion to reveal a lesser-known artistic facet: his brilliant career as an advertising and graphic designer, showcased by his ingenious posters.
Delve into the many dimensions of this landmark artistic figure of the 20th century!
The little regard for comics affected Hergé, whose internationally acclaimed work sparked much interest, but struggled to be recognized as real art. Today, this exhibition celebrates the great artist he was by journeying back to the roots, and offers visitors the opportunity to explore certain obscure aspects of his personality, such as his dabbling in painting in the early 1960s and the fascination he had for the art of his time, the most modern of all.
Way before his personal encounter with modern art, Hergé had become familiar with artistic movements of all origins and eras. Right from the start of his career at Le Vingtième Siècle newspaper, the young man came into contact with articles on paintings and sculptures by his contemporaries, but also art movements of the recent and distant past.
The stories covered subjects as varied as pre-Columbian art, Van Gogh, Tutankhamun, Brueghel, Utrillo, Dürer, Goya, and Monet. Others introduced readers to museums such as the Cinquantenaire, the Musée des Beaux-Arts of Tournai, as well as exhibitions in Belgian galleries.
With the appearance of The Adventures of Tintin and through his network of friends and acquaintances, Hergé will gradually build an image catalogue, which he could use to incorporate references to art movements in his work. Following his initiation to modern art in the 1960s, Hergé discovered the joy of private collecting and surrounded himself with art— works that he fell in love with and hung on the walls of his home and at Studios Hergé.
In several interviews, Hergé explained that he had always loved telling stories, and that he came to enjoy illustrating them, too.
Having been weened on silent films, black and white films, and German Expressionism, and influenced by his readings as a child and teenager, Hergé quickly developed considerable skill in the art of découpage, from staging to presentation. Throughout his career as an author-cartoonist, Hergé continuously honed his skills, creating atmospheres, staging sets and environments, building narratives, beginning his stories, creating his gallery of characters, and more.
He adopted and transfigured a series of procedures borrowed from novelists, as well as a few tricks specific to cinematographic language, to create his original oeuvre, a harmonious blend of words and images.
The ellipsis, the running gag, the MacGuffin, word play, shifts between tragic and comical situations, humor, and the psychology of his characters are just some of the things that put Hergé in a league of his own.
1940. German troops occupied Belgium. With newspapers Le Vingtième Siècle and Le Petit Vingtième shuttered, Hergé no longer had a newspaper where he could publish his drawings. Then Brussels’s daily Le Soir offered him a job to create a weekly supplement for kids. The Adventures of Tintin first began reappearing in the supplement Le Soir Jeunesse until July 1941, and later appeared as a daily comic directly in Le Soir.
Hergé’s collaboration with Le Soir and certain Flemish papers—all mouthpieces of the occupying forces—was a real cause for concern after liberation. He was arrested and brought in for questioning several times in September 1944, and was not officially cleared until May 1946 when he received his certificate of good citizenship.
The Second World War marked a period of success for the cartoonist, and Casterman printed his albums in record numbers! But more importantly, this was when he reached maturity as a graphic artist. Spurred on by his publisher, but still guided by his principles of simplicity and readability, Hergé finally embraced color in The Shooting Star. He opted for delicate, flat tones without shadows or gradations. Faced with the daunting task of adding color to his older black and white albums, he knew he would need help. And that’s when he met Edgar P. Jacobs.
This period also marked the emergence of a new character, Captain Haddock, who made his début in The Crab with the Golden Claws. This great sentimental character, with his gruff demeanor, generous heart, quick temper, and panache for hurling insults, never ceased to amaze with his unfailing sense of friendship.
The pencil-drawn boards presented in this room attest to Hergé’s great mastery of portrait art.
His pencil strokes were like magic when he focused on his characters. Up close or at a distance, every drawing is proof of just how good Hergé was at his craft. His sensitivity, feeling, and expertise were remarkable. He observed his subjects and often had people pose for him, capturing them in drawings to masterful effect.
Although comics have long been regarded as a minor art, figures like Hergé have propelled them to unrivalled artistic heights. Certain lead pencil sketches of Captain Haddock, Tintin, or Professor Calculus, for instance, are exercises in style with enough complexity, astute turbulence, and accuracy of tone to rival works by such masters as Dürer, Holbein, Da Vinci, Ingres, and others.
Hergé had an intimate relationship with the characters he created… or at least with some of them. This was certainly the case with The Adventures of Tintin, although he was less close to his characters Quick and Flupke despite the fact that the two Brussels street urchins spend their whole time playing pranks and games based on the author’s own childhood experiences. On the other hand, Hergé was not at all attached to the characters from Jo, Zette and Jocko.
This series was commissioned from Hergé and was not something he created through his own inspiration. He worked on the series without enthusiasm; the number of stories can be counted on one hand.
The author was excited to see his work being published in France, Switzerland and Portugal but was less pleased with the slapdash way in which pages of Tintin, as well as Jo, Zette and Jocko, were printed in Coeurs Vaillants without much respect for the original colour schemes and nowhere near the quality of the books produced by Casterman.
The thirties marked the launch of Atelier Hergé-Publicité. This room sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of the cartoonist’s talents: big, beautiful posters designed by Hergé and his then partner, José De Launoit. They show the true advertising and promotional talents of the father of Tintin.
The documents on display offer a lesson in graphic design, from simplicity of message to lettering, distribution, spacing, and color—characteristics and choices that make up the fundamental principles of the clear line drawing style.
The same principles apply to illustrations in cover art, advertising brochures, and other ad-related documents.
This lesser-known phase in the artist’s career also includes an equally unknown promotional cartoon serial, Tim l’écureuil, which was influenced by the vision of Disney Studios at the time.
Undeniably, the highlight of the thirties for Hergé was his meeting with Chang Chong-chen and the release of The Blue Lotus.
A young Western artist “encountered” a young artist from the Far East. They shared common interests: art (painting, sculpture, drawing, comics), religion (Chang was Catholic), language (Chang spoke French). The result: two worlds came together!
The meeting sparked a new Tintin adventure that took a new narrative approach that was markedly different from previous albums.
This room celebrates this event through a number of pieces: boards with India ink, Le Petit Vingtième cover illustrations in connection with The Blue Lotus, leaflets, some of Chang’s personal objects, and more.
The wall of Le Petit Vingtième leaflets illustrates how busy Hergé was as a cartoonist and illustrator in the thirties. Creating The Blue Lotus obviously wasn’t the only thing that kept him busy. You’ll notice the nod to Quick and Flupke and other Hergé productions from this prolific period of work.