Illustration by Moreau le Jeune (1st vol.); Le Bouteux, Le Barbier and Saint-Quentin (2nd, 3rd and 4th vols.)
Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, a musician who was also Louis XV’s premier valet de chambre ordinaire, began working on these volumes with Moreau Le Jeune (1741–1814). Owing to a disagreement between the two men, Moreau ended up working only on the first volume while the illustration of the three remaining volumes was carried out by other painters whose work was good without being up to the standard of Moreau.
The volume illustrated by Moreau stands out for its composition, its liveliness and the prints of the twenty-five illustrations with which he interpreted the words of La Borde’s songs. An attentive observer, the artist conveys in these illustrations the elegance and frivolity of the rococo period. In fact, the painter, draughtsman, engraver and vignettist Moreau Le Jeune was the supreme illustrator of the last quarter of the 18th century and also managed to adapt to the neo-classicist aesthetic in the post-revolutionary period. The artist was also responsible for the fleuron on the title page of the work under discussion as well as the design of the page featuring the author’s dedication to Marie Antoinette (who would be crowned Queen the following year) along with her coat of arms. Her portrait appears only on the frontispiece of the second volume.
The four volumes belonging to the Gulbenkian Collection are bound in period grained calfskin decorated at the edges with gilded lacing.
Chillingham Castle Collection (label). Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian, Sotheby’s, London, 28 July 1919 (lot 12A).
H. 25.2 cm; W. 16.8 cm
Henri Cohen and Seymour de Ricci, Guide de l’Amateur de Livres à Gravures du XVIIIe siècle. Paris: 1912, cols. 534–8.
Artes Plásticas Francesas de Watteau a Renoir, exhibition catalogue. Porto: Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis, 1964, no. 88.
John Harthan, The History of the Illustrated Book. The Western Tradition. London: 1981, p. 148.
Jean-Paul Fontaine, Du manuscrit médiéval à nos jours. L’Aventure du Livre. Paris: 1999, p. 88.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon, Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2001 (2nd edition, 2oo2), p. 122, cat. 96.
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