Picks and Pans Review: Babar Comes to America—again
In 1931 Parisian pianist Cecile Sabouraud made up a story about a baby elephant to amuse her sons, Laurent and Mathieu. They loved the tale so much they related it to their father, post-Impressionist painter Jean de Brunhoff, who re-created it in a 1931 picture book, The Story of Babar. So began the Babar series of 34 children's books, including Babar the King, Babar Comes to America and Babar and the Wully-Wully, which have been translated into 12 languages, made into two short animated films featuring Peter Ustinov's voice, and put on records by Louis Jourdan. Maurice Sendak has characterized the Babar works as "so ingenious and profound that they should rightfully take their place with comparably sophisticated 'grown-up' works of art." American admirers of the humane pachyderm can evaluate his place—in or out of the art world—at the 50th-anniversary exhibition of 214 illustrations from the Babar books that has begun a tour of the U.S. Besides the familiar pen-and-watercolor drawings from the books, there are never-published pencil studies made by de Brunhoff, including one of Babar's escape from the hunter who killed his mother—surprising for the power it conveys. The artist died of tuberculosis in 1937, but son Laurent resumed the Babar series in 1946. The exhibition shows Laurent's style, intensity of color and conception of Babar—less the king, more the family man—to be markedly different from his father's, though the basic mood is the same. "Of course Babar is a gentle satire of human society," Laurent has said, "but I make fun with a smile." Babar lovers and the uninitiated will find fun in this exhibition, which can be seen at the San Diego Museum of Art through May 6, then at the San Jose Museum of Art, June 3-July 15; the Mary and Leigh Block Gallery, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., Aug. 5-Sept. 16; the Children's Museum, Boston, Oct. 7-Nov. 18; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Dec. 11-Jan. 27, and the Toledo Museum of Art, March 1-April 15, 1985
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