Laurent de Brunhoff, author of Babar the Elephant, has died aged 98

Writer and illustrator Laurent de Brunhoff, who carried on his father’s legacy by producing dozens of original books for his Babar the Elephant series, has died aged 98.

De Brunhoff died Friday at his home in Key West, Florida, following a recent stroke, his wife, critic and author Phyllis Rose, told CNN via email.

A citizen of France and the United States, de Brunhoff published more than 40 books about Babar, an immaculately well-dressed elephant imagined by his mother Cécile and brought to life by his father Jean, an illustrator, in the 1930s.

“The beginning – the beginning of Babar – was a bedtime story from my mother,” de Brunhoff said in an interview with CNN interview, aired in 2003. “And my brother and I loved the story. We went to my father’s studio and told him about it. He started making a book for us. After the first book, he did another and another. And he just discovered himself, I think.”

De Brunhoff was just 12 years old when his father died of tuberculosis in 1937, after publishing five books in the series. In these early titles, the green-clad Babar leaves the jungle for Paris when his mother is shot by a hunter, before embarking on various adventures and being crowned King of the Elephants.

Two more of his father’s books were published posthumously – and a then-teenager de Brunhoff colored and designed a cover illustration for the seventh and final of his Babar titles.

Sharing his father’s talent for illustration, de Brunhoff studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière art school in the French capital and worked as an abstract painter. In 1946, at the age of 21, he brought Babar back to life with his first book: Babar’s Cousin: That Rascal Arthur.

“I wanted Babar to live again,” he told CNN in 2003.

Children’s author and illustrator Laurent de Brunhoff works in his home during a BBC television interview in 1969. (Malcolm Winton / Radio Times / Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

Global phenomenon

In the decades following his father’s death, de Brunhoff introduced new characters and storylines, helping to popularize the series and bring it to a worldwide audience. In his original stories, Babar traveled the world with his family, learned to cook, took up yoga, and even visited an alien planet. His most recent book on the series, Babar’s Guide to Paris, was published in 2017, more than 70 years after he first revived the character.

Although the series has captured the imagination of generations of children, it has been accused of being an allegory and justification for French colonialism. Some of Jean de Brunhoff’s original illustrations and storylines have now been criticized for using racist stereotypes.

In the 1980s, Chilean author Ariel Dorfman argued that Babar’s story—including his adoption of human clothing and behavior and subsequent depiction of how he brought the benefits of human civilization back to the jungle—represented the “fulfillment of the colonial dream of the dominant countries.” .”

“Babar lets progress slide into the jungle without disturbing the ecological balance because (Jean) de Brunhoff leaves out all the plunder, racism, underdevelopment and misery in his story of the relationship between the two worlds,” Dorfman wrote in 1983 in his book “The Old Clothes of the Empire: What the Lone Ranger, Babar and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds.”

When asked When National Geographic’s de Brunhoff criticized Dorfman’s in 2014, he seemed to accept the idea that the series perpetuated myths about French colonialism.

“I think it’s right. Absolutely,” he told the magazine. “In some ways it’s a little embarrassing to see Babar fighting with black people in Africa. My second book, Babar’s Picnic, was also inspired by my father’s drawing. A few years later I was embarrassed by this book and asked the publisher to withdraw it.”

The series has been translated into numerous languages ​​and Babar has also been adapted for television several times, beginning with a production for NBC in the late 1960s. A later series, Babar, premiered in 1989 on CBC in Canada and HBO in the United States (HBO is owned by CNN parent company Warner Bros. Discovery), while the newer series Babar and the Adventures of Badou aired on various networks Channels worldwide, including Disney Junior, between 2010 and 2015.

Following the news of his death, numerous tributes to de Brunhoff poured in over the weekend. Write On X, formerly Twitter, Oscar-nominated writer, director and actor Whit Stillman described his Babar books as “exquisitely beautiful and charming.”

New York’s Mary Ryan Gallery, which presented de Brunhoff’s illustrations, said on Instagram that the author and illustrator’s “love for Babar, his art and his family story has touched millions of people around the world.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button