Wrigley on Philipon, ed. Labridy-Stofle (2017)
Philipon, Charles. La Caricature, 1830–1835: lithographies complètes. An Illustrated Catalogue Raisonné of the Lithographs. Edited by Corine Labridy-Stofle, Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 2017, pp. 536, ISBN 1-55660-348-7
Richard Wrigley, University of Nottingham
To have all the 524 lithographs from La Caricature morale, religieuse, littéraire et scénique from 1830–35 in one volume designed and edited by Corine Labridy-Stofle is an exceptional boon for students of the July Monarchy and French prints and politics in the early nineteenth century. That is, in so far as they will be able to persuade their university libraries to pay over £100 for this oversize book. It provides a remarkable ensemble, striking for its extraordinary diversity of style and inventiveness, at times hilarious, often savage. The variety we find is in part explicable because of the range of artists responsible for the imagery. However, it is just as impressive for the way highly contrasting images cohere within a versatile polemical repertoire. The early 1830s were years of relative if short-lived freedom for caricature, unrivaled since the initial years of the Revolution. The sophisticated exploitation of lithography enabled a virtuoso assault on the shortcomings of Louis-Philippe and his associates, until heavy censorship was reimposed. Whether or not these prints had a substantive political effect is a moot point, but there is no doubt that Philipon’s journal fostered the production of brilliant and incisive caricatures, which pushed at the limits of propriety and beyond.
It is interesting to reflect on the comparative nature of these political prints and the art of the time. Philipon himself had been a pupil of Antoine Jean Gros, and we find artists known from the Salon and other venues contributing to the journal—Achille Devéria, Fortuné François Ferogio, Eugène Lami. One of the strategies for generating a print’s pictorial narrative was to parody a painting. This could invoke past art, as in two reworkings of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (nos. 161 and 450), as well as recent French art, as in “Parodie d’un tableau de Prud’hon,” where Louis-Philippe is pursued by Justice and Vengeance after murdering Liberty, reworking the artist’s 1808 original (no. 360). Contemporary painting was also appropriated: Louis-Philippe becomes the executioner guiding Liberty to the block in Alexandre Casati’s adaptation of Paul Delaroche’s Execution of Lady Jane Grey (no. 394). The editor’s comments are not without occasional errors. Labridy-Stofle’s caption to “Imitation libre d’un tableau du Titien” (no. 356), which involves precise artistic references, and finely tuned manipulation of iconography and narrative, mistakenly cites a 1560 version of Titian’s Scourging of Christ, when it is obviously a direct take on the artist’s Crowning with Thorns (1542) in the Louvre; the artist’s name given in the accompanying text is Forest, not Ferogio as stated, and for some reason the short French text from La Caricature is not translated, but only partially paraphrased. Although the volume indexes prints’ authors, the index regretfully does not include a classification of titles or subjects, which would have been useful.
A further aspect of La Caricature’s prints is the degree to which collaboration was involved. This could be seen as both an extension of the Romantic propensity to join creative forces while yet espousing the sacrosanct merits of individualism. Equally, it could be read as an inherently political statement of solidarity and shared purpose. Further, it extends the practice of journalism whereby tasks were shared out and co-ordinated—distinctive authorial voices operating as part of a team.
This volume is a curious entity. It has the feel of a publication oriented toward print collectors rather than art historians, but with a strange sense of time-lag. It ignores the two principal art-historical studies, by James Cuno (whose 1985 Harvard dissertation, “Charles Philipon and La Maison Aubert: The Business, Politics, and Public of Caricature in Paris, 1820–1840,” alas was only partially published in several articles), and by David S. Kerr (Caricature and French Political Culture 1830–1848. Charles Philipon and the Illustrated Press, 2000), but republishes texts by Henri Beraldi (1886), Edwin T. Bechtel (1922), Georges Vicaire (from a volume published 1894–1920), and Gordon Ray (1982). The texts accompanying the prints are reprinted with translations (though not for the most lengthy, e.g. no. 512, “Le gros et gras ogre”), and an editorial note provided by Labridy-Stofle where there is no text. The book does not say where the prints illustrated are held (a private collection? a dealer’s stock?). Provenance is certainly of interest as this periodical is so rare. One might have expected some cross-referencing to the run of the journal in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, available in digitized form via Gallica, to allow one to follow the interplay among the articles, poems, and pithy notes which preceded the prints, normally appearing at the end of each issue. This is worth underlining since the associated paragraphs of text were printed in the body of each issue, not, as here, in the form of an expanded caption. That said, despite the welcome digitized accessibility of La Caricature, there is still much benefit to having this remarkable pictorial ensemble gathered together in one volume—more easily browsable, and thereby allowing a comprehensive appraisal of an array of brilliant and polemically ingenious prints.