JEAN DE BRUNHOFF
* 9. Dezember 1899 in Paris; † 16. Oktober 1937
Jean de Brunhoff was a French writer and illustrator known for creating the Babar books, the first of which appeared in 1931. He was the fourth and youngest child of Maurice de Brunhoff, a publisher, and his wife Marguerite. He attended Protestant schools, including the prestigious Ecole Alsacienne. Brunhoff joined the army and reached the front lines when World War I was almost over. Afterwards, he decided to be a professional artist and studied painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. In 1924 he married Cécile Sabouraud, a talented pianist, and they had two sons Laurent and Mathieu in 1925 and 1926 and then a third son, Thierry, was born nine years later.
The Babar books began as a bedtime story Jean’s wife told their children, Mathieu and Laurent, when they were four and five years old, respectively. She was trying to comfort Mathieu, who was sick. The boys liked the story of the little elephant who left the jungle for a city resembling Paris so much that they took it to their father, a painter, and asked him to illustrate it. He turned it into a picture book, with text, which was published by a family-run publishing house, Le jardin des modes. After the first book Histoire de Babar (The Story of Babar), six more titles followed before de Brunhoff died of tuberculosis at the age of 37. He was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.
After Jean’s death, his brother Michel de Brunhoff, who was the editor of French Vogue, oversaw the publication in book form of his two last books, Babar and His Children and Babar and Father Christmas, both of which had been done in black and white for a British newspaper, The Daily Sketch. Michel de Brunhoff arranged for the black and white drawings to be painted in color, drafting the then-thirteen-year-old Laurent to do some of the work. The French publishing house Hachette later bought the rights to the Babar series. The first seven Babar albums were reprinted and millions of copies were sold all around the world.
Soon after the end of World War II, Laurent, who had followed in his father’s footsteps as a painter and had also studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiėre, began work on a Babar book of his own. Although his style of painting was different from his father’s and he emphasized picture more than text in the creation of his books, he trained himself to draw elephants in strict accord with the style of his father. Consequently many people did not notice any difference in authorship and assumed the six-year gap in the series was because of the war. Laurent has always been careful to emphasize that Babar was his father’s creation (and to some extent his mother’s) and that he continued the series largely as a way of keeping his father and his own childhood alive.