Henri Gerbault, Leading Light of la Belle époque

« It took me some years to clear my head of what Paris wanted me to admire about it, and to notice what I preferred instead. Not power-ridden monuments, but individual buildings which tell a quieter story: the artist’s studio, or the Belle Époque house built by a forgotten financier for a just-remembered courtesan. » — Julian Barnes

Depending on where and when you are, this post will take you far away and to long ago.

Having failed to launch a career as a painter after his studies at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, Henri Gerbault (1863 – 1930) tried his hand at satirical cartooning, and succeeded brilliantly, appearing in all the important magazines of the day, among them La Vie Parisienne, Le Rire, Le Bon Vivant, Le Frou-Frou, L’Art et la Mode, Fantasio, La Vie Moderne, Lectures pour tous… for France, it truly was a golden era for satirical, literary and cultural periodicals.

For instance, during the storied humour magazine Le Rire’s prime years (roughly the first quarter of the 20th century), Gerbault was featured in most issues, often on the front or back cover, and generally in sumptuous colour. Well, you’ll see what I mean. Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, he somehow found time to lend his sundry gifts to the theatrical, advertising, etching, and fine art fields.

Here’s a bit of context if you don’t know who Saint Denis was. Love his interaction with the initially skeptical doggo! Originally published in La Vie Parisienne, and collected in Parisiennettes (1897), with colours by J. Chauvet.
There’s the lad, Paris’s first Bishop, at the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Hope he wasn’t damaged in the blaze.
Gage d’amour (“Token of Love”), originally published in La Vie Parisienne, and collected in Parisiennettes (1897), with colours by J. Chauvet.
Les Coulisses de l’Amour is a collection of cartoons published between 1893 and 1895 in La Vie Parisienne. Racist caricatures abound but, to be fair, everybody gets it in the neck.
“Entre la croupe et les lièvres” is a play on “Il y a loin de la coupe aux lèvres” (English equivalent: “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip”), with ‘coupe’ replaced by ‘croupe’ (rump) and ‘lèvres’ by ‘lièvres’ (hares) — It was featured on the cover of Le Rire no. 261, (Nov. 4, 1899), eloquently demonstrating the vast cultural gulf between Edwardian England and Belle Époque France… not to mention the United States!
From Le Rire no. 7, (March 21, 1903). In French, the Roman God of war and the year’s third month are both “Mars”. Why is it even “March” in English?
Taking the piss out of that old English discretion (some might call it hypocrisy); from Le Rire no. 18 (June 6, 1903).
From Le Rire no. 59, (March 19, 1904).
From Le Rire no. 160 (Feb. 21, 1906).
From Le Rire no. 380 (May 14, 1910). Missals are also known as ‘prayer books’.
Despite being quite amusing, this one loses it all in translation. Still, “contremaître” is a foreman; its feminine form is “contremaîtresse”, which combines foreman and “mistress”; you’ll hopefully get the idea. This piece appeared in Le Rire rouge (as Le Rire was called during The Great War) no. 179 (Apr. 20, 1918). Note the beautifully understated colour work.
From Le Rire no. 189 (Sept. 10, 1922). « Je m’fiche à poil, rien que pour l’embêter! » in the original; sometimes it’s mighty hard to do proper justice to the source text.
The master’s self-portrait, circa 1904.

-RG