Émile Marcelin

A caricature by Émile Marcelin
A caricature by Émile Marcelin

By Henri Béraldi

Émile Marcelin, whose real name was Émile Planat, was born in 1825. From 1850 to 1870, he was the special cartoonist for humorous pages on stylish life in Le Journal Amusant and L’Illustration at first and later in La Vie Parisienne, which he founded. The 1860 socialites, the Opera of rue Lepelletier and Les italiens, first nights and parties, dances at the Tuileries and variety shows, feasts and pleasures, Baden and Trouville, all were his. Marcelin also published a lithographic album: Le tabac et les fumeurs (Tobacco and smokers). From his thousand sketches a timely elegance emanates, despite the humorous intent, and it will always make them interesting to those who do not necessarily seek a masterpiece, but a document. Marcelin himself was one of those collectors who prized prints as documents: he owned a hundred thousand engravings and this figure alone tells us that he didn’t pursue the perfect print, but information. Taine said about him:

He never bothered to complete series and along with beautiful prints he bought some mediocre and even some awful ones, and knowing them as such: cartoons, fashion plates, frontispieces and vignettes, but at one condition: they had to be significant and suggestive, they should always illustrate some detail in people’s customs and habits, and bring him closer to people of the past… What his instinct goaded him to search for, through painted or engraved figures, was the differences in man at different times…

Living things aroused his interest just like dead ones. The present appeared to him in the same guise as the past, that is, as a final print freshly impressed, coming after more prints, aged and yellowed to various degrees. The latest show at the Opéra, the procession of fancy carriages yesterday, at the Bois de Boulogne, such evening at a contemporary salon, such review of the troops at Satory or on the Champ-de-Mars were additions that supplemented similar scenes he had seen in the works of Eugène Lami and Tony Johannot, Moreau and Saint-Aubin, those also of Pérelle and Sébastien Leclerc, Callot and Abraham Bosse.

Marcellin was quite the man of 1860, which was the sparkling season of the second empire. His characters all have about them an air of wealth, prosperity, of satisfaction and cheerfulness. He was keen on the military, the theater, and the world, and his aesthetics defined him well: dozens of times in his articles for La vie parisienne, he gave us the names of his three artistic heroes: Horace Vernet, the tenor Mario, and Eugène Lami. Émile Marcelin died in 1887.