Paul Gavarni

Back in Paris in 1828, Chevallier, who was only taught line drawing, started working on the human figure, driven by some kind of intuition. Without a teacher or any advice, he swore to himself that he would study from life only, and for two or three years he piled study upon study.

From 1830 to 1838, Gavarni was a fashion designer, drawing costumes, fancy dresses, album designs that were very much appreciated and giving fashion design a brand new charm and grace. Unique in designing clothes for women, he even discovered the secret of lending some elegance to men’s wear.

Illustration from the series “Les débardeurs”
Illustration from the series Les débardeurs

He supplied lithographs to some twenty different publications, such as L’Artiste, Emile de Girardin’s La Mode, and so on. He also published a series of Parisian types, featuring among others Physionomies de la population de Paris, which was the subject of a flattering article from Balzac, and delightful studies of children. This period in his life was very active. He worked and improved his drawing skills and he loved the carnival, he was crazy about masked balls, dances at the opera, at the Théatre de la Renaissance, bals Berthelemot, bals Chicard (Berthelemot and Chicard dances)… He launched costumes that became all the rage: the débardeur[1], the patron de bateau (the shipowner).

He was also a keen woman chaser although it is impossible to tell whether he ever really loved. Cold and convoluted in his love letters, which seemed to be just another stylish fencing exercise for him—if one is to judge from the fragments that have been passed on—he was a true 1830 dandy. Handsome with blond and curly hair, elegant, fashionable[2], sophisticated and laying down the law on men’s wear, he wore rings over his gloves and was incomparable for the curve of his hat and the cut of his suit. He sought the company of writers (rather than artists), inviting his friends–both male and female–to his home to join private parties. These were true artists’ parties, which he himself described as follows: “We mock everything, life, art, love, and the women who are there and don’t care about mockery.” The time had not come yet when Gavarni would have the rare good fortune–let’s speak the word: genius–to find a new literary form: his captions.

    1. ^ Gavarni’s débardeurs are characters wearing a kind of costume loosely inspired by the outfit of workers unloading logs.
    2. ^ In English in the original.