Paul Gavarni

Those were the days of masked balls, says Mr. de Chennevières. At the Opéra and at the Théatre de la Renaissance, Gavarni’s débardeurs and chicards were all the rage. We were all crazy about Gavarni then, crazy about his pencil, crazy about his captions, just like we would soon become crazy about Musset.

At that time, Gavarni was also very busy with various works for book publishers, illustrating Les Français peints par eux-mêmes (Pictures of the French), The Wandering Jew, Physiologies, and Le Diable à Paris. But there is more to this latter work than just book illustration: it is the continuation of his endeavor, of the contemporary comedy, with the only difference that the pieces were engraved on wood instead of being lithographed.

From the series Carnaval, from “Le Diable à Paris”
From the series Carnaval, from Le Diable à Paris

He gave to the la Revue musicale his series Musiciens comiques and Physionomies de chanteurs, which are so funny. He drew one hundred pieces for La Correctionnelle. He didn’t give up fashion drawing. In the Charivari, he persistently advertised clothes from the famous tailor Humann. And Humann, for his part, told anyone who would listen that only one man in the world could design a black suit and that this man was Gavarni. This blending of art, literature and dandyism was the unique aspect of Gavarni’s personality. He was the epitome of distinction, lending distinction to everything that went through his pencil or his pen.

If ever a man seemed to be made to live indefinitely the life of a bachelor, it was Gavarni: yet he got married (in December 1844, to Mademoiselle de Bonabry). The arrangement of the garden became his passion. Ah! this garden, this amazing garden at Auteuil, a bottomless pit designed and redesigned twenty times, where he planted and dug up and planted again the rarest and most ruinously expensive species of trees. The garden that he would start reworking at one end, and, when he thought he was done with it, at the other, where mounds turned to hollows and hollows to mounds through constant whims, and everyone knows the cost of laborers’ sweat and of the comings and goings of their wheelbarrows. It is those shovels full of earth, dug over and over, that buried all of Gavarni’s earnings during the long period of his stay at Auteuil; that was his true joy, but did he pay for it[1].
In December 1847, Gavarni left for England, with darkness in his thoughts and business worries that turned his journey into an exile from France, at least for a while. He thought that he would stay in England only a few weeks. He remained almost four years.