Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Jean de Brunhoff and Babar the Elephant

On this day in 1937 Jean de Brunhoff, creator of the beloved childhood character Babar the Elephant, died at the age of 37 from tuberculosis.

De Brunhoff was an French artist and illustrator who found fame through his six books about Babar the Elephant. It was de Brunhoff's wife, Cécile who recounted the first tales of the elephant and his adventures in Paris. In a 2003 interview with CNNLaurent de Brunhoff (son of Cécile and Jean) described how his mother's stories inspired his father's work:
The start, very start of Babar was a bed story from my mother. And my brother and I, we loved the story. We went to my father's studio and told him about it. He started to make a book for us. After the first book he made another one and another one. And he -- he just discovered himself, I think. 
Babar the Elephant's popularity continued on after his maker's death, with his son picking up the tale and going on to write numerous stories about him.

Like other children's book characters, Babar quickly leapt from the pages of books into merchandise items like clothing and homeware. We've mentioned other fictional characters that have inspired interior decoration like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the PoohAlice in Wonderland and Peter Pan or, more generally, adorable animals like Pandas  or Teddy bears. I imagine it will come as no surprise to hear that Babar also found himself on furnishing fabrics in the 1930s, as shown by this curtain pelmet textile in our collection:
Curtain pelmet with Babar the Elephant decoration, 1930s, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (Badda2052)
This year Babar  was picked up by a fashion label to grace the shirts and shorts of a menswear range. If on a pelmet or a jacket, today is a good day to remember the gentlemanly elephant Barbar and his creator de Brunhoff.

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