Jean de Brunhoff

Jean de Brunhoff

Jean de Brunhoff.
Born (1899-12-09)December 9, 1899
Paris, France
Died October 16, 1937(1937-10-16) (aged 37)
Paris, France
Occupation Artist
Nationality French
Alma mater Académie de la Grande Chaumière
Genre Children's literature
Notable works Babar the Elephant
Spouse Cecile de Brunhoff[1]
Children Laurent, Mathieu, and Thierry de Brunhoff

Jean de Brunhoff (December 9, 1899 October 16, 1937) was a French writer and illustrator known for creating the Babar books, the first of which appeared in 1931.

Early life

De Brunhoff was the fourth and youngest child of Maurice de Brunhoff, a publisher, and his wife Marguerite. He attended Protestant schools, including the prestigious École Alsacienne. Brunhoff joined the army and reached the front lines when World War I was almost over. Afterwards, he decided to be a professional artist and studied painting at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. In 1924 he married Cécile Sabouraud, a talented pianist, and they had two sons Laurent and Mathieu in 1925 and 1926; a third son, Thierry, was born nine years later.


The Babar books began as a bedtime story that Cécile de Brunhoff invented for their children, Mathieu and Laurent, when they were four and five years old, respectively. She was trying to comfort Mathieu, who was sick. The boys liked the story of the little elephant who left the jungle for a city resembling Paris so much that they took it to their father, a painter, and asked him to illustrate it. He turned it into a picture book, with text, which was published by a family-run publishing house, Le Jardin des Modes.[2] Originally, it was planned that the book's title page would describe the story as told by Jean and Cécile de Brunhoff. However, she had her name removed.[3] Due to the role she played in the genesis of the Babar story, many sources continue to refer to her as the creator of the Babar story.[4][5][6]

After the first book Histoire de Babar (The Story of Babar), six more titles followed before Jean de Brunhoff died of tuberculosis at the age of 37.[7][8][9] He was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

After Jean's death, his brother Michel de Brunhoff, who was the editor of French Vogue, oversaw the publication in book form of Jean's two last books, Babar and His Children and Babar and Father Christmas, both of which had been drawn in black and white for a British newspaper, The Daily Sketch. Michel de Brunhoff arranged for the black and white drawings to be painted in color, drafting the then-thirteen-year-old Laurent to do some of the work.[10] The French publishing house Hachette later bought the rights to the Babar series.[11] The first seven Babar albums were reprinted with millions of copies sold around the world.

Babar revived

Soon after the end of World War II, Laurent, who had followed in his father's footsteps as a painter and had also studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiėre, began work on a Babar book of his own. Although his style of painting was different from his father's and he emphasized picture more than text in the creation of his books,[12] he trained himself to draw elephants in strict accord with the style of his father. Consequently many people did not notice any difference in authorship and assumed the six-year gap in the series was because of the war.[13][14] Laurent has always been careful to emphasize that Babar was his father's creation (and to some extent his mother's) and that he continued the series largely as a way of keeping the memory of his father and his own childhood alive.[15]


Further reading


  1. "Babar the elephant gets NYC museum show". USA Today. 2008-09-23. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  2. Christine Nelson, Drawing Babar: Early Drafts and Watercolors (New York: The Morgan Library and Museum, 2008), pp. 17-18
  3. Paul Lewis (April 8, 2003). "Cécile de Brunhoff, Creator of Babar, Dies at 99". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
  4. "'Babar' Creator Dead At 99". CBS. Associated Press. February 11, 2009. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
  5. "Cecile de Brunhoff Creator of 'Babar the Elephant'". Variety Media, LLC. April 23, 2003. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
  6. Paul Lewis (April 8, 2003). "Cécile de Brunhoff, Creator of Babar, Dies at 99". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-01-30.
  7. "'Babar' Creator Dead At 99". CBS News. 2003-04-08. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  8. "FREEING THE ELEPHANTS". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  9. Mehren, Elizabeth (1989-12-24). "2nd A Legendary Elephant King of the Forest Has Taken Up U.S. Residency With His Growing Family and His Illustrator". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-27.
  10. Babar's Anniversary Album, p 13n
  11. Rothstein, Edward (2008-09-22). "All About Mr. Elephant, in His Becoming Green Suit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  12. Drawing Babar, p.39
  13. Babar's Anniversary Album, p.13n.
  14. de Bertodano, Helena (2003-09-15). "Elephants and old masters". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  15. Meet Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff Retrieved 2011-05-27 Archived December 25, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
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