One of the reasons I started this blog and the research for it was my fascination with the interaction between high and popular art. And how this can be studied by looking at the personal practices of individual artists. When artistically dealing with the workings of politics and personal engagement. The first time I encountered the yellow dwarf was while leafing through a Time-Life book , ‘The world of Delacroix’, written by Tom Prideaux. On page 35 of the Dutch translation a black and white reproduction is shown of a drawing of three monkeys, the accompanying caption reads; while still studying at the École de Beaux Arts (1816-1817) Delacroix began publishing caricatures in a Parisian newspaper Le Nain Jaune, unbiased social satire. In Delacroix’ etching ‘three literary midgets’ quarrel on the gravestone holding the remains of Le Nain Jaune, caused by a contemporary process threatening the closure of the newspaper. ( 1)
A coloured version of the image I found on the internet shows that the fur of the dwarfs or monkeys has different colours(2). I like to think that they represent the ‘tricolore’, red-white-blue. Although the blue has a viridian, dark green hue. (2) The donkey in the middle tries to protect white and yellow booklets against the attempts of the other monkeys to take them away. He is in a desperate situation because of the giant goose feather and the foolswand he clutches at the same time. The subtitle of the print reads; les trois Nains Littéraires, ou les bâtards du Nain Jaune, Se disputant ses Dépouilles. In a rough translation this is ‘The three literary dwarfs, or the bastard children of the yellow dwarf fight over its corpse’.
In the recent catalogue published on the occasion of the Delacroix exhibition in the Louvre ( 3) I find another image and here the monkey in the middle has a grayish blue fur. Which goes to show that it is advisable to check multiple sources. Ségolène Le Men names the three dwarfs as representatives of three competing smaller satyrical ‘journals’. From 1807 to 1820 Delacroix lived in the Rue du Coq Saint Honoré, also the address for the Martinet Libraire this etching could have been printed ‘on the premises’. ( 3)
Delacroix and his relation to caricature is a very complex matter. There has been written a lot about a group of prints signed EXXXXX .
One of Delacroix’ earliest friends and first biographer Achille Piron recalls that Delacroix supposedly cooperated on two caricatures for ‘Le Nain Jaune’ and in 1930 in an article for ‘la Gazette des Beaux Arts’ Jean Laran confirmed that the 6 letters represent his first name Eugene. (4) Nowadays doubt reigns. The British Museum, owner of a substantial group of Delacroix prints, mentions ‘formerly attributed to Delacroix’ behind producer name
In a next blogtext I will go into Delacroix and the more than 20 lithographs he made for Le Miroir.
Le Nain Jaune must have been a real collector’s item. Every five days a gathering of a 24 page issue in a book-sized format was published , accompanied by nine large, hand coloured fold out caricatures each month.
Le Nain Jaune became especially famous for inventing two new royalist “orders” as a means of riculing the supporters of the prerevolutionary regime. One of these orders was that of the girouette (weathervane). A statesman was pictured with a particular amount of weathervanes representing the numbers of times he changed his opinions and allegiance to regimes. As can be seen in this print of a sixheaded Talleyrand. The second invention is ‘The order of the Eteignoir’ ( “candlesnuffer)‘ , playing on the double meaning of the French word lumière to indicate both “light” and “enlightenment.” The candlesnuffer became a symbol of reactionary attempts to turn back the clock and stifle liberty.
Members of the Order of the Eteignoir wear candlesnuffers as hats, Le Nain Jaune , 15 februari 1815.
In Juli 1815 ‘Le Nain Jaune’ was suppressed by royal decree, the editors found refuge in Brussels ( at the time ruled by the Dutch) where they established ‘Le Naine Jaune Refugié’ and succeeded to smuggle this exile version into France. International pressure on the Dutch government resulted in closure of the paper after half a year.
I suppose that the name of the paper was a reference to ‘Le Nain Jaune’, a fairytale written by Madame d’Aulnoy in 1698. In contrast with the ending of a lot of fairytales in this story the bad guy wins and not the charming, but greedy princess Toutebelle and her parents. A promise is a promise even little princesses cannot get away with breaking it. So the yellow dwarf in this sense is an avenger of broken promises.
The Yellow Dwarf in an Epinalprint and Le Nain Jaune the namesake of the paper.
(1) De Wereld van Delacroix, Tom Prideaux , Time-Life Bibliotheek der Kunsten, 1971. A lot can be argued against this text fragment. Le Nain Jaune was founded in December 1814 and was suppressed in July 1815. The date 1816-1817 as mentioned by Prideaux as the date that saw Delacroix earliest attempts at caricature is after the closure of the paper. Unbiased social satire is a strange sentence connected as it is with a satirical political magazine. And it might be an interesting discussion if the remains of a magazine rest in a gravestone or in a grave.
(3) Delacroix, Musée du Louvre, Éditions Hazan, 2018. ‘Delacroix et L’Estampe, by Ségolène Le Men, page 375.
(4) Jean Laran, ‘Péchés de Jeunesse d’Eugene Delacroix’, La Gazette des beaux Arts, janvier 1930.
(5) Censorship of Political Caricature in nineteenth century France, Robert Justin Goldstein, Kent State University Press 1989, page 101 and further