Well, that was an excellent talk!
A member of the Institut staff opened the evening with a welcome to visitors and speakers.
That was followed by a brief overview of Artcurial, and the way in which they have been at the forefront of promoting sales of comic-book art and related items to the international art market, which has led to a series of major sales and record prices being paid, making that art as financially valuable as much of more mainstream contemporary art.
Indeed, so buoyant is the marketplace that the cartoonist Enki Bilal is now the second most "valuable" living French artist, after "traditional" painter and sculptor Pierre Soulages.
We were then introduced to the main speaker for the evening, Eric Leroy, who is the in-house expert on comic art and tie-in items, and who has built up that area of the business within Artcurial over the last twenty years.
After a few teething troubles with the AV system meant that the slide presentation disappeared after the first image (sorted by the application of a new HDMI cable) we were treated to a walk through the works of Hergé, from the point-of-view of them as art on which the artist put a value.
M. Leroy was very good at showing that from the very outset Hergé was an instinctive marketer of his output as work with a value which could be exploited (he was quoted as having told a correspondent that the 1936 edition of Blue Lotus
was "too beautiful for children", meaning that it could only be appreciated fully if you saw it as more than just a story book). In this he was inspired by Walt Disney, and he would look for ways in which he could expand into other areas.
For example, he saw from the outset that he could increase his income with the adaptation of his newspaper strips into books; he even took this a step further by making the first five hundred copies of the first print-run of one thousand a limited, numbered, signed edition, in which he wrote the "autograph" of Tintin, and to which his wife Germaine added the name of Milou (written with her left hand, to make it look like it had been written by a dog!).
His ambitions for the series made revisions to both interior art and covers a constant for many years - which in some cases led to books have small runs and short shelf lives, as one design was followed by another. The five gouache designs he made for the early books, which were inset into fronts of the albums were soon replaced by the full-size style which remained the format for the rest of the series - making both these early books, and
the original paintings themselves, very valuable collectors' items.
Another item which recently got quite a lot of attention is the double-page spread of line-art which Hergé created to be decorative endpapers for the albums in 1937 (and which remained until the middle Fifties, when the portrait gallery version replaced it); it shows a selection of vignettes of scenes from albums written and released up to that time, and adds a unique feature.
A further sketch is included of Tintin and Snowy in Arctic gear of fur hoods and parkas, which was from a proposal for a story tentatively entitled Tintin in the Far North
, which was taken no further.
This artwork caused a great deal of interest as both an iconic item to many readers and fans, and a considerable example of Hergé's talents: it sold at auction for a record 2.65m in May of this year. It may be of interest that Hergé completed the piece in a single Sunday - supposedly a day off... Not a bad return on the hours put in!
Other rarities appeared as the market for the albums expanded - the original Belgian Petit Vingtième
edition of Tintin en Amérique
("Tintin in America") is rare and valuable, but the version published in 1934 under the Cœurs Vaillants
imprint in France by Editions OgéO is rarer and more valuable than that, because of its scarcity.
These, and the many other variations which have been produced - both as part of the regular series and as special editions for all sorts of reasons over the decades, especially since the fifties - mean that there are over a thousand editions to collect!
M. Leroy was keen to introduce the audience to the artistry involved in all stages of the creation of Hergé's pictures - which he first illustrated by showing slides of ink art and then the separate colour work done for the 1942 Black Island
, followed by the art for the full-cover Crab With the Golden Claws
, which itself was compared to the earlier inset painting for the black-and-white version; the attention to how bright the colours should be, to make the book as appealing as possible, and thus more successful, is brought home when you see it in its separate layers.
If it might have been thought that this appreciation of the value of the artwork had led to a reverence for it which had extended to Hergé himself, then there was a bit of a rude awakening, when Eric talked of how little of the original artwork remains intact and in its original form in the archives. Not because Hergé didn't think it important - far from it! - but because in moving from the newspaper to the book editions, the early artwork was physically cut up and reworked to fit the new format.
An interesting anecdote followed: it was not until 1942 that, on a trip to visit a printer, Hergé first saw an early form of photocopying, which opened up for him a means to quickly re-copy and re-format his art.
Not to say that the original art was immune from editing after that - several individual frame which were included in the Tintin
magazine version of Prisoners of the Sun
, but left out of the album when the landscape pages were rearranged for a portrait orientation, were physically clipped out and set aside, and have come onto the market in the last few years.
Another nugget I had not been aware of was that the Pop Hop
series of pop-up books, which Hergé was keen to produce (and which he had the late Michel Demarets
of the Studios design), were the first books of his to be rejected by Casterman, who were not taken by the idea, leading Hergé to look further afield and to approach Hallmark in the U.S. to produce them.
I'm sure that there were many more interesting pieces, and lots of further fascinating facts, but my notes don't include them.
The evening drew to a close with questions from the floor, which included a character sketch of the typical Tintin art collector - "probably somewhere between 40 and 60 years of age; younger buyers go for more contemporary artists such as Zep and his Titeuf character", and some reflections of the popularity of European comic art in the U.S - interest is growing, especially following the Spielberg film.
A somewhat lively debate about the truth of Léon Degrelle's contention that he was influential on Hergé and the creation of Tintin (M. Leroy was quick to dismiss the claims as lacking any substantial evidence, and backed this with specific references to an incident in which Hergé, who did have contact with Degrelle through them both working at the same newspaper, and for whom he had done a pamphlet cover, ripped up art which he had prepared for a poster when he found that it was to be used to promote the far right Rexist party, saying that he wasn't going to have his work used for political purposes...) had to be brought to a close when the allotted time was used up, and the conversations were taken next door for drinks and snacks.
It was a very interesting and enlightening evening, and the Institut and Arcturial are to be thanked for putting on the talk - and to be encouraged to have some more!