About Jean de Brunhoff, author / artist of Le Voyage de Babar

Cécile and Jean de Brunhoff, photo courtesy of Laurent de Brunhoff

Cécile and Jean de Brunhoff, photo courtesy of Laurent de Brunhoff

Author / artist Jean de Brunhoff, (1899 - 1937) is credited as the father of the modern picturebook. He created the Babar character and his world, and completed seven Babar books before his untimely death.

The Travels of Babar (Le Voyage de Babar) — where Babar & Céleste venture off on their honeymoon in that famous yellow balloon — is the second book of the series and is generally considered Jean de Brunhoff’s masterpiece. It remains one of the most popular, indeed one of the best-known and most popular picturebooks of all time the world over. First published in France in 1932, Jean de Brunhoff's The Travels of Babar is a perennial favorite. In the U.S., Random House has kept it continuously in print for over eighty-five years

Renowned author artist Maurice Sendak writes: "My favorite among Jean [de Brunhoff]'s books, The Travels of Babar, is full of alarming and amusing twists of fate...a tour de force of composition...no one before, and very few since, has utilized the double-spread illustration to such dazzling, dramatic effect.

"Babar is at the very heart of my conception of what turns a picture book into a work of art.… Beneath the pure fun, the originality of style, and the vivacity of imagination is a serious and touching theme: a father writing to his sons and voicing his natural concern for their welfare, for their lives … Jean's bequest to his family, and the world, shines from the books."

In his introduction to The Travels of Babar, author A. A. Milne, himself the creator of another icon of childhood, Winnie-the-Pooh, noted, "If you love elephants, you will love Babar and Celeste. If you have never loved elephants, you will love them now. If you who are grown-up have never been fascinated by a picture book before, then this is the one which will fascinate you." Milne ended by saying, "I salute M. de Brunhoff. I am at his feet."

Raphael Mostel’s Travels of Babar goes Jean de Brunhoff's picturebook one better: An entertainment not only for the young - who will delight in (while effortlessly being educated about) music - but for adults too, as a charming entertainment and a sophisticated musical tour de force:

The narration of Mostel’s Travels of Babar is the text of this classic book, which may be read in any language and is modernized in new translations, and each of Jean de Brunhoff’s famous illustrations has inspired a multimedia scene with live music. In English the new translation was prepared and sanctioned especially for Mostel's work by renowned author Phyllis Rose — who also happens to be the wife of Laurent de Brunhoff. Similarly there are new translations for Mostel’s work in Spanish by Marjorie Agosin, and in German by Tine Kindermann. More to follow.

The Babar books are filled with references to music, perhaps because Jean’s wife, Cécile de Brunhoff, was an accomplished pianist. She was a protègée of Alfred Cortot and taught piano at the École Normale in Paris. The youngest of their three sons, Thierry de Brunhoff, also became a renowned pianist before retiring to become a monk. After the untimely death of Jean de Brunhoff in 1937, his eldest son Laurent de Brunhoff continued the series with almost 50 addiotional books inspired by the Babar characters created by his father.

There have also been television cartoon series, and animated films. But only two concertworks have been sanctioned by the family: In 1940, noted French composer Francis Poulenc set Jean de Brunhoff’s first book, L’histoire de Babar, telling the story of the birth of Babar up through his coronation and marriage with Céleste. It is Poulenc’s most-performed work. Raphael Mostel’s Travels of Babar is the only other concertwork sanctioned for a Babar book. Mostel’s Travels of Babar covers the honeymoon adventures of Babar and Céleste, as they go up in their famous yellow balloon, and then also their return to the Land of the Elephants. The Bibliothèque nationale de France, which counts the original Jean de Brunhoff watercolors for Le Voyage de Babar as one of the treasures of its collection, has permitted their use in the multimedia Raphael Mostel has created to accompany his composition, and in the promotion for his work. Additional supplemental Jean de Brunhoff watercolors were provided by The Morgan Library and several private collectors.

Composer  Raphael Mostel  (on right) with  Laurent de Brunhoff  (eldest son of Jean, and himself author/artist of almost 50 subsequent Babar books), after U.S. Premiere performance of the new full production of the complete original “Travels of Babar” with the new multimedia in high definition, using the original watercolors of Jean de Brunhoff.  November 2, 2018 at Florence Gould Hall of the French Institute / Alliance Française, New York City   Photo: Bonnie Stein

Composer Raphael Mostel (on right) with Laurent de Brunhoff (eldest son of Jean, and himself author/artist of almost 50 subsequent Babar books), after U.S. Premiere performance of the new full production of the complete original “Travels of Babar” with the new multimedia in high definition, using the original watercolors of Jean de Brunhoff. November 2, 2018 at Florence Gould Hall of the French Institute / Alliance Française, New York City

Photo: Bonnie Stein