The Saint-Aubin Livre de Caricatures tant Bonnes que mauvaises
The Livre de caricatures
The Livre de caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises (‘The Book of Caricatures Both Good and Bad’) is a unique survival from an age of powerful censorship. If it were to have been discovered by the authorities, it would have been destroyed and its authors at the very least imprisoned in the Bastille
Most of the nearly 400 drawings in the book are by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721-1786). As Dessinateur du Roi pour la broderie et la dentelle (Designer of embroidery and lace to the King’s wardrobe), he depended upon the king and the court for his livelihood and status. A prolific draughtsman, he also published designs for embroidery as well as the L’Art du brodeur (‘Art of the Embroiderer’)(1770). The Livre de caricatures reveals a different, secret side of the artist’s identity. It bears witness to his playful but dangerous scrutiny of the court, the city and his times.
Saint-Aubin claimed that when he acquired the volume it was already partly filled with drawings and that his friends urged him to add to the ‘mélange de folies’ (‘medley of follies’). This may be true. It may be a fabrication to tease the viewer. Saint-Aubin created the book with his family and friends over a period of nearly 40 years, from the 1740s to 1770s. His artist brothers Augustin and Gabriel were among the contributors that have been identified so far. Sometimes they added to an image or amended the inscription over time as a subject gained new topicality.
The Livre de caricatures is peppered with imagery derived from carnival and fairground culture as well as from the realms of high culture. Its subversive wit encompasses sophisticated word play – puns and other linguistic jokes - and visual humour. In the Saint-Aubin family the Livre de caricatures was known as the Livre des culs (‘Book of Arses’). Jokes about bottoms, farting, defecation and enemas make a surprising contrast with better-known areas of the collections at Waddesdon Manor.