Albert Robida’s Contes Drolatiques

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From Doré (see last week’s post) to Robida, and a set of drawings I hadn’t seen before. Albert Robida is best known today for the illustrations from his books which present a humorous look at life in the future. But he was also a working artist, and enough of an expert on medieval French architecture to oversee the recreation of Old Paris that filled a bank of the Seine for the Exposition Universelle of 1900.

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Robida’s architectural interest is to the fore in many of his illustrations for Balzac’s droll tales; where Doré often renders buildings as blurred silhouettes, Robida offers authentic detail. He’s also a match for Doré when it comes to comic grotesquery, as these stories demand, while adding anthropomorphic touches of his own.

As before, this is a small selection from a large quantity of illustrations. This time the book is in two volumes which may be browsed here and here.

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The Angel of the Revolution

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The British Library’s recent uploading of a million copyright-free images to Flickr has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand it’s an exemplary gesture on the Library’s part, on the other I wish they’d archived their images somewhere other than Flickr where the recent interface changes have made using the site for any length of time a very frustrating business.

Complaints aside, the unsorted BL haul is being slowly sifted by those who aren’t dissuaded by Yahoo’s iniquities. A recent set labelled Science Fiction is comprised as much of science fact as fiction but it does include these illustrations from The Angel of the Revolution: A Tale of the Coming Terror (1893), a novel of aerial warfare and anarchist revolt by British author George Griffith. This is one of several works from the late Victorian era which show how lazy it is to characterise the period as a time of unthinking imperialism:

First published in 1893, The Angel of the Revolution is a fantastical tale of air warfare in which an intrepid group of Socialists, Anarchists and Nihilists defeat Capitalism with their superior knowledge of dirigibles. Led by a crippled, brilliant Russian Jew and his daughter, Natasha, The Brotherhood of Freedom establishes a ‘pax aeronautica’ over the world, thanks to the expertise of Richard Arnold, a young scientist. Arnold falls in love with Natasha (the eponymous Angel), and Griffith builds a utopian vision of Socialism and romance.

As well as writing a cracking good story, Griffith is also remarkably prescient in predicting future technology, including air travel, tidal power, and solar energy. He also engages with timeless debates over social responsibility. Griffith imagines a world in which the wealth of the obscenely rich is sequestered, their property seized for the public good, and their businesses nationalised. Those with unearned incomes are forced to either pay punitive tax, or to undertake equivalent labour in the community. Griffith’s message lacks subtlety, but it couldn’t be more pertinent in the twenty-first century. (Précis swiped from here.)

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Griffith’s novel is essentially Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror (1886) with a helping of revolutionary politics; even the aircraft are similar, with Griffith’s illustrator, Fred T. Jane, depicting an armed sky-boat held aloft by the same vertical propellers as those used by Robur’s machine. Jane (not “Janes” as they name him on the Flickr pages) later founded the Jane’s series of warship and aircraft catalogues so it’s fitting that his illustrations combine both those craft in a single design.

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Albert Robida’s Vieux Paris

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After several posts about Albert Robida it seems more-or-less mandatory to write something about his spectacular creation for the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. “Vieux Paris” was an elaborate theme park-style attraction which sought to recreate some of the lost buildings of medieval Paris on the right bank of the Seine, a short distance from the Trocadero. (The international pavilions were situated on the opposite bank.) Robida is remembered today for his science fiction but he was given this job as a result of books such as Paris de siècle en siècle; le coeur de Paris, splendeurs et souvenirs (1896) which explored life in the historic city. Vieux Paris was planned by the artist, with the buildings being created by a team of architects under the direction of Léon Benouville. As with modern theme parks, teams of actors and other staff were costumed in order to convey the requisite period flavour. The birds-eye drawing is the best view I’ve seen of the construction, the pages being from Albert Quantin’s L’Exposition du siècle.

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From the Brooklyn Museum’s Flickr set.

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Photo by Michel Berthaud at Luna Commons.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The End of Books, 1894
Le Vingtième Siècle by Albert Robida
La Vie Électrique by Albert Robida
The Lumière Brothers at the Exposition Universelle
Le Grand Globe Céleste, 1900
Tony Grubhofer’s Exposition Universelle sketches
The Cambodian Pavilion, Paris, 1900
Le Manoir a l’Envers
Suchard at the Exposition Universelle
Esquisses Décoratives by René Binet
Le Palais de l’Optique, 1900
Exposition Universelle films
Exposition jewellery
Exposition Universelle catalogue
Exposition Universelle publications
Exposition cornucopia
Return to the Exposition Universelle
The Palais Lumineux
Louis Bonnier’s exposition dreams
Exposition Universelle, 1900

The End of Books, 1894

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More illustrations from Albert Robida, and a riposte to anyone thinking that the idea of the end of books is a recent thing. This article by bibliophile Octave Uzanne appeared in Volume 16 of Scribner’s Magazine (July–December 1894). The piece opens with a description of various scientists and artists at a Royal Society evening making predictions about life in the future. Among other proposals there’s that old saw of science fiction, the meal of condensed nutrients which would supposedly put an end to world hunger. Uzanne’s account of the future of the book involves authors speaking their works into recording devices. Despite Robida’s somewhat comic extrapolations Uzanne seemed to have been semi-serious; even if he wasn’t he made a good job of predicting audio books, and (after a fashion) television: those wanting illustrations would have images projected by one of Edison’s Kinetoscopes.

There will be registering cylinders as light as celluloid penholders, capable of containing five or six hundred words and working up on very tenuous axles, and occupying not more than five square inches; all the vibrations of the voice will be reproduced in them; we shall attain to perfection in this apparatus as surely as we have obtained precision in the smallest and most ornamental watches.

As to the electricity, that will often be found in the individual himself. Each will work his pocket apparatus by a fluent current ingeniously set in action; the whole system may be kept in a simple opera-glass case, and suspended by a strap from the shoulder.

As for the book, or let us rather say, for by that time books “will have lived,” as for the novel, or the storyograph, the author will become his own publisher. To avoid imitations and counterfeits he will be obliged, first of all, to go to the Patent-Office, there to deposit his voice, and register its lowest and highest notes, giving all the counter-hearings necessary for the recognition of any imitation of his deposit. The Government will realize great profits by these patents.

The full article may be read here.

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Le Vingtième Siècle by Albert Robida

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More 19th-century futurism from French illustrator and author Albert Robida. Le Vingtième Siècle was published in 1883, and is a far more comical look at life in the 20th century than La Vie Électrique, showing a future where most of the airships are shaped like enormous fish. This is a copiously illustrated volume of over 500 pages so the selection is again limited. These examples are taken from a copy at Gallica but some of the larger drawings can be seen in higher quality at this Flickr set.

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