“Astonishing Images of Paris”

Gaston Barret’s Watercolor of Contrescarpe

I resurrect this article, as it features a delightful discovery of Paris paintings and an interesting story to accompany that surprise.

A few years ago, we enjoyed dinner with a longstanding friend and her husband at their attractive home.  Not surprisingly for a woman of many interests, she had some delightful artifacts and art.  Knowing our love of France, she shared an unusual book with us – a gift to her uncle that ultimately came into her possession.

The beautiful volume was a limited edition of “Astonishing Images of Paris”, and included a striking collection of Aquarelles (watercolors) de Gaston Barret.  She allowed me to borrow the book, and I looked through the remarkable illustrations time and again.

With a little research, I discovered that Barret (1910–1991) had illustrated Marcel Pagnol’s play, Topaze with eighteen colored aquarelle etchings.  He also illustrated Pagnol’s Marius, as well as works of Gustave Flaubert, Jean de la Fontaine, Maurice Genevoix and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – definitely an impressive collection of authors!

Barret’s Montmartre

I had told our friend that I would share the results of my research with her.  We were amused, when I discovered a ‘sassier’ side of Barret.

In 1951 Monsieur Barret created several erotic prints for Justine ou les Maleurs de la Vertu – The Misfortunes of Virtue by Marquis de Sade.  Interestingly, the Marquis published several versions in the late 18th century; but Napoleon Bonaparte called Justine “the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination” and immediately ordered the arrest of Sade, who spent the last 13 years of his life in prison.  Barret’s illustrations surfaced in the later publication during the more permissive era of the late 1960’s.

And so we travel from sophisticated old acquaintances and lovely illustrations of Paris to skeletons spilling from the closet.  What an interesting journey!

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