Cosmopolitan life in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s would seem to hold no secrets for us any longer. Movies like 'Cabaret', books from authors like Christopher Isherwood and prints and paintings by George Grosz and Otto Dix have created an indelible image of a city full of entertainment, gaiety and decadence, where nightlife blossomed as it never had before. French artist Chas Laborde also did his part to contributing to this image.
Jean Giraudoux, who wrote the text for Rues & visages de Berlin (1930), was also a diplomat, besides being a writer. As a young man, he had impulsively devoted himself to the study of Germanics. Because of this, he knew Germany quite well. He travelled around there a great deal, and was even the home tutor for the duke of Saxony-Meiningen in Munich for a short time. He was the right man for a well-informed story about Berlin, and the book certainly excelled because of its historical background information, anecdotes, and original observations. Giraudoux would also parody the German customs and habits.
Chas Laborde illustrated Rues & visages de Berlin with visible delight and with plenty of 'Schwung'. Vivacious pre-World War I citizens of Berlin are clearly enjoying themselves in a festive city that was still whole and complete. Crowds shopping on the Potzdammerplatz and in the Friedrichstrasse. The courtyard of a working-class district. Sundays in the park. There were crowds everywhere: in the streets, in the parks, in the swimming pools and in the nightclubs. The girls with graceful hats and berets. But were those girls in the 'Casanova', in the luxury department stores or along the Kurfürstendamm truly all actual girls? Giraudoux had his doubts about that, for transvestism and prostitution flourished in Berlin. Some fat matrons and bloated gentlemen, dandies and snobs, gay girls and soldiers bring to mind those of George Grosz, to whom Chas Laborde is often compared. But although Laborde would also frequently give a rather wry impression of cosmopolitan nightlife, his prints remain less crude and venomous than those by his German contemporary.
Rues & visages de Berlin was published in Paris by Éditions de la Roseraie as a silver-coloured portfolio with loose-leaf prints and a text quire. There were two separate series of 18 etchings: one set in black-and-white and one in colour. The text itself also includes many amusing drawings that brighten up the pages and give Giraudoux's atmospheric story extra power.
Chas Laborde also illustrated books by other popular writers such as Jacques de Lacretelle, Anatole France, Willy and Colette, Francis Carco and Guy de Maupassant. But he was also a writer himself, well known for his La porte ouverte (75 cartoons with accompanying aphorisms) and the witty Théodore et le petit chinois (1943), published posthumously by his nephew Guy Laborde. Another work to appear after his death was École de patience: la guerre vue par Chas Laborde (1951), in which his experiences from World War I are represented in words and images. He was closely involved in battles and became the victim of a poison attack as an infantryman. This fate makes believable what Laborde's friend Pierre Mac Orlan claimed in his preface to École de patience. He described Chas Laborde as 'un sentimental d'une grande délicatesse et d'une pudicité encore plus grande' (a sensitive and extremely subtle man, of even greater timidity). He had also experienced the trenches of 1914-1918 from extremely close by. He died right after seeing a German battalion march past on the Place de l'Étoile in 1941, according to Mac Orlan from outright grief. Laborde had observed the Germans in their own capital ten years before, but he apparently could not bear the sight of seeing them in his own city as military conquerors.
|Description:||Rues & visages de Berlin / Jean Giraudoux. - Texte inéd. - Eaux-fortes et dess. de Chas Laborde. - Paris : Éditions de la Roseraie, 1930. - 27 p., 18 pl. : ill. ; 44 cm|
|Printer:||Frazier-Soye (Paris) (text)
Roger Lacourière (Paris) (etchings)
|This copy:||Number 71 of 90 on Arches|
|Bibliography:||Carteret IV-186 ; In liefde verzameld-15|
|Shelfnumber:||Koopm E 3|
- Guy Laborde, Charles Laborde. Alfortville,Quatre Feuilles, 1970
- Pierre Mac Orlan, 'Évocation', in: Chas Laborde, École de patience: La guerre vue par Chas Laborde. Monaco, A la voile latine, 1951, p. 11-17
'Opernhaus - L'entr'acte', etching by Chas Laborde
'Potsdamer Platz', etching by Chas Laborde
'Cour d'un quart populaire',etching by Chas Laborde
'Unter den Linden - Sous les Tilleuls', etching by Chas Laborde
Edition statement in the shape of a German helmet