“Le pierrot, je ne sais pas…” (ca. 1843)
Paul Gavarni (1804-1866)
6 x 9 in., ink and watercolor wash on paper
A two-volume anthology entitled “Le Diable à Paris” was published sequentially in 1845-46. It was the first literary and artistic anthology published in the 1840s to include a chapter explaining to non-specialists what statistical data could reveal about Parisian social conditions. The chapter was not at all superficial; it contained seventeen pages of tables and explanatory notes that care- fully described what the new statistics showed about the standards of living of both rich and poor in Paris.
“Le Diable à Paris” is important to art historians because it included a series of illustrations by Guillaume Sulpice Chevallier, known as Gavarni, the popular Parisian illustrator who was one of the city’s most colorful personalities. His entire series of illustrations showing types of Parisians, particularly the poorest ones, was popular enough to be later assembled as Les Gens de Paris in a separate book. Each illustration was captioned by Gavarni himself, who took pride in writing a touching or witty description for each image. Gavarni’s illustrations included some of the cruelest scenes of waifs, paupers, beggars, and les miserables that had yet been done.
The book used engravings that were based on drawings, so this is the basis (or at least a draft) for the illustration that appeared. Its notation on the green paper matches the illustration.
Pedrolino, French Pierrot, stock character of the Italian commedia dell’arte, a simpleminded and honest servant, usually a young and personable valet. … The clown hero of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera I pagliacci (1892) was a later use of a Pierrot-like figure.
Le Diable à Paris (Volume 1)
In “En Carnaval”
Written with the published caption:
Le pierrot, je ne sais pas… mais la pierrette, pour être ta femme, c’est ta femme… et c’est une canaille… C’est à toi, Bigré, à voir si tu veux filer ou si tu veux cogner ;… moi, je cognerais !…
And, at least according to Google Translate:
The pierrot, I don’t know… but the pierrot, to be your wife, this is your wife … and she’s a scoundrel … it’s yours Bigré, to see if you want to spin or if you want to knock;… me, I bump!…