Les Fleurs Animees Transylvania University Special Collections

Les Fleurs Animees (The Flowers Personified)

Les Fleurs Animées was published by Gabriel de Gonet in 1847 in two volumes. The illustrations of the book (52 steel engraved, hand colored plates) are by the French cartoonist and caricaturist J.J. Grandville, the text by Taxile Delord, and the introduction is by Alphonse Karr. The engravings were done by C. Geoffroi.

The two-volume set is part of the Clara Peck Natural History Collection of Rare Books.

Known by the pseudonym J.J. Grandville, the French cartoonist and caricature artist was actually Jean Ignace Isador Gerrard (1803-1847). He first gained fame in 1828 with his Les Metamorphosis du Jour series of drawings depicting individuals with the bodies of men and the faces of animals.

His drawings were popularized in avant-garde periodicals such as La Silhouette, L'Artiste, La Caricature, and Le Charivari. The characters depicted in Les Fleurs animées were published shortly after Grandville’s death, and were known to be his favorites.

Grandville created a body of work that served as inspiration for later Surrealist artists.

Les Fleurs Animees, at first glance, are delightful drawings of flowers disguised as lovely maidens. Charmingly costumed in floral garlands and leaves, they are usually accompanied by small creatures from the animal kingdom, or by animated inanimate objects. But, the delicate and whimsical quality of the images belie a subtle satire of French politics and society.

The Flower Fairy, resting in her celestial flowery palace, is greeted one day by a motley and unlikely assemblage of flowers that form a procession vaguely reminiscent of the protest march of women on Versailles in October 1789.

“The aristocratic tulip walks arm in arm with the bourgeois and popular carnation.” The flowers, tired of being used in metaphors and fatigued from their displaced importance, wish to become women to experience the sentiments of humans, especially love. The Flower Fairy tries to dissuade them, but they remain adamant. In this sense, Les Fleurs Animees is a story of the flowers’ adventures as women.

Two flowers, Bluette (the Cornflower) and Cocquelicot (the Poppy), become shepherdesses and fall in love with two human shepherds. Their idyllic life becomes threatened one day when two old men from the village decide they want to wed them by force.

The Queen of France, who happens to be passing by, saves them from their dire fate and reveals to them she is also a flower, the haughty Lily.

The parallels between the Lily Queen of France and Marie Antoinette are thinly veiled, as the sorrowful Lily tells her sister flowers that a “few nights since, I had a frightful dream. I beheld the lilies all draggled in the dirt, and a beautiful young queen, whom they were leading to the scaffold!”

Bluette and Cocquelicot return to the village only to find their beloved shepherds are marrying two other village girls. The heartbroken flowers die on the spot. The tragic end of the two flower-shepherdesses illustrates the romantic imagination of early 19th century France, especially when in the story their tombs become pilgrimage destinations for star-crossed lovers.

A primary narrative in Les Fleurs is a lengthy, imaginary survey of the Rose as a woman throughout history. Her life is portrayed as either happy or despondent depending on whether men love her, or not. The Rose is obviously a noblewoman: she went into exile during the French Revolution, and returned under the Directoire.

She was not impressed by Napoleon Bonaparte, although she does not support a return of the monarchy. She befriends all the liberals – those who like Grandville and DeLord were idealistically republican (they favor the establishment of a constitutional government) and are concerned with colonialism, freedom of speech, free trade, and are often critical of prevailing political and economic affairs.

Other sections also connect to the overarching frame narrative of the trials and tribulations of women in history:

A worried Hawthorn lady, complete with the recognizable pink and white flowers and a necklace of red berries, clutches two of her young daughters to keep them safe from the animated pruning clippers and sneaky garden shears as they go about their duty of pruning back her thorny branches.

This speaks to the physical, social and cultural norms women were expected to adhere to.

Or the lovely Dahlia : "...weary of being followed round by old bachelors, who clasp me by the waist, and call me Flora's priestess, I have resolved to flee from mankind, and to return to my old condition - that of a simple flower."

A piece bemoaning the fate of flowers in the cruel flower trade (Traite des fleurs of the Flower Market), is a clear parallel with the slave trade.

In the end, all the flowers return to their kingdom and beg the forgiveness of the Flower Fairy, who receives them with open arms and feasts their return with a splendid ball.

The end of the second volume also includes two treatises on botany and horticulture for women, encouragement perhaps for ladies to assume – in turn- the lovely qualities of flowers.

“Happy are they who love flowers! Happy, indeed, if they love flowers alone!"

Most of this information is from “In the Name of the Flower: Les Fleurs animees,” by Professor Simonetta Cochis. Transylvania Treasures, Vol. III, no. 2, 2010.

Text by: BJ Gooch (Ms); Special Collections Librarian University Archivist

Layout by: Kevin Johnson; Digitization & Metadata Specialist

Created By
Kevin Johnson