Charles Laborde 1886-1941

 

Chas (Charles) Laborde was born on 8th August 1886 in Buenos Aires, to French parents. His family returned to France when he was six months old.

 

On his father’s death in 1901 Laborde was sent away to school at Pau where he spent most of his time drawing his fellow pupils. His greatest delight was to dress up en rapin –in the traditional artist’s costume of a velvet suit and large hat.-and go on painting expeditions with his new-found friend Charles Darrigan. He enrolled at the Academie Julian where he was taught by Royer and Baschet.

 

During the summer vacation Laborde and Darrigan made the first of many visits to London. Laborde felt an immediate affinity with the English people and way of life and did many drawings. It was at this time that he adopted the English abbreviation of his Christian name, Chas.

 

On his return to Paris, Laborde had some success with his captioned drawings.They were published in Le Rire, L’Assiette au Beurre and Sourire.He began to aquire a reputation as a satirist of middle class manners and morals.Laborde had profited from a close study of Daumier, Gavarni, Gustave Dore,Constantine Guys and Toulouse-Lautrec and his work showed an increasing concern to abandon stereotype in favour of accurate characterisation. He was a frequent exhibiter at the Salon des artistes humoristes and later with the Societe des dessinateurs humoristes.

 

With the outbreak of war in 1914 Laborde volunteered and served as a machine -gunner. He continued to send many drawings to Le Rire Rouge and Le Baionnette, which provided a useful counterbalance to idealise the war. He also filled an exercise book with pen and ink drawings depicting everyday life behind the lines. these were later used as illustrations to the book Ecole de Patience, written by his nephew Guy Laborde. In 1917 he was gassed and invalided out of the army. Referring to those years he told his nephew:

“It seems to me that for the last three years I have led a posthumous existence”1.

 

He quickly settled back into civilian life. In his art he continued to note with a satirical eye such scenes of life around him as a café in the place Blanche at the hour of the aperitif and the promenade at the Folies Bergeres, swarming with girls and allied soldiers anxious to prolong the joys of victory. his style became increasingly simplified and the caption tended to disappear, letting the drawings speak for themselves.

 

In 1918 he exhibited at the newly formed Salon de l’Araignee in company with such artists as Laboureur, Van Dongen and Jules Pascin, who became a close friend of Laborde. The post-war years saw Laborde beginning to experiment with different methods of printmaking. He made a careful study of such masters of engraving as Albert Durer and Jacques Callot. He was particularly drawn to etching, which was an ideal medium for his incisive vision and allowed him further to simplify his line.

 

Laborde’s sharp, satirical eye and caustic, yet tender humour, was much appreciated by the important writers of the inter-war years. he was in great demand as an illustrator of fine limited edition of works by Marcel Ayme, Francis Carco, Pierre Mac Orlan, Colette, Jean Giraudoux, Paul Morand and Valery Larbaud.

 

Laborde dined regularly on Wednesdays at a small restaurant chez Maniere,with fellow artists and writers such as Francis Carco, Pierre Ma Orlan, Dufy, Marchand, pascin, Derain, and Segonzac.He liked to discuss artistic matters and he returned from such gatherings much encouraged and confirmed in his artistic convictions.

 

He often went with Pascin in the evening to watch the crowd gathered on the terrace of the Café de la Rotonde at Montparnasse. The café was a focal point of artistic Paris and they were sure to meet other artists such as Derain, Picasso, Kisling, Foujita and André Salmon-all like themselves there in search of models to draw. Laborde would hide his sketchbook on his knee, under the table, drawing directly in pen and only glancing stealthily at the paper. he sometimes added a quick note to the sketch to indicate a colour or summarise the character of his subject.for the most part he concentrated on the modelling of a face or on capturing a revealing gesture. if he felt his model was aware of him, he stopped immediately – as much from shyness as to allow his subject to regain his natural appearance. Laborde and Pascin finished their nocturne wanderings through Paris in the early hours of the morning. while the impressions of the night were still fresh in his mind, Laborde would go straight to his studio and fix them on paper or canvas. This synthesis of scenes observed was a vital ingredient of Laborde’s work.

 

In 1926 he published an album of etchings entitled Rues et Visages de Paris, which with great verve and humour depicted a variety of typical scenes of everyday Parisian life .The twenty plates took Laborde four months to complete. He made many quick sketches on the spot and immediately on his return to the studio he tried out his composition in pencil or pen. The next day, in daylight, he would make a tracing of it, sometimes leaning on one of the studio windows. If he was not satisfied with the result he would go back to his original sketches and correct a face, an attitude or a whole scene. Only then did he etch the copper plate. The album met with considerable success and gave Laborde the idea of undertaking similar study of other capital cities.

 

With his in mind he made two visits to, London in spring and summer of 1927, doing many sketches of London street life. He was delighted to rediscover the contrasting spectacles offered by the various areas of London, the distinctive traits of different social classes and the parks in the middle of the city  which provided a refuge from the milling crowds. Rues et Visages de London was published in 1928 and followed in 1930 by Rues et Visages de Berlin.Berlin’s restaurants and cafes provided a particularly rich source of observation, as did the strollers on the Kurfurstendamm and the visitors to the nearby Lake Wannsee.

 

Laborde’s reputation was spreading further afield and in the spring of 1932 he went to New York at the invitation of Condé Nast publications. From the first he was fascinated by the great variety of ethnic groupings and by the night-life of Broadway. He produced 15 plates for Vanity Fair and returned home with a dozen sketch books full of drawings which were later used for his Rues et Visages de New York.

 

In 1935 Laborde went to Moscow to do a series of drawings for the modest monthly publication La Chronique filme du mois. This was followed in July 1936 by a visit to Spain, where he drew many eyewitnesses reports of the violent conflict taking place in the streets.

 

Laborde found himself very badly affected by the spiralling economic climate of the thirties. His one constant source of income was his weekly drawing for Paris-Midi in which he cast satirical eye over the social, cultural, sporting and political spectacles that Paris had to offer. Luc- Vincent a young reporter , accompanied his drawings with equally sharp and concise captions. When the war broke out Laborde was made war correspondent on the Maginot line with Simon Arbellot , the editor of the Parisian section of Paris-Midi. Drawings and texts were published in the spring of 1940.

 

Under German occupation Laborde suffered great material and financial difficulties, exacerbated by his failing health. He died December 30 1941.

 

 

 

Denise Hooker for Chas. Laborde Exhibition at Parkin Gallery Motcomb Street

25 March-17th April 1981

 

1.Guy Laborde, Chas Laborde,Nouvelles de l'Estampe, nos 6-7 Paris 1970 p.52

 

 

Henry Jonquireres, Chas.Laborde Pierre Mac Orlan

 

CHAS.LABORDE HAND COLOURED AQUATINTS

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