19th Century Prints, Botanical, Engraving

Les Fleurs Animees and J.J. Grandville

Jean Ignace Isadore Gerard ( September 13, 1803- March 17, 1847) is known to many by his pseudonym, J.J. Grandville, a very popular and renown French caricaturist. Born in Nancy, France , Jean was raised by a theatrical and artistic family- he took on the name “Grandville” after his grandfather’s professional stage name and was taught by his father, a painter of miniatures.

After moving to Paris and publishing collections of lithographs, Grandville embarked on a series of seventy prints, entitled Metamorphoses du Jour. With this collection, Grandville explored the personality traits of humans, pairing them with their animal counterparts. Showing extraordinary skill and keen observation, these whimsical and satirical images placed human bodies with animal faces and opened the door for Grandville. He started illustrating for magazines and publications, such as a Le Silhouette, L’Artiste, La Caracature, and Le Charivari, using his caricatures for social and political commentary.

In 1835, France reinstated a prior censorship of caricature, which forced Grandville to explore other work options. He chose to go the route of book illustrator, bringing images to popular titles such as Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, and the fables of La Fontaine.

One of Grandville’s supreme achievements was the Les Fleurs Animes, a series released at a time when French printing technology was ascendant. A masterpiece of botanical illustration, this series of handcolored engravings displays floral maidens, each taking on the personality of her adorned flower. As such, the Forget-Me-Not mourns her loneliness and the exotic Tulip bewitches those who look upon her. Published in 1847, Les Fleurs Animées imagines a world where the flowers reclaim the meanings bestowed upon them by a covetous Victorian audience, and become actresses in their own drama.  Of the fifty-four plates, we have four:  Capucine, Giroflee, Nenunphar, and Tubereuse, Jonquille.

Capucine: This print features the Capucine, otherwise known as the Nasturtium. The flower’s shape resembles the hoods of Capuchin monks, and Grandville thus depicts the two flowers as Capuchin nuns, kneeling by a garden stake and praying. The Capuchin nuns were founded in 1538 in Naples by Sr. Maria Lorenzo Longo. They lived according to the rules and regulations of the Capuchin friars, and so austere was the life that they were called “Sisters of Suffering.” The order spread to France, Spain and beyond.

Giroflee: The Giroflee is the French word for the wallflower, a flowering plant with yellow and orange flowers. Here, the wallflower maiden is being ripped from her stone wall, her roots dislodging from the rocks. While she seems quite distraught, she is not putting up much of a fight, playing into the characterization of wallflower as shy, introverted, and passive.


Nenunphar: The Nenunphar is the White Lily, or White Lotus. It contains the active alkaloids nupharine and nymphaeine, and is a sedative. Although roots and stalks are used in traditional herbal medicine along with the flower, the petals and other flower parts are the most potent.  The root of the plant was used by monks and nuns for hundreds of years as an anaphrodisiac, being crushed and mixed with wine to dispel passion. Here, the flowering Nenunphar is a beautiful white and yellow nun, with sleepy eyes, ignoring the gifts of a suitor.

Tubereuse, Jonquille : Tubereuse is the Tuberose flower, a night-flowering fragrant plant with  white petals, and is part of the lily family. Nothing captures better the essence of tuberose better than its meaning in the language of flowers, used in Victorian England. Tuberose signified both dangerous pleasure and voluptuousness. The scent of the flower is a fusion of white petals and warm skin, an arresting sensual and heady fragrance. In Italy, girls were prohibited from walking in the evening in the gardens where the flowering weed grew, because it was said they would not resist the young people themselves intoxicated by the flower’s erotic perfume. The Jonquille flower is from the Narcissus genus, and is commonly refered to as the Daffodil. Following the Greek myth of Narcissus, a vain, beautiful god that fell in love with his own reflection, Grandville depicts this flower as a very attractive love interest. Here, the engraving depicts the interaction between these two flower people, entranced in each others presence and exuding a sense of love, desire, and obsession.

To purchase original prints by J.J Grandville, please visit our website here.


One thought on “Les Fleurs Animees and J.J. Grandville

  1. Pingback: Past/Present: Verbena | The Old Print Gallery

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