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Death of Laurent de Brunhoff, the second father of Babar the elephant

French author Laurent de Brunhoff, who successfully took up the torch of the adventures of the famous elephant Babar, adored by children around the world, died Friday at the age of 98 in Florida, in the south of the United States, according to American media.

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Death of Laurent de Brunhoff, the second father of Babar the elephant

French author Laurent de Brunhoff, who successfully took up the torch of the adventures of the famous elephant Babar, adored by children around the world, died Friday at the age of 98 in Florida, in the south of the United States, according to American media.

The illustrator “died Friday at his home in Key West, Florida,” reported the New York Times newspaper, citing his wife Phyllis Rose who spoke of “complications after a stroke.” The latter posted three days ago on Instagram a painting created at the end of February representing Laurent de Brunhoff and his nurse. “Shortly after, Laurent had a mini-stroke” and his condition “rapidly deteriorated,” she wrote. Before adding: “He is in palliative care, at home, sleeping almost all the time, as sweet, calm and adorable as he has been all his life.”

“In the big forest, a little elephant was born. His name is Babar.” When writing, in 1931, this incipit below a drawing for his two sons, Jean de Brunhoff did not imagine that his elephant would become a classic and enter the museum eight decades later. In 2011, for the character's 80th birthday, the National Library of France and the Museum of Decorative Arts dedicated an exhibition to him. On the walls of the toy gallery of the Museum of Decorative Arts, the public could admire the first steps of the most famous pachyderm of children's literature.

Laurent de Brunhoff was 5 years old when his mother, the pianist Cécile de Brunhoff, first told him the story of an orphan elephant; he was 6 when his father, the painter Jean de Brunhoff, published L'Histoire de Babar with Éditions du Jardin des modes; he was 12 when his father died of tuberculosis and 13 when his uncle asked him to finish coloring the plates of Babar as a family, an unfinished album; he was finally 21 years old when he decided to resume the adventures of the little elephant. He hasn't stopped since. “In 1945, I settled in Montparnasse. I was fascinated by abstract painting. But there was Babar. I was convinced that he should continue to live. I then drew the album, Babar and that rascal Arthur. My mother was very happy, the publisher was delighted. My two brothers had their lives. I never asked myself why. I did it very naturally,” he explained to Le Figaro in 2011.

If he no longer remembers exactly the evening when his mother told him and his brother Mathieu this story, he still has in mind the vivid image of his father drawing in the house in Chessy, in Seine-et -Marne, where the family enjoyed themselves in the summer. “We loved joining him at the end of the afternoon to see what he had done. We watched him put on the color.” This is undoubtedly the source of his fidelity to the original line, the black line and the watercolor which are the trademark of Brunhoff, father and son. As for the story, of course it has evolved. Babar married Celeste. They had children. They travelled. They danced. They all played an instrument, learned to ski and do yoga. A little one arrived late and in Love at first sight at the Célesteville games, the new album which had just been released, Flore, the eldest daughter of Babar and Céleste, falls in love with an elephant from India . But the essential remained, the placid and magnanimous elephant in his green suit, a monument of stability.

It is this permanence of the story that makes Babar so endearing. “Teenagers have changed enormously since Babar was created, but young children not so much. Writing for children has never been a problem for me. I dream, I draw on my table after a trip, a meeting. I describe a family atmosphere in which small children find themselves. This atmosphere is quite comfortable, isn’t it?”, analyzes the painter. “Babar does what most little kids wish they could do. He joins the world of adults while retaining the privileges of childhood, with complete impunity... He can wear adult clothes, take the elevator, go fishing, drive a car, marry Céleste and become the king of jungle. All this because his true personality is hidden behind an animal form and he is neither child nor adult, but a bit of both,” noted British critic Margaret Blunt.

Also read: Laurent de Brunhoff, a life with Babar

Rarely, Babar is as famous abroad as in France. He is judged against the most famous heroes of children's literature, the equivalent of Peter Rabbit in England and Winnie the Pooh in the United States. “The genius of the Brunhoffs is to have made the heaviest of land mammals a monument of delicacy,” recognizes the writer Sylvain Tesson in the book which accompanies the 2011 exhibition. The animal owes this delicacy to its creators who drew from the source of their childhood to make it exist. “I have wonderful memories of my young years with my brother Mathieu, who was like a twin to me, with my cousins. We were very close to our parents who did not exclude us from their adult lives. Was my mother a musician? We all played the piano. My brother Thierry also became a pianist before retiring to an abbey. After my father's death, our uncle Michel, who directed the French edition of Vogue, was like a father to us. He immediately noticed my taste for drawing. We were what we call today a close-knit family,” confided Laurent de Brunhoff.

This felicity reflected on Babar's books. “Babar's environment is that of the prosperous, cultured, art-loving French bourgeoisie. Good manners are important, as well as quality clothing,” emphasizes American author Alison Lurie, in an essay devoted to children's literature.

Established in New York for more than twenty years, married to the American author Phyllis Rose, Laurent de Brunhoff donated original plates to the Morgan Library in New York and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Babar is a celebrity monster across the Atlantic. New albums are always published there first. As art historian Michel Pastoureau notes: "One of the characteristics of Babar's albums compared to most contemporary children's books is the absence of any vulgarity, it is that is to say, any concession to the tastes and fashions of the moment.

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