A new Babar book is always an eagerly awaited treat, and Babar’s Gallery (closed Mondays) takes us on an informative, lightning tour of Western painting since the Renaissance.
The cosy, some would say anachronistic world of Celesteville has somehow survived into the 21st century. Originally created by Jean de Brunhoff in 1931, Babar has been perpetuated by Jean’s son, Laurent, since the early death of his father in 1946. Here Babar and Celeste observe from their hot-air balloon that the town’s grand old station building is sadly redundant in the age of the motor car. ‘Here’s an idea!’ ventures Celeste, ‘All the art we’ve collected over the years needs a home. Why not make the station a museum?’ Babar is thoroughly taken with the suggestion, and soon the architects are called in to begin the process of converting the building into a suitable home for Babar and Celeste’s collection of da Vincis, Goyas, Breughels, Cézannes, Pollocks and Vermeers. What the more earnest of the PC police will make of this particular piece of gritty urban realism, goodness knows, but there is much fun and perhaps a little learning to be had from the ensuing pages, particularly the critical observations on the paintings from Flora, Pom, Alexander, Zephir and all. The choice of paintings is generally dictated by how successfully the leading characters can be supplanted by pachyderms. Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of the First Elephant’ is a particularly pleasing work, and it transpires that the museum’s Artist-in-Residence is an elephantine Jackson Pollock. ‘“Oh, I could do that myself,” boasted Arthur.’