Laurent de Brunhoff Author and illustrator Of 40 Babar Books Dies Aged 98

Laurent de Brunhoff

Laurent de Brunhoff, the prolific creator behind the Babar Books series has died at 98. His remarkable journey as an artist began at age five when his mother crafted a tale about an orphaned African elephant named Babar. With his father, Jean de Brunhoff, providing illustrations, the story of Babar was immortalized in the seminal work “Histoire de Babar” (The Story of Babar), first published in 1931.

Born in Paris, Laurent was the eldest son of Jean, an artist, and Cécile (nee Sabouraud), a pianist. Although the exact moment of Babar’s inception faded from his memory, Laurent fondly recalled seeing his father sketching the iconic elephant at their summer home in Chessy, France.

Following Jean’s untimely death from tuberculosis at age 37 in 1937, Laurent took up the mantle, ensuring Babar’s adventures would continue. Over the years, he authored more than 40 Babar books, expanding upon his father’s legacy and captivating audiences worldwide.

Despite initial aspirations of pursuing abstract painting, Laurent found himself inexorably drawn back to Babar’s world. “Gradually, I began to feel strongly that a Babar tradition existed and ought to be perpetuated,” he wrote in the New York Times in 1952.

Laurent’s dedication to preserving Babar’s legacy was evident throughout his life. He remained actively involved in Babar’s universe, enriching the series with new adventures and experiences. From Babar’s humble origins to his global escapades, Laurent’s contributions ensured that Babar’s story remained relevant and beloved for generations.

Babar Books
Three Vintage Babar Books

In addition to his literary achievements, Laurent faced criticism for portraying colonialism and racial stereotypes in the Babar books. Despite these controversies, Babar endured as a cherished figure in children’s literature, captivating readers with his adventures and lessons in etiquette.

Laurent de Brunhoff’s influence extended far beyond the pages of his books, touching the hearts of millions worldwide. Readers of all ages will forever cherish his legacy as the steward of Babar’s legacy.

Laurent is survived by his wife, Phyllis Rose, his children, Anne and Antoine, and his brothers, Mathieu and Thierry. His profound impact on children’s literature and his contributions to the enduring legacy of Babar will be remembered fondly by generations to come.

Laurent de Brunhoff was born on August 30, 1925, in the cultural hub of Paris, France. As the eldest son of Jean de Brunhoff, a distinguished artist, and Cécile de Brunhoff (nee Sabouraud), a gifted pianist, Laurent’s upbringing was steeped in creativity and artistry.

With an innate talent inherited from his artistic lineage, Laurent embarked on a journey to carry forward Babar’s legacy. His dedication to preserving his father’s vision and expanding upon Babar’s adventures would become his life’s work.

In the aftermath of World War II, Laurent pursued formal art training at the esteemed Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris, harbouring aspirations of becoming an abstract painter. However, fate had other plans in store for him. Guided by a sense of duty and reverence for the Babar tradition, Laurent returned to his roots, penning his first Babar book, “Babar et Ce Coquin d’Arthur” (Babar and That Rascal Arthur), in 1946.

From that moment onward, Laurent’s creative endeavours became synonymous with the whimsical world of Babar. With over 40 Babar books to his name, Laurent breathed new life into the beloved elephant, expanding his adventures beyond the confines of the jungle to encompass a myriad of delightful escapades.

Despite the acclaim garnered by the Babar series, Laurent’s journey was challenging. Controversies surrounding themes of colonialism and racial stereotypes in the books prompted critical scrutiny. Yet, Laurent remained steadfast in his commitment to Babar’s legacy, addressing these concerns honestly and introspectively.

Beyond his literary achievements, Laurent’s life was marked by love and companionship. In 1951, he embarked on a new chapter with his marriage to Marie-Claude Bloch, with whom he shared two children, Anne and Antoine. Later, in 1990, Laurent found renewed happiness with his marriage to Phyllis Rose, an American critic and biographer, who would become his cherished collaborator in the twilight years of his career.

Throughout his illustrious life, Laurent de Brunhoff remained an indomitable force in children’s literature, captivating readers of all ages with Babar’s timeless charm and whimsy. His enduring legacy as the guardian of Babar’s adventures continues to inspire generations, reminding us of the enduring power of imagination and storytelling.

Laurent de Brunhoff’s journey ended on March 22, 2024, leaving behind a legacy that will be cherished for generations to come. As we reflect on his life and contributions, we celebrate the magic and wonder he brought into the world, forever etched in the hearts of Babar’s devoted fans worldwide.

Top Photo: Wiki Commons November 1 2008 Author Larry D. Moore © 2008 Larry D. Moore. They are licensed under CC BY 4.0.

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