The commission by the prestigious Paris publishing house of George Briffaut for illustrations to a two-volume edition of Jean de La Fontaine’s best-known tales was probably the best possible starting point for Bécat’s career as a book illustrator. George Briffaut (1886–1973) had founded his business in 1908 with his brother Robert, and the company became synonymous with high-quality illustrated editions of both classics and modern literature.
In 1913 George Briffaut had met the activist and writer Louis Perceau, who was passionate about satirical poetry, erotic literature and scholarly bibliographic research. Perceau, together with Guillaume Apollinaire et Fernand Fleuret, had just produced L’enfer de la Bibliothèque Nationale (The Forbidden Books of the National Library), and Briffaut recognised Perceau’s editorial skills. The thorough editing of Jean de La Fontaine’s Contes or Tales took Perceau more than a year, and this two-volume edition, illustrated by Bécat, is still considered a standard version.
As erotic art the 37 two-tone plates for La Fontaine are relatively tame, though you will find plenty of Bécat’s trademark rotund breasts and buttocks, and he manages to capture much of the humour of the tales. There is even a penis if you look hard enough.
The two-volume Contes was published in Briffaut’s series ‘Le Livre du Bibliophile’, Volume 1 in 1928 and Volume 2 in 1929.