Pierre-Jean de Béranger

‘I am quite a good poet,’ Pierre-Jean de Béranger said of himself, ‘clever in the craft, and a conscientious worker to whom old airs and a modest choice of subjects have brought some success.’ His modest self-appraisal belies his importance in literary history. Béranger is described as ‘the most popular French songwriter of all time’ by Larry Portis in his history of popular French music, French Frenzies: A Social History of Pop Music in France. When Béranger first began to cultivate the chanson, it was a minor and little-regarded form, restricted to slight subjects and a humorous guise of treatment. He raised the standing of the art, imbued it with great sentiment, and turned the French song into into an internationally-recognised art form.

By the time Rojan was commissioned by Éditions de la Belle Étoile to illustrate a selection of Béranger’s Chansons galantes (Gallant Songs) in 1937, this selection had been continuously in print for nearly eighty years, including an edition of 1864 with a frontispiece by Félicien Rops. This is the only (mildly in this case) erotic work to acknowledge Rojan as the illustrator on the title page; his illustrations are gently erotic scenes with discreet female nudity, entirely in keeping with the traditions of galantiana.

The Rojan-illustrated Béranger was published in Paris by Éditions de la Belle Étoile, with sixteen full-page lithographs from watercolours, and black-line endpieces and small devices throughout. The numbered limited edition comprised just 1,516 copies.