Rare Tintin painting sells in Paris for record €3.2 mln | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW

Jean-Paul Casterman was seven years old when he received a piece of paper with a drawing on it. The child folded the little watercolor of a boy and his dog hiding from a dragon in a huge Chinese vase and put it in a drawer where it languished for decades.

The man who gave the present to little Jean-Paul was none other than Georges Remi, better known as Herge. The boy’s father, Louis Casterman, ran the publishing house that published the Belgian illustrator’s world-famous comics about the adventures of a young reporter named Tim and his dog Snowy.

The drawing was an early version for the cover of the Blue Lotus from 1936. The editor declined on the grounds that printing the multicolored drawing was too expensive.

On Thursday the drawing 34 x 34 centimeters (13 x 13 inches) was offered for sale at the Artcurial auction house in Paris – and achieved 3.2 million euros.

Tintin and snow in China

Herge was a perfectionist and visionary – and the volume from the Tintin series from 1936 has a special place in Herge’s artistic cosmos, as it marks the illustrator’s opening to foreign cultures: in this case to Chinese culture.

Herge studied the country’s culture and history for The Blue Lotus to create a better sense of realism, said Eric Leroy, comics expert at Artcurial auction house in Paris. “We are fascinated by the eye contact between Tintin and the dragon with strong colors,” he told DW, adding that Tintin and Struppi’s loyal dog Snowy is also shown. “Herge wanted us to feel the mysterious side of the story that is told in the context of Chinese culture.”

The blue lotus – groundbreaking work

This work is an icon of comics, “one of the most famous of the 20th century,” says Leroy.

It is the second time that Artcurial is auctioning a work from the Tintin universe. Herge’s cover for Tintin from 1932 in America went under the hammer in 2012 for 1.2 million euros – a record amount for a francophone comic artist at the time. Only a few years later, in the summer of 2020, several other Herge comic album covers achieved top prices.

Herge’s widow has since said that her husband has no intention of giving this precious painting away – and wants the work to be returned to her.

“However, the sellers are the legal owners of the work. They are the heirs of Jean-Paul Casterman,” says Leroy, adding that the widow’s ownership claims are mere assertions that have no legal basis.

Record prices for comic art

Original works by comics and fantasy artists have long fetched high prices at auctions; Fantasy magazine covers by artists like Frank Frazetta recently sold for millions of dollars. In 2019, a Frazetta cover picture featuring an Egyptian queen changed hands for $ 5.4 million at an auction in Chicago. “Buyers’ interest depends on the quality of the pieces. The market is strong, especially for copies that are becoming increasingly rare,” says comics expert Leroy.

However, such elaborate works rarely find their way into museums. “The real home of ‘The Blue Lotus’ is the Musee Herge,” the museum’s director Nick Rodwell told the French newspaper Le Monde. “But public collections can’t keep up with these astronomical sums.”

  • The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    The father of the ‘ninth art’

    If Brussels is recognized as the capital of European comics, it is thanks to the pioneering work of cartoonist George Rémi, who wrote under the name Hergé. In 2016, the Grand Palais Museum in Paris opened a major retrospective on the creator of the cartoon character Tintin.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / C. Petit Tesson)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    Tintin around the world

    Hergé is best known for creating Tintin, a young reporter who covers stories around the world. Hergé produced 24 volumes of his adventures (the last one wasn’t finished, however). These books, popular with readers of all ages, have been translated into 110 languages ​​and dialects. Over 250 million albums have been sold worldwide.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / C. Petit Tesson)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    Pseudonym, RG

    Georges Rémi, born in 1907, began to sign his illustrations as Hergé, the phonetic transcription of his initials RG, in 1924. In 1928 he became editor of the “Petit Vingtième”, a weekly supplement for the Belgian newspaper “Vingtième Siècle”. where the adventures of Tintin was first published.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Copyright: Hergé)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    First adventure: “Tintin in the land of the Soviets”

    The first volume of Tintin Adventures was originally published in the weekly newspaper from 1929 to 1930. In this anti-communist propaganda, Tintin and his dog Snowy were sent to the Soviet Union, where he was chased by the secret police while he was investigating the Bolshevik government of Joseph Stalin.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Copyright: Hergé)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    Reflecting on Belgian colonialism: “Tintin in the Congo”

    Tintin was sent to the Belgian Congo for his second adventure in 1931. Shown here is a page from the album that Hergé later redrawn and colored for the books published by Casterman, like all of his other early works. This volume was later criticized for its racist colonial views. Countries like Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the US have tried to ban or restrict access to children.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Copyright: Hergé)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    An influential Chinese friend

    Although his early comedic albums were based on stereotypes, Hergé was fascinated by ancient civilizations. During his studies in Brussels he met the Chinese artist Zhang Chongren, who helped Hergé portray his homeland in “The Blue Lotus”. A cover of “Petit Vingtième”, in which it was first published in 1934, is shown. From then on, Hergé would present foreign companies more sensitively.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / C. Petit Tesson)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    Landing on the moon years before Armstrong

    Hergé has done extensive research to make his spaceship as realistic as possible for his albums “Destination Moon” and “Explorers on the Moon”, which were published as a strip in the weekly “Tintin” in 1950 and in 1953 – years before human space travel design was achieved. The visionary cartoonist even created a model of the rocket featured in these stories, which will be shown at the Paris exhibition.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / C. Petit Tesson)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    Working for a collaborative paper during the war

    In 1940 Belgium was occupied by the Nazis. The weekly newspaper in which Hergé’s work was published was banned. The cartoonist switched to another newspaper, “Le Soir”, which was controlled by the occupiers. Although Hergé did not actively collaborate, an interview in the exhibition shows how his passivity remained “a mark on his career” under the occupation, curator Jerome Neutres told AFP news agency.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / S. Glaubitz)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    A lover of modern art

    A little-known side of the cartoonist can be seen in the Hergé exhibition. He was also a painter and art collector. This photo shows some of his paintings, which reveal influences from artists such as Miró, Holbein and Rembrandt. However, painting remained a hobby for Hergé.

  • Hergé exhibition in the Grand Palais in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / C. Petit Tesson)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    Hergé is Pop Art

    In 1979, US pop artist Andy Warhol was commissioned by Hergé to produce a series of four portraits of him, which were shown in the exhibition. That same year, Tintin celebrated his 50th anniversary – although the reporter had never aged over the years.

  • Hergé exhibition in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / S. Glaubitz)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    A productive career

    The cartoonist was also a graphic designer. His advertising work, as these posters show, was characterized by a high level of formal creativity. In addition to Tim and Struppi, Hergé was also the creator of several other characters such as Quick and Flupke as well as Jo, Zette and Jocko, whose adventures were told in five volumes. The prolific artist died in 1983.

  • Hergé exhibition in the Grand Palais in Paris (Bild-Allianz / dpa / C. Petit Tesson)

    The iconic caricaturist, painter and designer Hergé unveiled at the Paris exhibition

    Most extensive exhibition on Hergé

    The exhibition, entitled “Hergé”, took place from September 2016 to January 2017 at the Grand Palais in Paris, France. It was considered the most important retrospective of the artist’s work, the style of which inspired many other cartoonists around the world.

    Author: Elizabeth Grenier


This article was adapted from the German by Dagmar Breitenbach.

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