1759 · Paris
After he became director of the Beauvais tapestry factory, Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1685-1755) began to amuse himself sketching subjects from La Fontaine's Fables. He made a total of 276 sketches between 1729 and 1735. The story of how they became the illustrations of the Fables of 1755 - 1759 is told in the "Avertissement de l'editeur" in Volume I by the publisher Montenault, who had bought the sketches. Ourdry's subjects being landscapes and animals, which he had drawn freely for his own enjoyment, Cochin undertook the responsibility of turning these freehand drawings into finished prints. Although Oudry's skill at portraying animals and his interpretation of La Fontaine's humor can hardly be surpassed, Cochin's sure and experienced hand did much to improve the original designs, particularly the figures. He redrew them, correcting the figures and background and supplying precise lines for the engravers.
La Fontaine's towering classic of French literature. "They are like a basket of strawberries. You begin by selecting the largest and best, but, little by little, you eat first one, then another, till at last the basket is empty," wrote the famed wit Madame de Sevigne. La Fontaine did not start writing full time until he was over thirty, but he would become one of the major figures in the French canon. His fables are his most well known and well regarded work -- he collected and adapted close to 240 of them. In early editions, La Fontaine drew chiefly from classical western sources, like Aesop and Phaedrus, but as the fables grew in popularity and he added more to them, he would draw from Eastern and Oriental stories as well as Continental ones. The Fables were first released on 1668, with the final 12th book published in 1694. "La Fontaine became the greatest lyric poet of his time" (New York Review of Books). (Inventory #: 1260)