Les drôles de petites bêtes d’Antoon Krings

from 11 April to 8 September 2019

From 11 April to 8 September 2019, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs presents an exhibition dedicated to the series Les Drôles de Petites Bêtes created by Antoon Krings, a major artist-illustrator of children’s literature. It will bring together over 500 paintings, art objects, drawings and prints originating from both the museum’s collections and the artist’s personal collection, as well as loans from private individuals and cultural institutions.

The exhibition will be organized around five central themes: flora and fauna, the garden, the Arts & Crafts Movement, animals in literature and the audio-visual adaptation of the world of Les Drôles de Petites Bêtes. Thanks to David Lebreton’s playful and ingenious exhibition design that plays upon scale and sensation, this retrospective – the first to be dedicated to Antoon Krings – will immerse visitors into a world of childhood wonder.

Antoon Krings, Léo the dormouse, 2014
© Gallimard Jeunesse / Giboulées

Originating from Northern France, Antoon Krings discovered the fascinating world of gardens and nature at a very young age. Having made a career as a textile designer, he decided to devote himself entirely to illustration and writing while creating his first children’s books. Influenced by various different artistic movements including Impressionism, Fauvism, and German Expressionism, Krings also takes inspiration from representations of animals in literature, from Aesop’s Fables to the illustrations of Maurice Sendak. His books have achieved such success that today they are translated into more than twenty languages.

The exhibition opens with the theme of flora and fauna: motifs that the artist continually reinterprets in his magical and unique creations. It covers the representation of nature in art, from Jean-Baptiste Oudry to Diego Giacometti, as well as the history of natural sciences, illustrated with herbals and botanical studies such as Buffon’s Histoire naturelle.

Girolamo Pini, Botanical study, 17th Century, Paris
© MAD, Paris / Jean Tholance

The second part of the exhibition, dedicated to the décor surrounding Les Drôles de Petites Bêtes, retraces the history of the garden as a place of inspiration, rest and meditation through the centuries, illustrated, among other works, by precious illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Traditional representations of strolls and meanderings, and gardens in the English and French styles (Le Nôtre in particular), are evoked in a circuit interspersed with masterpieces by the likes of Hubert Robert and Maurice Denis.

The exhibition also offers an opportunity to admire certain pieces from the Arts & Crafts movement, which influenced the film adaptation of Les Drôles de Petites Bêtes, and whose leaders – William Morris and Walter Crane – are recognised for their children’s book illustrations.

Grandville, Les métamorphoses du jour, 1854
© Bibliothèque du MAD, Paris / Suzanne Nagy

The exhibition continues with a room dedicated to animals in literature. From the Fables of La Fontaine illustrated by Grandville and Rabier to the children’s literature of the English-speaking world – in particular that of Beatrix Potter – and works by Père Castor, this section presents images that have inspired the microcosm and the anthropomorphism of Antoon Krings’ characters.

On Entertainment, Portrait from the series of queen bees In the film Drôles de petites bêtes, 2017
© On Entertainment / Image : Camille André

Finally, the exhibition offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the film Les Drôles de Petites Bêtes (known in English as Tall Tales from the Magical Garden of Antoon Krings), released in December 2017, and the television series, airing on France 5 from April 2019.

The exhibition is full of surprises for both young and old: miniature cabinets of curiosity hidden within the décor, a mural designed by the artist himself, a cabin in the heart of the garden that invites visitors to (re-)read his books and a reconstruction of his workshop – the primordial locus of the creative process, with its familiar objects, its sketches and its scribbles.

With its intentional focus on ecological awareness, this exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, conceived as a stroll through Antoon Krings’ garden, immerses the visitor in an enchanted world that is now threatened. It also offers an opportunity to discover – or rediscover – the magical and timeless oeuvre of an artist who has left his mark on generations.