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Sketch and Word Crawl: A Trip Back in Time to the Belle Êpoch!

A Trip Back in Time to the Belle Êpoch! Sketch and Word Crawl with a French Twist

Post by Cam M. Sato, Tokyo, Japan

Humor, silence, details, joy, love, and symmetry, just a few of the spontaneous one-word descriptions participants of the SCBWI Japan’s Sketch and Word Crawl came up with to describe our visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum in Meguro on Sunday May, 26, 2018.

SCBWI Japan members enjoying a picnic in the grounds of the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, under Himalayan cedar trees

The museum itself is worthy of a visit. The mansion in which it is housed was built in 1933 in the Art Deco style for Prince Yasuhiko Asaka and his wife Princess Nobuko. The main rooms were designed by French interior artist Henri Rapin. The lines of his designs are clean, bold, and simple, and the finishing details are delicate, elegant, and often inspired by nature. The result is a stunning blend of East and West.

Collage of interior of the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

Though I could have spent the day enjoying the building and its gardens, there was more to be seen in the special exhibit: French Picture Books: The Collection of Shigeru Kashima. (Shigeru Kashima, born in 1949, is a Japanese scholar and collector of French literature).

The exhibition is split into two eras: 19th century picture books and 20th century picture books. In the first room, works by Jules Verne and Victor Hugo were on display. It was a surprise to find that the iconic poster from Hugo’s Les Miserables came straight out of the 1882 illustrated book, by French illustrator Émile Bayard.

In addition, there were posters promoting children’s literature events, and books showing the daily lives of children in the late 19th century, all done in detailed black and white drawings. The Mademoiselle Lili Series (c.1882), written by Pierre-Jules Hetzel and illustrated by Laurenz Froelich, was modeled on Hetzel’s own daughter. In one of the books a young Lili goes about her daily routine of waking up, getting dressed, playing the piano, and so forth. It gives us the feel of life at that time.

Examples of 19th century French picture books

In the second room the pictures became brighter and more colorful, some done in the Art Deco style. My personal favorite was Grosses Bêtes & Petites Bêtes, (1912), written and illustrated by André Hellé. The animals were unique and design driven and I couldn’t stop looking at them, so wishing I could draw in that style.

There were also numerous song books and picture books illustrated often with humor.

Examples of early 20th Century French picture books

Near the end of the exhibit were the Babar stories, written and illustrated by Jean de Brunhoff, which I remember reading as a child. I especially loved the picture of the elephants’ bottoms made up with colorful wigs and fake eyes, and was delighted to see it in the exhibit.

All in all, the works were a wonderful example of the Belle Époque (1871-1914), a time of optimism, peace, prosperity, technical advances, and a time when the arts flourished. N.B. All photos of the exhibition were taken with permission.

For more details about this and other exhibitions at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, please check out

Cam M. Sato is a poet, author, and editor. You can learn more about her at