Joseph Hémard was one of the most remarkable French illustrators of his generation. His drawings stood out for their original humor, eroticism and imaginative qualities, and haven't lost much of their strength today.
He was born in the small town Les Mureaux, and began his career in the early years of the 20th century, making cartoons and picture stories for magazines like Les Hommes du jour, Le Rire, Le Pêle-Mêle, Le Bon Vivant, Nos loisirs, L'Assiette au Beurre, Jeudi de la Jeunesse and Le Petit Journal Illustré de la Jeunesse. His comic book 'Le Célèbre Coucouraille et le Capitaine La Pistole' was published in the early 1940s.
Le Célèbre Coucouraille et le Capitaine La Pistole
He is however mainly known for his book illustrations for publishers like René Kieffer and Mornay. Hémard made drawings for books by classic authors like Balzac ('D'un paouvre qui avoyt nom le vieux par chemins', 1914), Molière ('Le Malade Imaginaire', 1920), Rabelais ('Gargantua et Pantagruel', 1922), Denis Diderot ('Jacques Le Fataliste', 1923), the tales and fables of La Fontaine (1930, 1937) and Voltaire ('Zadig ou la Destinée', 1954).
Picture story for Le Petit Journal (1905)
His inventiveness really came to bloom in his humorous illustrations for technical reference books, such as a technical pharmacological manual with formulas for preparing medications ('Le Formulaire Magistral', 1927), a code of tax laws ('Code Général des Impôts Directs et Taxes Assimilées', 1944) and other law books. Hémard managed to make true works of art of these otherwise dull books. In 1947, he also illustrated an edition of Brillat-Savarin's classic work on gastronomy, 'Physiologie du Goût' ('Physiology of Taste').
He furthermore designed costumes and sets for revues, decorations for restaurants and bars, and wrote plays for Charles Genty's Guignol theatre in Paris. He also made illustrations for the national lottery, and participated in the animated films of Lortac. He was member of Parisian Humoristes association, and succeeded the artist Poulbot as its president in 1918.
Hémard wrote a rather remarkable autobiography in 1928, in which he largely describes his ancestors before ending with two paragraphs on his childhood and the closing statement "And then I drew for books". Joseph Hémard passed away in Paris in 1961. His tax laws work was the subject of an exhibition in the Yale Law Library, called 'And then I drew for books: The Comic Art of Joseph Hémard', in 2012.