Ernest et Célestine - 'La Cabane' (1999).

Gabrielle Vincent was the pseudonym of the Belgian painter, children's book writer and illustrator Monique Martin. Her signature series was 'Ernest et Célestine' (translated in English as 'Ernest and Celestine', 1981-2001), about a bear who serves as a father figure to a little mouse. The heartwarming books were bestsellers and won several awards. They have been translated in several languages and adapted into animated films and TV series. The 'Ernest et Célestine' series and some of her other children's books make frequent use of illustrations with a sequential narrative.

Early life and career
Monique Martin was born in 1928 in Ixelles, a suburb of Brussels. Her father was an accountant, who played violin and sang in a choir. As a child, she already showed talent for drawing and coloring. Martin was ambidextrous, being able to write with her right hand and draw with her left. The gifted artist was only 15 when she earned income by illustrating seasonal cards, birth and marriage announcements and children's books, which she signed with the names "Dominique" or "Geneviève". Martin studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, where she graduated in 1951. Her painting 'La Mise au Tombeau' ('The Entombing', 1952) won first prize in a contest organized by the newspaper La Dernière Heure and its Dutch-language sister paper Het Laatste Nieuws. Among her graphic influences were Édouard Manet, Amadeo Modigliani, Giorgio Morandi, Arthur Rackham, Rembrandt van Rijn and E.H. Shepard. She also admired the plays of Samuel Beckett.

As a painter, Martin was a traditionalist. She was less interested in experimentation and more in acquiring academic skills. Mentored by her art teacher, Mr. De Smet, she predominantly worked in black-and-white between 1960 and 1970, in order to become an expert in charcoal, pencil and Chinese ink illustrations. Later, she went full on for color, working with watercolors, oil paint and pastel. During the 1970s, she travelled through North Africa, making several sketches of local people and landscapes. She kept a travel diary, published in 1991 as 'Au Désert' (Duculot, 1991). In 1997, she revisited Egypt and a year later Morocco. Martin also made a living as a courtroom sketch artist. For 20 years, she attended trials in the Palais de Justice/Justitiepaleis in Bruxelles.

By the late 1970s, Monique Martin reconsidered her artistic path. While her artwork was exhibited in many galleries, she didn't like the obligation of having to be present and discuss her art. She focused on a new career as children's book illustrator, which allowed her to stay home more often. To distinguish her fine art from her book illustrations, she used Gabrielle Vincent for a pseudonym. This name was a contraction of the first names of her grandparents.

'Le Petit Ange à Bruxelles' (Blanchart, 1970), early children's book by Monique Martin.

Ernest et Célestine
In 1981, when Monique Martin was already 53, she launched her best known children's book series, 'Ernest et Célestine', published by Duculot/Casterman. The main characters are a huge anthropomorphic bear, Ernest, and an anthropomorphic mouse, Célestine. Ernest acts as a paternal figure to Célestine, who is an orphan child. Many stories feature simple, but recognizable situations. In their first book, for instance, Célestine loses her stuffed animal out in the snow and is saddened until Ernest finds it back. Although the doll is in bad shape, he fixes it up and gives it to her as a surprise. In another story, Ernest falls sick and Célestine takes it upon her to take care of him. Their heartwarming bond is complemented by Martin's atmospheric water color illustrations. In her opinion, beautiful artwork had to be underlined by strong human emotions. Even though Ernest and Célestine aren't people, they are still believable as characters.

Martin based Ernest's personality both on her father and on her art teacher and mentor, Mr. De Smet. Just like the bear, her father was a musician. The name Ernest is also a nod to Martin's favorite children's book illustrator, Ernest H. Shepard (of 'Winnie the Pooh' fame). Célestine's behavior was inspired by Martin's own childhood memories. As extra inspiration, she observed her little nephews and nieces, who often stayed over. Sometimes she made them pose for drawings. Later in her career, Martin also made another children's book series, 'Papouli et Federico' (1994), about an elderly man who takes custody over a little boy. At first, he doesn't like the responsibility, but he eventually grows into the role. Remarkably enough, Martin never had children of her own. More than one observer has suggested that the 'Ernest and Célestine' and 'Papouli et Federico' books might have been an expression or compensation for her own child wishes. Though they could easily also be interpreted as a melancholic look at her own childhood. Ernest's house, for instance, was largely based on her own interior.

After Martin's death, one previously unreleased 'Ernest et Célestine' book was made public in 2012. A series of narrative illustrations had been found, but no story to go along with them. Children's book author Astrid Desbordes was brought in to write an accompanying tale. The finished book was published under the title 'La Fanfare' (2012).

'Ernest et Célestine ont des poux' (2000).

Ernest and Célestine: success and media adaptations
From the start, 'Ernest and Célestine' was a critical and commercial success. Fifteen books in the series were published during Martin's lifetime, some of which won prizes. They have been translated in English ('Ernest and Celestine'), German ('Mimi und Brumm', later as 'Ernest und Célestine'), Dutch ('Brammert en Tissie'), Russian and Japanese. The stories have been adapted into audio plays, theatre plays (by Flemish playwright Leen Taelemans in 2015) and calendars. In 2012 an 'Ernest et Célestine' animated feature film was released, directed by Benjamin Renner, Vincent Patar and Stéphanie Aubier. The screenplay was written by Daniel Pennac. The picture received good reviews and was well-received by critics. On 22 February 2013, it won a César for "Best Animated Picture" and on 2 February 2014, it became the first animated film to win a Magritte Award for "Best Film". On 17 March 2013, the picture also won an Award at the International Festival for Children's Films in New York. In 2014, 'Ernest and Célestine' was nominated for an Academy Award in the category "Best Animated Feature", but lost to the Disney feature 'Frozen'. A book adaptation of the film, 'Ernest et Célestine: Le Livre du Film' (2012), was published by Casterman, written by Daniel Pennac and illustrated by Benjamin Renner.

On 25 December 2016, the CGI-animated TV series 'Ernest et Célestine, La Collection' was first broadcast on Ouftivi, the children's channel of the Walloon public channel RTBF 3, and, starting on 1 April 2017, also on France 5. Five episodes were compiled into another feature film, 'Ernest et Célestine en Hiver' (2017), directed by Julien Chheng and Jean-Christophe Roger. During the 2022 holiday season, a new animated feature, 'Ernest et Célestine 2: Le Voyage en Charabie' ('Ernest and Célestine: A Trip to Gibberitia') came out, also directed by Chheng and Roger. The screenplay was written by Guillaume Mautalent and Sebasien Oursel.

'Un Jour, Un Chien' (1982).

Other children's books
Apart from 'Ernest et Célestine', Monique Martin is also known for her picture books 'Un Jour, Un Chien' (translated in English as 'A Day, A Dog', 1982), a pantomime story about an abandoned dog, and 'La Petite Marionette' (1992), about the friendship between a boy and an animate marionette. The latter book was originally released with text, but Martin regretted this decision afterwards. When 'La Petite Marionette' was reprinted, it became a pantomime picture story instead. Both books won several awards and were translated in various languages. In 1994, Martin also released three books about 'Papouli et Federico', a father and daughter duo comparable to 'Ernest and Célestine', with the difference that they are humans instead of anthropomorphic animals. Two of Martin's books, 'Nabil' (2000) and 'La Violiniste' (2001), were originally only published in Japan and weren't translated into other languages until a couple of years later. Her strangest book may be 'L'Oeuf' ('The Egg', Duculot, 1983), a pantomime story about an enormous egg laid in a desert landscape. When a giant baby chick hatches from it, frightened humans kill the bird out of precaution. In an act of revenge, a flock of giant predator birds then bomb everybody with giant eggs. Martin intended the book as a commentary on how mankind destroys nature and eventually itself.

Graphic contributions
In 1989, Martin made 24 red crayon portraits of the late legendary Belgian singer Jacques Brel. They were exhibited and published in book format as 'Brel' (Duculot/Casterman, 1989). A year later, she visualized his song 'Les Vieux' in an illustration. In 1993, she did the same with three other Brel songs, namely 'Jef', 'Ne Me Quitte Pas' (under the title 'Moi, Je t' offre des Perles du Pluie') and 'Orly'. Martin also illustrated Marie-Claire d'Orbaix's poetry collection 'Devenir La Joie du Brin d'Herbe' (P. Zech, 1991) and Pili Mandelbaum's book 'Histoires au Bord du Lit' (Duculot, 1991).

In 1975, Monique Martin won third prize in an international poster contest, organized by the European Conference for Ministers of Transport and Traffic Safety. Her first 'Ernest et Célestine' book, 'Ernest et Célestine Ont Perdu Siméon', won the 1982 Parent's Choice Award. The follow-up, 'Ernest et Célestine, Musiciens des Rues', received the 1982 Prix du Ministre Belge de la Culture Française. The Prix de la Fondation de France (1982) and a bronze medal of the Prix Plantin Moretus (1983) went to 'Ernest et Célestine Chez Le Photographe'. The Christmas-themed 'Noël Chez Ernest et Célestine' received the Prix Tom Pouce (1983) and the Award for the Collective Promotion of the Dutch Book (1988). 'Ernest est Malade' was honored with the Grand Prix de l'Académie Smarties (1987), while 'La Naissance de Célestine' was bestowed with the Prix de la Fondation de France (1988). 'L'Oeuf' and 'Un Jour, Un Chien' (1988) both won the Sankei Children's Books Publications Prize in Japan. 'Désordre au Paradis' received a Bronze Medal of the Prix Plantin Moretus (1990) and 'Au Bonheur des Ours' won the Totem Album from the Salon du Livre de Jeunesse (1993).

Monique Martin's fine art work has been frequently exhibited. Though, after 1981, Martin did this less frequently, since she didn't like media attention and public events. Once she was invited to a prestigious talk show, but rejected the offer, since "everything is available in my books." Likewise, she wanted to keep her works of art, rather than exhibit or sell them, because she considered them like "my children".

Death and legacy
In 2000, Monique Martin, AKA Gabrielle Vincent, died at age 72 after a long illness. Twelve years after her passing, her godson Benoît Attout (an illustrator himself) established the Monique Martin Foundation. For those interested in Martin's life and career, Francis Groff's biography 'Monique Martin - Gabrielle Vincent. L'Artiste Aux Deux Visages' (Fondation Monique Martin, 2015) is highly recommended. Gabrielle Vincent has been named an influence by the cartoonist/animator Jean-Louis Lejeune.

'Ernest et Célestine chez le photographe' (1982).

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