Chalon, Alfred Edward (1780-1860). La Giraffe, dèdiée sans permission à Mademoiselle Chalon 1828. [London: The Graphic, 1889] 8pp., printed on rectos only. Published originally over two pages of a magazine, these images have been clipped to assemble a booklet, string-tied. Chipped at one corner, small closed tears to rear, else very good in somewhat lightly soiled wrappers.

     In 1827, Muhammad Ali the Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, presented Nubian giraffes as diplomatic gifts to three European rulers: George IV of Britain, Franz II of Austria, and Charles X of France. These were the first examples of the species to be brought to Europe since 1487, when Lorenzo de’ Medici received a giraffe from the Sultan of Egypt. Their arrival caused a sensation. In France, the giraffe – whom historians has named Zarafa –was exhibited in Marseilles for six months before walking 900 kilometers to Paris, where she took up residence in the Jardin des Plantes. She would attract hundreds of thousands of visitors before the year was over. “The giraffe occupies all the public’s attention,” reported La Pandore on 12 July 1827. “One talks of nothing else in the circles of the capital.” The giraffes inspired prints, songs, plays, textiles, wallpaper, ceramics, jewelry, artworks, topiary, hats, and … hairdos. To wear one’s hair à la girafe was to pin it up as high as possible, with ribbons, knots, feathers and flowers.


Coiffures à la girafe (from La Mode, 1830)

     The images presented in this handmade booklet pokes gentle fun at the new styles by depicting the hazards of wearing one's hair à la mode.  In these drawings, women with dramatic up-dos distress the servants, knock the chandeliers, and catch their hair on fire. The drawing are by by A. E. Chalon. Born in Geneva, he was raised in Sandhurst, England. Chalon entered the schools of the Royal Academy in 1797 and was elected a full member in 1816. Best known as a fashionable portrait painter and miniaturist, excelling in watercolors, he also executed occasional cartoons such as these. Chalon never married, and lived with his brother, who was also a bachelor. The "Mademoiselle Chalon" to whom this slim volume is dedicated without permission moved in the same circles as the artist but does not appear to have been related to him.

pages-from-the-lady-s-monthly-museum-2.jpgMiss Maria Chalon (from The Lady's Monthly Museum, 1827)

Maria Chalon (1800-1877) was born to another family of artists. Her father was Henry Bernard Chalon (1770-1849), the son of a Dutch immigrant, and her uncles were the painter James Ward and the engraver William Ward. Maria Chalon was also a miniaturist. An 1827 profile published in The Lady's Monthly Museum commended her for succeeding in a man's world:

Whilst to men, a wide field of study ... is thrown open without restraint, we cannot award too much praise to such of our fair artists as have risen to eminence under the disadvantages with which they have pursued their professional duties.

    The circumstances of the composition and publication of the drawings are now lost, but we think this is likely a jeu d'espirit, a inside joke circulated among a small crowd of cognoscenti, and perhaps presented to Maria Chalon herself. They do not appear to have been printed during the lifetimes of either the artist nor the dedicatee.

    They did, however, appear as color supplement to The Graphic in 1889. This handmade booklet was prepared by a contemporary reader who cut out the images and sewed them together to make a personal pamphlet -- a form of comic scrapbooking.

     A charming relic of a curious episode in the history of fashion, and a nice example of vernacular bookmaking.


The pamphlet reprinted as a two-page color supplement to The Graphic, 27 July 1889

Selected References

  • Allin, Michael. Zarafa: a giraffe's true story, from deep in Africa to the heart of Paris. Walker and Company, 1998
  • Chalon, A. E. "La girafe," reprinted in The Graphic, 40 (27 July 1889) , color supplement
  • D. D. “Miss Maria Chalon.” The Lady's monthly museum 26 (1827): 1–4.
  • Dardaud, Gabriel. Une giraffe pour le roi. 2nd ed.  Elytis, 2007.
  • Lebleu, Olivier. In the footsteps of Zarafa, first giraffe in France: a chronicle of giraffomania, 1826-1845. Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.
  • Majer, Michele. "La Mode à la girafe: fashion, culture, and politics in Bourbon restoration France." Studies in Decorative Arts 17:1 (Fall-Winter 2009-10): 123-161.
  • Sharkey, Heather J. "La Belle Africaine: the Sudanese giraffe who went to France," Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue canadienne des études africaines, 49 (2015): 39-65.

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