• Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his study, circa 1875.

    Longfellow House Washington's Headquarters

    National Historic Site Massachusetts

Object of the Month

Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site has a large museum collection consisting of thousands of objects, many of which are not regularly displayed in the house's furnished exhibit rooms. Every month, an object will be featured on this page, providing a look at an unusual piece from the collection.

 
A hand-colored lithograph from J.J. Grandville's 1829 work Les Metamorphoses du Jour.


In 1829, French caricaturist Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard, more widely known by his pseudonym J.J. Grandville, created a series of hand colored lithographs featuring anthropomorphized animal figures as a volume titled Les Métamorphoses du Jour. The publication was meant as a satirical commentary on Parisian bourgeois society in the 1820s that used characteristics of certain animals to reflect human tendencies and motives. Initial public reaction to the first printed plates was so positive that later in 1829 the publisher decided to issue a bilingual edition providing Grandville's captions in the original French with an English translation. Subsequent editions were published in 1854 and 1869 but lacked the vibrant colors and details of the 1829 works.


Les Métamorphoses du Jour is now regarded as the best example of Grandville's work, and is rarely found intact. Many volumes have been broken up so the individual lithographs could be sold separately. As historical items, the lithographs are now thought of as important examples of work that had a significant influence on the early 20th century surrealist movement, and which today still serves as inspiration for 21st century artists.

In the collections of the Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site are eleven plates from an 1829 edition of Les Métamorphoses du Jour, which originally contained some seventy colored lithographs. Which Longfellow family member they belonged to is unknown, but Henry seems a likely candidate as he visited Paris in 1829 near the end of his first trip to Europe, and would have had the opportunity to obtain a copy of Grandville's work at a relatively early date.

Did You Know?

The Departure of Hiawatha, by Albert Bierstadt, c. 1868.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha" was published in 1855. The name Hiawatha is Iroquois, but most of the stories he drew on for his work were from the Chippewa.