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The Art of Firmin Bouisset

Firmin Bouisset – Moissac’s son

For a number of years the association ‘Pour un musée Firmin Bouisset à Moissac’ has been trying to create a space dedicated to Firmin Bouisset, who was born in Moissac.  A space that would help everyone understand how significant this painter’s influence was on the development of the world of advertising.  Two large exhibitions have been held recently, one in Moissac (April-Sept 2014) and one in Orchies (near Lille) in 2015.  There was also a book published ‘La pub, un jeu d'enfant’ in 2014.

Firmin believed that brands would benefit from portraying one simple image/message, especially if that message was delivered by a childlike image. He envisaged children becoming the spearheads of many advertising campaigns.  It was this belief that quietly launched his advertising revolution.

The characters he created are very familiar, reflecting many childhood memories; the little girl with plaits writing on a wall about Menier Chocolat; the little schoolboy in his cape for Lu biscuits, Poulain Chocolat’s Pierrot and the little girl carrying her Maggi sign and many more other vintage  pictures besides. These characters haven’t aged a bit and remain happily as part of our heritage.

Interestingly, their creator has almost slipped from many of our minds. Firmin Bouisset (1859-1925) was a well-known, respected and sought-after artist in his day.  As a painter, but also as a lithographer, engraver, children’s book illustrator and famously as a poster painter. Firmin relished all types of artistic work and his interest and work-rate means he was prolific in this ‘Belle époque’.

His childhood and beginnings

Firmin was born in Moissac in 1859 in a mill called ‘Bidounet’ on the side of the river Tarn. Firmin, like his peers, enjoyed a great deal of childhood freedom.  However, it wasn’t long before he was spending less time playing in the fields and more time with his pen.  He loved to produce sketches of other children and the nature around him. Both subjects that went on to inspire him in his later career.

After studying at Art Schools in Toulouse and Paris (and assisted by his home town of Moissac) Firmin Bouisset spent his time illustrating children’s books, whilst also pursuing his painting and engraving work. Success came quickly and both British and American publishers translated his books for their own readers. Firmin was friends with the very popular illustrator, Kate Greenaway during the 1880-1890s and soon mothers (and fans of Kate Greenaway) began to dress their daughters to resemble Firmin’s child figures!

And then...advertising

Because of Firmin’s great fame, at the end of the 19th century, the ’Maison Menier’ known as ‘the first chocolate factory of the world’ engaged his services for what would be one of the first, large advertising campaigns.        

Firmin chose his elder daughter, Yvonne, to be the model for this campaign. She was nine years old and soon she would be seen on many French walls. More than a hundred year later people still recognise the little girl writing on a wall about the Menier brand.

This new form of advertising with only one young character and very simple text, allowed Firmin to lead the way with a style of design which was then followed by many successive advertisers.  By the close of the century Firmin was a valued poster-painter along with the likes of Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec, Capiello, Steinlen and Chéret.

Firmin Bouisset's famous characters hold a special place in the story of advertising.  Contemporary symbols of the period such as Yvonne, the little Menier girl, and Jacquot, (her brother), the model for the Lu Biscuits advertising campaigns are still remembered 120 years later.  Nowadays you can find them, either when biting into a ‘petit écolier’ biscuit which Jacquot decorates, or when buying a Menier chocolate bar with little girl with plaits printed on the wrapper.

The longevity of these characters and the sustainability of their images adds to the timelessness mystery of Firmin Bouisset’s success.

By Annie-Claude ELKAIM (translated)

If you are interested in Firmin Bouisset’s life, work and his famous characters; or wish to join the Association, please visit   www.espacefirminbouisset.blogspot.fr. You can also obtain the book ‘La pub, un jeu d'enfants’  (A.C. Elkaim, Ed Privat) 2014 from this website.


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