Anthropomorphic monkeys ran rabid through interior designs during the early to mid 18th century, and Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin put his spin on the trend by creating his human butterflies. If you’re not familiar with Saint-Aubin, he had two claims to fame beyond his body of work.
1. He came from a large French family of creatives, with six of the seven children finding work as draughtsman, etchers, and designers. His younger brother Gabriel-Jacques is noteworthy for having studied with Francois Boucher and chronicling daily Parisian life, but unfortunately died penniless and largely unknown.
2. He occupied the official position of Designer of Embroidery and Lace to the King’s Wardrobe for King Louis XV. Fun day job, right? His parents were embroiderers, and though he followed in their footsteps, spiffing up the king wasn’t his only pursuit. In addition to authoring a scandalous book that required his anonymity, he etched what remains his most popular series: Essay de Papillonneries Humaines (1756).
So, you ask, what occurs in a butterfly’s life? Unsurprisingly, butterflies, unlike their lowly caterpillar counterparts, live like aristocrats. First there are the daily rituals such as the bath and toilette…
Then the energetic pursuits of the acrobat and the duel….
Which naturally leads to the injured person…
And what is an injured person to do but play checkers and get carted around in a litter?
Evening arrives and a butterfly has no choice. He must go to the country ballet or the French theatre…
And when that gets dull? Well, one can always ride around on a turtle.
Ah, it’s hard being a butterfly.
P.S. As an aside, if you’re the type who must know what would have gotten Saint-Aubin in big trouble if he fessed up to authoring the work, the answer is his Book of Caricatures, Good and Bad. Waddesdon Manor has the 400 page volume in a digital catalogue and contains some subversive images that are good for a laugh, including a nun watering a man’s sprouting bottom. (Who knew that would happen? Nuns are so clever.)