THE COMIC ART OF JOSEPH HÉMARD: Law

In 1925 someone, probably Hémard or his publisher, René Kieffer, came up with the brilliant idea of publishing an illustrated version of the part of the Code Civil of France containing the family law statutes that govern marriage, divorce, children, adoption, and other aspects of personal life. Hémard took the opportunity to produce witty and lively vignettes of individuals caught up in various family dilemmas. The book was published as a limited edition on special paper, with the illustrations done in pochoir.

Code civil: Livre premier, Des personnes. 1925. Pochoir. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library. Gift of Farley P. Katz.

In about 1940 (the book is undated), Hémard moved on to the French Penal Code. Those statutes gave him even more material to work with, and the illustrations became increasingly wild and filled with black humor.

 

Code Penal. Circa 1940. Pochoir. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library. Illustration for Article 319 (involuntary manslaughter).

Among Hémard’s more pedestrian commissions were annual promotional pamphlets for the French National Lottery (1937-1942). Shown here is the 1938 Règlement de la Loterie National, setting forth the official rules.

Règlement de la Loterie National. 1938. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library. Gift of Farley P. Katz.

In 1944, while Paris was still occupied by the Germans, Hémard produced his greatest legal achievement, the Code Général des Impôts Directs et Taxes Assimilées (the French Tax Code), fully illustrated, colored in pochoir and published as a lavish limited edition for collectors. The illustrations are larger and more numerous than in the earlier works, the puns more outrageous and the humor more broad. His Code Général des Impôts is one of the most accomplished works of legal humor ever published.

Code Général des Impôts Directs et Taxes Assimilées. 1944. Pochoir. No. 679 of 800 numbered copies. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library. Gift of Farley P. Katz. Illustration for Art. 73, error in the application of tax. The translation of the sign: “The excuse the tax collector hears every day.”

“ ‘And then I drew for books’: The Comic Art of Joseph Hémard,” curated by Farley P. Katz and Mike Widener, is on display Sept. 15 - Dec. 15, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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