Rarely would you find the union of an author and an illustrator so steadfast, so artistically productive as that of Patrick Modiano, the Nobel laureate in literature and Pierre Le-Tan who passed away on 17 September. Le-Tan’s cover drawings have so informed the pocket editions of Patrick Modiano’s novels that for many readers even the themes of Modiano’s novels are infused with them, giving Modiano’s stories the melancholy touch that was Le-Tan’s hallmark.
With hatching, shadows formed by cross-hatching, figures of people in deserted places with their back facing the onlooker, and the subtle use of watercolours, the style of Pierre Le-Tan, imbued with delicacy and melancholy, was not only recognisable but also inseparable from Patrick Modiano’s books. This master of Chinese ink illustrations sent his first vignettes to The New Yorker at the age of 17. Born in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1950, Pierre Le-Tan lived both in France and New York and collaborated with French and American artists, media, and institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. He created cover illustrations of hundreds of magazines and books including those of Marcel Aymé and Pierre Herbart.
When both Modiano and Le-Tan plunged into a lost past, the result was Paris de ma Jeunesse (Paris of my young days) with illustrations by Le-Tan and a preface by Modiano. Modiano writes: ‘Paris de ma Jeunesse is a lost Paris. A Paris that we revisit in dreams. You may try to grope around for the switch, the light will remain veiled.’ It is at once a testimony of ‘the inflections of beloved voices that have fallen silent’ and of an exceptional artistic friendship. It is also a poetic, sometimes naughty, often melancholic walk of a man, who delineates and illustrates the banks of the Seine, the Place Vendome, the avenue Paul-Doumer, and the boulevard Garibaldi. This is a promenade where the past mingles with the present, inextricably.