by Terri Windling
Many of us raised in the 1950s and ’60s were introduced to fairy tales by a popular book titled The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, which had originally been published in France. The American edition, released in 1957, was beautifully translated by poet Marie Ponsot andcontained the sumptuous art of Adrienne Ségur illustrating French fairy tales from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries (by Madame D’Aulnoy, Charles Perrault, Madame Leprince de Beaumont, and Madame La Comtesse de Ségur), along with tales from the Brothers Grimm and Andersen, and tales from the Russian and Japanese. This large, well–designed volume — featuring Ségur’s delicate,intricate pencil drawings in addition to her distinctive, stylized paintings — had a curiously strong effect on many of its young readers. Today, I’m astonished how often I meet writers, artists, scholars, and readers who were deeply influenced by this book, subsequently retaining a passion for fairy tales long beyond the years of childhood.
Despite my attempts to discover autobiographical information about Ségur, little seems to be known about her on this side of the Atlantic; and publishing colleagues in France, though they know her name, know little about her. (I’d be delighted to hear from anyone who can supply more information.) What is known is this: Adrienne Ségur was born in 1901, presumably in France; it is not known if she was related to the Comtess de Ségur (1799–1874),the famous fairy tale writer. She published her first book at the age of 29: Aventures de Cotonnet, the story of a rabbit, illustrated in a simple but charming manner. Two sequels were published in the early ’30s, Cotonnet, Aviateur and Cotonnet en Amérique.
Many other works appeared throughout the following decades, including: Alice au pays des merveilles (Alice in Wonderland), Il ‘etat un fois (French fairy tales), Ib et Christine (tales by Hans Christian Andersen), La Rose de Noël, L’Oiseau D’Or, and Ápres la pluie le beau temps. (Some of the art illustrations on this page come from the French editions and have never appeared in the U.S.) American editions published in the 1950s and ’60s include The Golden Book of Fairy Tales, The Snow Queen and Other Stories, My Big Book of Cat Stories, and Misha, the Little Brown Bear. The Golden Book of Fairy Tales is Ségur’s best and most consistent work, but the other volumes also containsome memorable drawings and paintings. In addition, Ségur is known to have illustrated at least one jewelry advertisement for Van Cleef & Arpel — a copy of which was found by the writers Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman in Paris, at a print booth along the Seine.
The Golden Book of Fairy Tales and The Snow Queen and Other Stories have been recently re–published by Golden Books, to the delight of Ségur’s many fans. Additional Ségur illustrations can be viewed on the Art Passions website.