I found a copy of Orson Welles’ Les Bravades for less than two dollars in a bargain shop yesterday. I had never heard of the book before, but it is a collection of pictures and writing that he made for his daughter while he was attending the festival of Les Bravades in Saint-Tropez on the Riviera, a kind of picture book and extended postcard all in one.
The book tells the story of Saint Tropez who was beheaded by Emperor Nero in Pisa, where his skull remains, covered in silver leaf. His headless body was set adrift in a small boat, and it came to rest at a small fishing town that was, from that point forward, known as Saint-Tropez. A grand church was built for the saint’s remains, but it was subsequently destroyed when the town was captured by Saracens, which was when the remains themselves were also lost, but the town continued to honour Saint Tropez even without his remains. Even when certain Protestant groups were trying to abolish iconography, by force if necessary,the town organized an armed defense of the saint’s shrine. The yearly celebration of Les Bravades, then, is to commemorate the saint himself, but also to remember the defense of the saint’s shrine by the people of Saint-Tropez and the disbandment of the Tropezian Army army by Louis XIV in 1678, hence the military nature of the festivities and the continuous firing of antique weapons that is one of its distinctive elements.
The book’s illustrations are mostly line drawings, many of which have a certain amount of colour added to them, but usually only gestures of colour, here and there, highlighting rather than actually colouring the drawings. The pictures range greatly in size, from individual figures only a couple of inches tall to full page scenes. They are clearly sketches, drawn hurriedly, and meant as a personal gift rather than for public consumption, but there is something unique and beautiful about them, perhaps just for this reason. They are, in many respects, just the kind of personal and amateur art that I have elsewhere argued should be encouraged as a way of making of art the gift that it should be, and I enjoyed this aspect of them very much.
I am not sure how widely available the book is, but it is well worth picking up if you should happen to come across it.