Paul Legrand

Paul Legrand

Born Charles-Dominique-Legrand, but called Paul, the mime Legrand was one of the great Pierrots of the nineteenth century – indeed, of all time. He first appeared in London in an Italian pantomime at the Royal Adelphi Theatre towards the end of 1848.

Several portraits of the same sitter were taken by Nadar in the late 1850s.

‘The son of a grocer, Legrand was one of the urchins in the balcony at the Théâtre des Funambulles who was smitten by the performances of Baptiste Deburau as Pierrot. Himself engaged at the Funambulles in 1839, Legrand became Deburau’s understudy and increasingly appeared on stage when the great mime’s health declined. From Baptiste’s death in 1846 until 1848 when Legrand left for London, he was the Pierrot playing to “Paradise.” Charles Deburau then took over the role. Although the two mimes played together in Deux Pierrots (1849), their relationship was generally one of friendly rivalry.

‘Charles described Legrand as short and thickset, with small arms and a fat round face, to which Nadar’s portrait testifies. Playing often in Champfleury’s realist pantomimes, Legrand developed a Pierrot who expressed feelings with caricatural deftness, as Gautier remarked. More a mute vaudevillian actor than a mime, Legrand was noted for his sentiment and especially for his tears. After 1853 he deserted the Funambulles for the stage of Théodore de Banville’s Folies-Nouvelles, which was newly redecorated with rococo cupids, trellises and flowers à la Watteau. Thus the sad Pierrot became associated with Watteau’s lovesick Gilles. Reclaiming the neck ruff, the melancholy Legrand commingled those two commedia dell’arte stock characters, and thanks to both a Second Empire vogue for the eighteenth century and the poetic power of his conflation, Pierrot and Gilles are thoroughly confused in the public mind to this day.’

[The above is an entry by Maria Morris Hambourg in the book on Nadar which accompanied an exhibition of his work at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 1994 and at the Metropolitan in New York the following year.]

Photographed by Disdéri.


Code: 122039
© Paul Frecker 2022