Françoise Mouly might be a longtime New Yorker, but on occasion in recent years, the news compels her to dwell on her native Paris — and then commission art to offer a poignant representation of French events.
In 2015, it was the Charlie Hebdo killings, then the Paris terrorist attacks. Now, it is the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral.
As art editor of the New Yorker, Mouly chose freelance illustrator Bob Staake’s luminous “Our Lady,” an artistic rendering of the cathedral that will grace the cover of next week’s magazine.
“As a Parisian, I was touched by the way everyone I know in the U.S. reached out when they heard the news,” Mouly told The Washington Post. “There’s something universal about our common history — it brought us together when the disaster unfolded and now to contribute to the rebuilding.”
“I hope it’ll continue to unite us,” she said, “not just to reconstruct a cathedral, but also address the big issues that concern all of us.”
In the Paris of the early ’70s, Mouly was out in the streets as a politically passionate artist — “doing my thing,” she told Comic Riffs in 2015. Later, she would provide French-to-English comic translations for some of the Charlie Hebdo artists who had inspired her.
After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Mouly chose a stark cover by Madrid-based artist Ana Juan that resonated with its “sobriety and the simplicity,” she said.
After the Paris terrorist attacks, the art editor hired Parisian artist Charles Berberian to render a cover that reflected the resilient spirit of French life and culture.
After the Notre Dame Cathedral fire on April 15 caused major damage, she felt Staake’s artwork captured a certain poetic beauty.
“Regardless of whether or not you’re a [religious] believer, it is hard not to feel awe when stepping into Notre Dame Cathedral,” Staake told the New Yorker. “It truly is an architectural masterpiece that encourages us all to contemplate big and profound questions. (Disclosure: Staake illustrates the Style Invitational feature for The Washington Post.)
Staake said he was “heartbroken” to see the cathedral burn, especially considering its status as a national treasure as well as a global symbol.
“But if history teaches us anything, it’s that oftentimes out of flames can come rebirth — and the unexpected,” he said. “That’s why I chose to depict the cathedral’s iconic Rose Window in a powerful aura and flaming glow that speaks to hope, strength and the perseverance of mankind.”