The lovely art created by Pierre Le-Tan, who died on Tuesday in Paris at 69, was full of whimsy, lightness, humor, and—like so many genuinely uplifting things—also a trace of melancholy. There’s a beautiful full moon, a snowy scene, a rainbow … but each one is seen through a window. His drawings are usually unpopulated; there are a lot of still lifes. Even his street scenes are quiet, somehow solitary. The work is delicate, with exquisite detail and crosshatching, and it gets under your skin in the best way.
Le-Tan, whose mother was French and whose father was the Vietnamese painter Lê Phổ, was born in 1950 in Neuilly-sur-Seine and later lived in New York and Paris. Between the first of his many covers for The New Yorker, published when he was still a teenager, and his illustrations for his daughter Cleo Le-Tan’s new A Booklover’s Guide to New York (see Air Mail issue No. 9, last week), Le-Tan drew for magazines, illustrated books, and had his work shown in galleries and museums. He was by all accounts a man of great taste and an incredible collector of art, books, and furniture.
Le-Tan lived in an apartment that had once belonged to Jean Cocteau, on Place du Palais Bourbon. “He was dry and funny, very bookish,” remembers a writer who visited Le-Tan there a few years ago. “He was sort of exactly what you think he’d be like when you look at his work.” This melancholy week, there’s something, well, uplifting about that. —George Kalogerakis