jean-jacques sempé – artist and poet

by Sharon Santoni


illustration of man drinking champagne while looking at paris skyline- jean-jacques sempé, artist and poet- MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME

It’s hard for me to describe how much I love the work of Jean-Jacques Sempé.  The lightness of his touch when painting his watercolours, or pen and ink drawings; the emotion conveyed in just a few lines ; his colours …  I have several books of his illustrations at home, including the collection of his covers for the New Yorker, and they are my turn-to reading on a quiet Sunday afternoon, when all I need is gentleness and calm, and something to make me smile.

children digging a trough in the sand to disrupt the sleeping man- jean-jacques sempé, artist and poet- MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME


The qualities I love in his drawings are the way that he sees the detail; the tenderness he has for the figures he portrays, his colours and his mischievous sense of humour.   Very often his main characters are alone, small but brave, facing the big wide world.

sitting on the pier at sunset- jean-jacques sempé, artist and poet- MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME

Children are surrounded by much larger adults in a noisy colourful world.  Business men are insignificant besides the skyscrapers of New York.  Ballet dancers are lost in their own moves surrounded by the bustle of the city.   A lone swimmer enjoys being carried by a wave; a musician walks through the park and kicks up the autumn leaves.  An indolent cat lazes comfortably all day while all  around him people are busy earning a living.

cat lies asleep on bed in new york- cover of the New Yorker, November 24, 1997- jean-jacques sempé, artist and poet- MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME

It is all about emotion, sensation and inner enjoyment.   We the onlookers can see how small and fragile the characters are and yet they never look afraid.  They are optimistic and joyful, and caught up in the beauty of life.    And then there is his fantastic sense of colour.   From the house at night time, to the autumn park, to the busy St Germain café or a beach in the south of France.  His colours are pure and true.

a Haussmannian building in Paris surrounded by trees- jean-jacques sempé, artist and poet- MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME

Here I’m showing you just a few of my favourite Sempé illustrations, he has been very prolific, but if you are not familiar with his work then I can recommend Sempé à New York the collection of his covers for the New Yorker, and his book A Little Bit of Paris.

And you may like to know that if you wish to buy an original or a signed print of Sempé’s work, the best address is the Gallery Martine Gossieaux, here in Paris.  Check them out on line, or pop into the gallery, 56 rue de l’Universite 75007.

And last but not least,  I am over the moon to tell you that in My Stylish French Box this year, we will include a Sempé illustration each season.  We are truly thrilled and honoured.

new york building views- jean-jacques sempé, artist and poet- MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME


Pamela January 31, 2019 - 6:03 pm

Love all of these prints you have shown
here. They are just so awesome.

Pamela January 31, 2019 - 6:03 pm

Love all of these prints you have shown
here. They are just so awesome.they do make one smile.

Elizabeth Ferguson January 31, 2019 - 6:20 pm

His work is magnificent!

Yvonne January 31, 2019 - 6:49 pm

Thanks ever so much for introducing us to this delightful artist, Sempé. What a joy to find him….and I will certainly be following his work now.

Lisa D. January 31, 2019 - 6:57 pm

How sweet and enchanting. Thank you for introducing his artwork to me. I had never heard of him until now. I always love your posts, Sharon, and I so look forward to them.

Sharon January 31, 2019 - 6:59 pm

Simply beautiful and evoke such emotion. Love the sketches . We are going to be hopefully all things working out, God willing to be living in Italy for a year .. then I can order your boxes !! Yay

Tina January 31, 2019 - 7:18 pm

They have me revisiting my favorite children’s author Ludwig Bemelmans with Madeline. Similar lightheartedness that is enchanting.

david terry January 31, 2019 - 8:34 pm

Well, Msr. Sempe is either very stubborn/tenacious, or he’s been very fortunate in having had editors who didn’t try to force him to do anything than that which he’s obviously very good at doing……..and his career has probably been marked by a combination of all of the above.

In any case, he and Roz Chast are the only New York illustrators whose work I’ve always (and delightedly) recognized over the decades. Both of them are just so good at the particular thing they do, and i’m glad that neither has ever indicated any interest in “broadening” their singular style as illustrators (or some other euphemism for adapting to fashions, rather than making them).

I’m a great admirer of Sempe’s work because it exudes a quality that is vastly-underrated or, at worst, derided these days……..which is simple “charm” (which is not to be mistaken for shallowness or being merely facile….as with Mozart, it takes genius to pull off that sort of simplicity & charm).

I probably should add, at this point and it case it’s not evident, that, during the days when most of my work as as a commissioned, freelance illustrator?…….I can’t tell you HOW MANY TIMES I was commissioned (and I had a regular stream of quite nice clients) because someone “LOVED” my work……and then I’d have to endure 3…5…7 editorial meetings during which the original illustration was changed so often (this was pre-computers/graphics programs, so this meant re-drawing the ENTIRE THING) that it was nothing like what I’d been hired to do……and I ended up wondering (not that I wasn’t being paid, but this was plain BORING) why they had hired me in the first place?

Well, congratulations to both you and Msr. Sempe……..two folks with consistent and recognizable style (and, yes, charm).

(and, yes, I know you’re married, Sharon; this isn’t that sort of crush-note……)

Best wishes, as ever,
David Terry
Quail Roost Farm
Rougemont, NC

Deborah January 31, 2019 - 9:12 pm

Sempé has been one of my favorite artists for a long time. I can get lost in the details of his pieces, and I love the expressiveness of his line and yes, his fabulous use of color. I am thrilled that we will be receiving multiple Sempé prints this year. Thank you, Sharon!

Suzanne Deugaw January 31, 2019 - 9:36 pm

I love Sempe art and your narrative explaining the emotions he evokes.

Sherry Bonds January 31, 2019 - 9:52 pm

Oh I’m so excited! Loved looking at all these simple but beautiful drawings.
And can’t wait til my Feb. box comes to see what treasure is inside.

Vicky(from Athens) January 31, 2019 - 11:18 pm

I love his art!

Lin Powell February 1, 2019 - 4:43 am

What a joy to see this incredible artwork.

Emily February 1, 2019 - 5:28 am

I, too, have a number of books of Sempé’s work and never, ever, tire of perusing them. Congratulations on adding his works to your stylish French boxes. Quite a coup!

Sharon Santoni February 1, 2019 - 11:54 am

Thank you Emily! We are extremely happy too!


Susan Perkins February 1, 2019 - 5:58 am

Hi Sharon
Do you ship to Australia?

Sharon Santoni February 1, 2019 - 11:53 am

HI Susan, yes we absolutely ship to Australia. There is a small surcharge for shipping costs, but the delivery time is very fast.

Let me know if you have any other questions

Best regards

Rita Parker February 1, 2019 - 4:20 pm

Hi Sharon
I love all the prints you have shown. Thanks for introducing me to his artwork. I am so pleased I bought a years subscription as there will be a Sempe illustration each season.
I cannot wait till my February box comes to see the treasures inside.
Keep up the good work Rita

Mary February 1, 2019 - 4:56 pm

These are wonderful! I am so excited that we are going to enjoy this fantastic artist through our Stylish French boxes throughout the year. Thank you for sharing the delightful works of Jean-Jacques Sempé!

June February 2, 2019 - 3:58 am

He’s brilliant. One can get lost in the painting or drawing. Thanks for sharing.

Elisabeth April 7, 2021 - 3:25 pm

Art has existed since ancient times. It has accompanied man throughout his entire existence.The first manifestations of art were very primitive drawings on the walls of caves made by primitive people, see more craft stores in Singapore here. Even then, when every day you had to fight for your life, a person was drawn to art, even then a love for the beautiful was manifested.


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