The Adventures of Tintin made Hergé’s name as a cartoonist, but a new retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris reveals the artist’s lesser-known graphic design work.

Georges Remi–AKA Hergé–opened his design studio l’Atelier Hergé-Publicité in 1930, applying aspects of his instantly recognizable Clear Line technique to posters, magazines, book covers, and flyers for clients Sabena Airlines, Camping magazine, and the A l’Innovation department store in Brussels. He balanced this work with publishing Tintin albums and by the 1950s, public demand for the beloved, red-spined comic was so high that he resumed publishing full-time.

This is the first show the Grand Palais has ever devoted to comic artistry: Hergé follows in the footsteps of retrospectives on Picasso, Braque and Hopper. Today, advising curator Céline Maisonneuve takes us on a tour of some of the key items in the show, revealing not only Hergé’s brilliance as a cartoonist and graphic designer, but also other aspects of his career, like his paintings and the artistic inspirations behind his stories.

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Vue de l’exposition 10, Hergé, Grand Palais © Rmn-Grand Palais / Photo Didier Plowy © Hergé/Moulinsart

 Exhibition Mural, Hergé, 1973

“Today, Hergé’s renown is well established. The Adventures of Tintin have been translated and well-received all over the world, its success an international phenomenon. The exhibition at the Grand Palais aims to celebrate Hergé’s work in the form of a retrospective, focused on his artistic personality. Tintin and his adventures, as Hergé’s major work, hold the most important place in the exhibition as you can see with this wall mural.”

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Hergé, Composition sans titre, 1960, Huile sur Toile, 50 x 60 cm, © Hergé/Moulinsart 2016

Hergé, Composition sans titre, 1960.

“From the end of the 1950s, Hergé developed a passion for contemporary art. He was inspired to try paint in the modern style that he admired. He even asked a famous Belgian abstract painter, Louis van Lint, to teach him. Seven of his canvasses are displayed at the Grand Palais. Given the reputation for figurative work, visitors are surprised to discover abstract compositions, far removed from his comic strips. In this particular image, you can sense his admiration for artists like Klee and Miro. However Hergé quickly understood that his most innovative contribution was in the field of comic book art.”

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Culture Chimu, Pérou Statuette, Porteur d’offrande, 1100-1450 © Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, Bruxelles

Culture Chimu, Peru, Statuette, 1100-1450.

“In The Adventures of Tintin, Hergé’s interest in the arts of far flung civilizations is apparent. There’s a lot of Latin American art in The Broken Ear, from 1937, for example. For this adventure he was inspired by this statuette brought from Peru to Brussels in 1935. As soon as he saw it in the Musée du Cinquantaire where it was on display, he created a story based on it.”

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Maquette de la fusée réalisée pour la création des albums Lune maquette en bois, 100 x 50 cm, Collection Studios Hergé © Hergé/Moulinsart 2016

Moon rocket model, Collection Studios Hergé.

“In the exhibition, this model of a moon rocket is displayed in the center of a room dedicated to Hergé ‘s process and the workshop he established with his team in 1950 (Les Studios Hergé). It embodies Hergé’s perfectionism. It was created when he was working on the moon adventures comic and was consulting scientists on the subject. Even though man had not yet walked on the moon, he wanted to create a credible rocket in accordance with the science of the times. Hergé wanted this model to be a unique visual reference for the members of his team, who were charged with the task of reproducing the interior of the rocket in the comic.”

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Hergé, La Tente, Couverture de publication : illustration et lettrage, 1936, Collection Studios Hergé © Hergé/Moulinsart 2016

Hergé, La Tente poster, 1936.

“Visitors will also discover Hergé’s work as a graphic designer and his specialism in advertising, logos, posters, leaflets, etc. His style here is very different form his comics: he composed simple images with colors and fonts very removed from the famous ʻclear line’, but that still retain his essential emphasis of creating clarity. In the 1930s, working in advertising was a career and social status a lot more highly regarded than creating comics, and Hergé hesitated between the two occupations. However, aware of his skill of bringing something new to comics, he made the right choice.”

Hergé is at the Grand Palais, Paris until January 15 2017