Spotlight on Philippe Ledoux, Hermès Artist
For nearly 40 years, Philippe Ledoux served as the premiere scarf designer and artist for the house of Hermès. Even the most casual of collectors today would be familiar with Napoleon, Promenade de Longchamps and Springs — all iconic staples of the Hermès catalog, having been reissued countless times over the decades. But despite the ubiquitous visibility of his work, relatively little information can be found about Ledoux, the man. Born in 1903 in the city of Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England to an esteemed family of the French upper-middle class, Ledoux began developing his artistic talents at a young age. His mother, Marie Villaret, an accomplished water-colorist herself, recognized her son's gifts early on and encouraged his development throughout his childhood and adolescence, when the family moved back to France in 1915. Following a brief stay in Rome, Ledoux decided to relocate to Paris to study painting and illustration at the Académies de Peinture et de Dessin with Emile Renard and Joseph-Paul Alizard. It was there that he met and married Madeleine Gautier in the summer of 1937, with the couple soon moving to Cormeilles-en-Vexin, a small commune in the Val-d'Oise region of Northern France. Shortly thereafter, geopolitical tensions in Europe came to a roaring boil, and in the fall of 1939, Ledoux was mobilized as a liaison officer with the British Army. He remained in this role until August of the following year, when he rejoined his wife in Cormeilles-en-Vexin, just in time to see their home requisitioned by the Germans. Following the end of the war, Ledoux mostly worked from home, contributing illustrations to a journal of occupation published by his wife in 1946, who recalled this time, in a tone decidedly humorous, as a a period of difficult cohabitation. It was over the course of this same year that Ledoux also began providing many drawings to Bibliothèque Verte, a collection of popular children’s books, as well as to Neptunia, a naval publication put out by Des Amis des Musée de la Marine (Association of Friends of the Maritime Museum). This increased his profile significantly and placed him in the line of sight of Robert Dumas, then director of Hermès, who it is said became immediately smitten with Ledoux’s ability to draw horses. First commissioned by the house in 1947, Ledoux eventually went on to provide nearly a hundred illustrations that would become some of the most iconic scarves in the Hermès catalogue, specializing in equestrian and nautical themes. Ledoux died in a tragic motorcycle accident in 1975. Several of his designs were issued posthumously, including two unfinished works, Marine a Rames and Les Trois Mousquetaires, which were later completed by his nephew Vladimir Rybaltchenko. His great talent remains highly visible to this day with Hermès continuing to reissue many of his celebrated designs. Of note, Ledoux’s great grandnephew Dimitri Rybaltchenko is one of the most prolific Hermès artists of the modern era.