In ‘Epinal,’ Kristof Santy’s Vibrant Tableaux Nod to 19th-Century French Print Traditions

Featured image © Kristof Santy : “Bureau” (2024), oil on canvas, 200 x 180 centimeters

In 19th-century France, a style of bright, illustrative prints known as Images d’Épinal emerged as a way to portray subjects in sharp colors. The name was derived from the works’ first publisher, who hailed from the municipality of Épinal. And while the designs proved popular in children’s items like card games and books, their use as propaganda glorifying Napoleon I solidified the prints’ rise to fame. Today, “image d’Épinal” has become a proverbial expression in French to refer to a naïve depiction of something, showing only its good characteristics.

Roeselare, Belgium-based artist Kristof Santy nods to the legacy of the narrative tableaux in his striking paintings, portraying everyday scenes in vibrant colors, bold lines, and flattened perspectives. His playful, idealized compositions are simultaneously specific and universal; each painting brims with personal or idiosyncratic details that at the same time represent observations we all experience, from getting ready in the bathroom to going to the office to passing vehicles on the road. “Veevervoer,” for example, which means “livestock transport,” depicts a parked yellow truck with its driver-side curtain pulled shut and cartoonish animals peering out from the trailer.

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