Small can be beautiful – although that seems to be all too easily forgotten when it comes to exhibitions.
In London at least, the recent trend seems to be that bigger is always and automatically better, with shows that can leave visitors utterly exhausted by the time they reach the end.
So it’s a shock to the system to visit Somerset House for the autumn/winter minibuster, Tintin: Hergé’s masterpiece, which occupies just three rooms.
The boyish reporter first appeared in a weekly cartoon strip in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a newspaper supplement for children and youngsters.
But since that debut, Tintin and Snowy (Milous, in the original French) have become global icons, with more than 200 million copies of the famous 24 ‘albums’ sold in more than 70 languages.
Hergé – real name, Georges Remi (1907-1983) – made a signature of his ligne claire (clear line) style, and one of the primary treats of this exhibition is the opportunity to see some of his original drawings up close and personal.
There is a small selection of black and white pages on display, properly laid out as per the finished comic page, and without the lettering – done my a lettering artist until this century, when publishers started substituting digitally-produced text.
Not only are Hergé’s clean lines – executed in India ink – clear to see, but behind these, you can still pick out pencil guidelines, while there are also dabs of white gouache, which was used as a corrective.
There’s some brief biographical data on the artist – I particularly appreciated discovering that he was self taught – but this is not an exhibition where you’ll be overwhelmed by words.
What it does also mention is that comics are known as the ‘ninth art’ in the French-speaking world, which does not have anything like the snobbery attached to art that we do in the UK (of which more in a week or so).
Much of the pleasure comes from seeing how the rooms have been decked out with pictures from the books – like the walls of a mansion, decked in paintings. It’s like walking into one of Herge’s drawings.
In some cases, the curators have utilised the physical building itself – as with a picture of Snowy darting up a chimney from the hearth and with Tintin himself looking in at one of the windows.
And then, in a reminder of the architectural precision of Hergé’s work, there are a number of models, including Tintin and friends driving through a tickertape parade in New York, and his apartment – and who, looking around, won’t wish that these models were not behind glass but could be played with!
This may be a small exhibition, but it’s free – and if you don’t come out of it wearing a broad smile, then there’s probably something wrong with you.
It is, quite simply, a pleasure.
Tintin: Hergé’s masterpiece is on at Somerset House until 31 January