On October 10, 1927 (Showa 2), cartoonist, illustrator and artist Georges Ferdinand Bigot (1860-1927) dies in Bièvres, northern France. Although barely known in France, Bigot is highly admired in Japan for his satirical art showing everyday life in late 19th century Japan. He resided in Japan from 1882 (Meiji 15) through 1899 (Meiji 32) when he was an important pioneer in Japanese political and social cartooning.
Bigot was born on April 7, 1860 (Ansei 7) in Paris, France. Encouraged to practice art by his mother, Bigot entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris when he was twelve. Here he first encountered Japonism and became friends with collectors of Japanese art. At sixteen he quit school to earn a living for his family by contributing illustrations to newspapers and magazines.
At the Exposition Universelle of 1878 (Meiji 10), Bigot visited the Japanese pavilion which persuaded him to move to Japan. In 1882 (Meiji 15), only 22 years old, Bigot arrived in Yokohama. Wanting to experience Japanese daily life, he settled outside the growing foreign settlement.
Bigot taught watercolor painting at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy for 2 years, and sold illustrations to Japanese newspapers. During this time he also published his well-known illustrated book Croquis japonais (Japanese Sketches).
After his government job at the Academy expired, Bigot became a French language teacher while continuing to work as an artist. In 1887 (Meiji 20), Bigot started publishing the satirical weekly Tobae, especially famous for its ridicule of Japanese politicians.
When the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) broke out in 1894 (Meiji 27), Bigot followed the Imperial Japanese military to Korea where he covered the war situation at the front. His work of this period shows a side of the war that was hardly covered by journalists.
Bigot married a former geisha in 1895 (Meiji 28), but he decided to divorce her and return to France after the end of extraterritoriality in Japan in 1899 (Meiji 32). He took his son with him and remarried in France where he worked for Le Chat Noir and other French magazines and newspapers. During the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) he chronicled the conflict in weekly French newspaper L’Illustration. He also created a series of satirical postcards.
Bigot’s work in Japan covered a wide range using a variety of media, from water colors, to oil, to lithographs and beyond. He produced limited edition books featuring etchings, mass marketed works in lithograph form, oil paintings, and illustrations for over 100 different periodicals.