Emile COHL

Family tree of Emile COHL

Drawer, Cartoonist, Scriptwriter of comics

FrenchBorn Emile Eugène Jean Louis COURTET

French caricaturist of the largely-forgotten Incoherent Movement, cartoonist, and animator

Born on January 04, 1857 in Paris, France , France

Died on January 20, 1938 in Villejuif, France

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Despite their long ancestry, the Courtet family was not high on the social ladder. Émile's father Elie was a rubber salesman, and his mother, Emilie Laure, was a linen seamstress. The rubber factory Elie worked for had many ups and downs, causing the family to move from one home in Paris to another.

During the first few years of Émile Cohl's life, France was ruled by Napoleon III of France, nephew of Napoleon I of France, a protector of middle class families like the Cohl. Émile saw little of his father during his childhood, and was over-protected by his ailing mother until her death in 1863. In 1864, at the age of 7, he was enrolled at the Ecole professionnelle de Pantin, a boarding school known as the Institute Vaudron after its founder. There his artistic talents were discovered and encouraged. The next year, a cold kept him in his father's apartment, where he began stamp collecting, a hobby that would become his sole source of income several times in his life.


On July 15, 1870, the Franco-Prussian War began. France was invaded and Napoleon III was forced to surrender on the battlefield of Sedan. A "French Third Republic" was declared in Paris to succeed the "Second French Empire" of Napoleon III. Almost immediately, the city was besieged by Prussian armies. It fell on January 28, 1871, and foreign armies were occupying the streets of the capital when Adolphe Thiers was elected President of France. Thiers was too conservative for many Parisians, so a Paris Commune was declared, a sort of anti-government of radicals. The French Army, so ineffective against the Prussians, was used to wipe out the Commune while the Prussians watched. The Treaty of Frankfurt (May 10, 1871) ended the Franco-Prussian War and imposed an indemnity of 5 billion francs on the losers. President Thiers organized finances to pay the indemnity, resigning on May 24, 1873.

The chaos caused by the siege of Paris led to the closing of Elie Courtet's factory. Émile was transferred to the less-exclusive Ecole Turgot, but his lessons were soon forgotten as the teenager wandered the streets of Paris to watch history being made. He made two discoveries that in time that became the controlling elements of his life: Guignol puppet theater and political caricature. Guignol was a form of drama (usually involving love triangles) where the characters were played by marionettes. A subtype of the Guignol was Fantoche, a form of puppetry where the puppeteer's head was stuck through a hole in a black sheet with a small puppet body underneath.

Political caricature had begun in France during the Second Empire, but had been suppressed by Napoleon III. During the free-for-all weeks of the Commune (all eleven of them), the caricaturists were free to post broadsheets on the streets for all to see. The center of this activity was the Rue du Croissant, only blocks from the Ecole Turgot.

In 1872, Elie Courtet placed his 15-year old son in a three-year apprenticeship with a jeweler. Émile drew caricatures, enlisted in the Cherbourg regiment, and drew some more. Elie placed him with a maritime insurance broker. Émile left the broker, got a much poorer-paying job with a philatelist and declared his preference for drawing, the Bohemian lifestyle, and if necessary, going hungry.

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Geographical origins

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