Las ilustraciones de Marga Gil para las Canciones de Niños, de Consuelo Gil y José María Franco / Marga Gil’s illustrations for "Children's Songs" by Consuelo Gil and José María Franco

(Text published in the catalog of the Marga Gil Roësset exhibition. Madrid, Círculo de Bellas Artes, May-June 2000)

The composer and conductor José María Franco (1894-1971) wrote, between 1927 and 1938, three song cycles entitled Children's Songs and one entitled Mother's Songs, based on collections of poems written by his wife, Consuelo Gil. The first cycle of Children's Songs was published in 1933 (1), and in that edition the text of the poems and the music composed for each of them were accompanied by some very beautiful illustrations by Marga Gil, sister of Consuelo. The others were never published, but Marga had prepared the illustrations that were to accompany them, some of which are exhibited in this commemorative exhibition.
The edition of Children's Songs constitutes a magnificent example of a type of publication very much in the aesthetic taste of the Spanish pre-war years, in tune with synesthetic or integrative principles that reached their culminating point among the poets, painters and composers of the Spanish generation of 1927, in which it is not difficult to find interesting examples. Together with the poet/painter, or, more generally and in his more modest facet, the poet/draftsman who illustrates his own texts (Rafael Alberti and, in a certain way, Juan Ramón Jiménez, for how much drawing there is in his curious and plastic calligraphy), there is also the poet/musician (Gerardo Diego), or the case of García Lorca, which constitutes a unique blending of the three artistic manifestations. But without a doubt the most frequent is the collaboration of three different artists in the same work and with a common aesthetic objective, which in the case of Children's Songs is favored by the close kinship between the three authors who subscribe the publication.

The link between illustration and music, however, goes back much further, reaching its peak in the last years of the 19th century, with regard to the exquisite and somewhat mannered editions of the so-called "salon music", and in the first decades of the 20th century, when the emergence of what we currently know as "light music" began, which led to the development of editions in which the covers, especially well cared, fulfilled the task that, through attractive drawings and illustrations alluding to the texts used in the songs, their mere contemplation would favor the irresistible desire of their purchase. Fox-trots, pasodobles, tangos and all kinds of dances and songs were associated from the moment of its release with splendid drawings and illustrations that today delight any collector.
In the edition of Children's Songs, Juan Ramón Jiménez himself, the main adviser of Madrid's Editorial Signo, had a decisive importance, and he must have intervened very directly in the selection of the three illustrations published in the edition -apparently, Marga had made one per poem and song, that is to say twelve, some of which are preserved in the poet's house-museum in Moguer- and whose peculiar calligraphy is present on the cover of the book. Judging by what is collected about it in the memories of Juan Guerrero Ruiz, friend and secretary of the poet for several years, Juan Ramón met the two sisters when Marga was still a girl, on the occasion of the publication of the book El niño de oro, and in July 1932 he actively helped to prepare the edition of the songs. (2)
The illustrations by Marga Gil for Children's Songs by Consuelo Gil and José María Franco represent a change in style with respect to those made in 1920 and 1921 for her sister's stories El niño de oro and Rose des Bois.

Marga Gil's illustration for El niño de oro

Marga Gil's illustration for Rose des Bois

Although in these a taste for detail prevails, which sometimes leads to an inevitable modernist recharge, in the illustrations of the songs the simplicity that supposes the concentration on the figure of the child stands out and, at most, his shadow and a landscape outline, in a wise psychological recreation of the childish simplicity that is perceived in the spirit of the texts and the music.

Marga Gil's illustrations for Children's songs

This generates in the viewer an evocation of the particularly harsh loneliness of the child, defenseless against the world around him, which we would not hesitate to describe, as great as his resemblance is, as influenced by the illustrations that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry did for Le petit Prince if it weren't for the fact that this little gem of adult children's literature was published in 1943, exactly eleven years after Children's Songs.

(1) José María Franco (music), Consuelo Gil Roësset (texts) and Marga Gil Röesset (illustrations), Children's Songs. Madrid, Editorial Sign, 1933.
(2) Juan Guerrero Ruiz, Juan Ramón de viva voz, Valencia, Pre-Texos / Ramón Gaya Museum, 1999, vol. II, pp. 33 and 35.