Bertrand du Guesclin

Historical novel
Author: Roger Vercel
Illustrations: Frédéric Back
Published by: Éditions Arc-en-ciel, Collection du Moulin de Pen-mur, Paris, 1944, 217 pages
(Reference: 4736-347)


Frédéric Back did 90 drawings to illustrate this novelized account of the life of Bertrand du Guesclin (1320-1380), a minor seigneur from Brittany who became a French national hero. The story follows him from his turbulent childhood to his death on the battlefield. For his numerous battles against the English and the King of Navarre he was awarded the title of Constable, or supreme commander of the French army. The book was published in a 1,000-copy limited edition with hand-stenciled colours.


Brittany, 1942, at the height of World War II. To escape the Service de Travail Obligatoire (STO), or compulsory labour in German factories, 18-year-old Frédéric Back sought refuge with an old country priest who wanted him to do decorations for his church near the city of Rennes. While the young artist was there, his master, Mathurin Méheut, recommended him to illustrate Roger Vercel's book. Frédéric Back had been hoping to work as a book illustrator and this was his first contract! Given the historical nature of the subject, before he could paint his gouaches he had to conduct research - no easy thing under the German occupation. He frequently had to make the 20-kilometre trip to the nearest library, threading his way through a maze of county lanes on his bicycle. Du Guesclin was published on June 5, 1944, the day before the Normandy Invasion.