Take a visual journey through Voltaire's Candide

More Interpretations



Voltaire. Candide, or Optimism. Illustrated by Sylvain Sauvage. London: Nonesuch Press, 1939. NYPL, Rare Book Division.

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"Have men always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools?" Thus inquires our despairing hero in Chapter XXI of Candide. Over the past 250 years, artists have delighted in illustrating those stinging nouns and adjectives — and the characters they so accurately describe. While Voltaire never gave permission for the tale to be illustrated in any edition over which he had control, Candide's riotously colorful adventures have long proven fertile ground for illustrators, including the brilliant American artist Rockwell Kent, who is currently given pride of place in On the Road with Candide.

Please return to this page for additional galleries of Candide images from a diverse range of artists — from the anonymous to the now-forgotten to the legendary — drawn from the collections of The New York Public Library and other sources. Monkeys in love, optimism over the centuries, comedy, tragedy, farce — the artistic possibilities are the best in this best of all possible satires.

The notorious monkey scene in Candide, a magnet for discussions of how
race is pictured in the book, demonstrates Candide's error in judgment, 
revealing much about how he sees other cultures and customs — and thus 
also how artists illustrate these misinterpretations through caricature or
some other form of commentary.