This Folio Life: Bringing Madame Bovary to life

Folio’s stunning limited edition of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary features a series of breathtaking oil paintings from French artist Nushka. In this blog, Nushka explains how she used live models in costume, including herself, to create the atmospheric scenes.

Sheri Gee, Art Director

An open-page spread from Madame Bovary, limited edition from The Folio Society 2020

‘I am absolutely thrilled to be part of this project – as I have said, I always wanted to illustrate a novel but never had an opportunity as suitable as this Folio Society commission before. Painting is a lonely job and it was new to me to discover all the props and communication required for an illustration commission and the team behind it, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the project.

Nushka organising her props and actors for reference photos

‘I spent a whole year dedicated to Madame Bovary. I read the book many times and looked at every illustration and film of it made so far because I wanted to go beyond the standard pretty, ethereal representations of Emma. I wanted to address every part of the character and her story, not only the cheesy or cliched aspects, but also the ironic, the powerful and rebellious and the melancholic sides.

Actors pose in a bed for Nushka's illustrations of Madame Bovary


Illustration by Nushka for Madame Bovary by The Folio Society 2020

‘I always work from reference photos that I make before I start to paint. For Madame Bovary we needed costumes. I borrowed two beautiful dresses from a tailor and a theatre for fun, but then I created most of the costumes myself. Playing dressing-up with my model wasn’t enough to feel our way back to the 19th century: I had to find relevant places to shoot the pictures!

Actors in costume for Nushka reference photos for illustrating Madame Bovary

Illustration by Nushka for The Folio Society limited edition of Madame Bovary

‘I chose my childhood home in the countryside to stand in for the Bovarys’ house; we shot the ball scene on a public holiday at the Grobet-Labadié museum with the kind permission of the curator; and we had to wait for rainy days in Marseille to give a Norman look to the outdoor scenes…

Actors pose for Nushka on the balcony of a French museum

‘Flaubert is often quoted as saying “Madame Bovary is me”: as the illustrator, I wanted above all to honour that statement. And after all this I was starting to feel a bit like Emma myself… That’s why one of the representations of Emma is a self-portrait – and the binding image is actually a mix between my model’s face and my own.’

Artist Nushka posing at Madame Bovary

An illustration by Nushka, from the limited edition of Madame Bovary by The Folio Society 2020


This blog was written by artist Nushka

Madame Bovary, limited edition from The Folio Society 2020

Find out more and order the limited edition of Madame Bovary

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Comments from others

  • William Dowd says:

    I would have bought this book but I’m sorry to say I don’t like the illustrations at all. Despite the artist’s great research and approach I feel they more resemble commercial graphic art, such as we see for perfume advertisements. I wonder what the Balbusso sisters would have made of it. Amongst their work I still go back with wonder to their illustrations for Folio’s Eugene Onegin.
    On another note: I still can’t purchase anything from this or the Summer catalogue while you continue to deploy only Express postage. I simply cannot afford this as an Australian resident. I have written previously to you about this but have had no response. I have been a Folio member for more than thirty years, and have up till now never failed to purchase from any catalogue. Your loss I’m afraid.

    • melaniec says:

      That’s a shame William! We love Nushka’s artwork for this, but of course art is subjective.

      Due to the worldwide disruption caused by COVID-19, we could not guarantee our standard shipping into Australia. Usually it is sent in the cargo space of commerical air flights, which of course are rare at the moment. As such we could only guarantee our express courier delivery would arrive. We completely understand it is more expensive, but on the plus side it is fully tracked, will be with you within days and is capped after two books so no matter how many books you order the cost will stay the same. We are hoping to be able to reinstate standard shipping to Australia soon.