Pierre Le-Tan, Illustrator With a Quiet Touch, Dies at 69


The moon shines through a window, its light falling on a chair and a table holding a bottle and three tomatoes.

A toy horse, a locomotive and a Santa Claus ornament sit among discarded ribbons and ornaments.

A car approaches from the distance along a wooded lane on a rainy night, its headlights and their reflections the only bright spots in the engulfing gloom.

Each of these quiet scenes was created by Pierre Le-Tan, one of Paris’s pre-eminent illustrators, and each became a cover for The New Yorker, three of the 18 he made during a long, eclectic career. His work, often conveying whimsy, melancholy or nostalgia, was shown in art galleries and museums, and he illustrated and wrote books and collaborated with major fashion brands.

He died on Sept. 17 at a cancer research institute in Villejuif, France. He was 69. The cause was cancer, his family said.

Mr. Le-Tan’s drawings, usually rendered with meticulous crosshatching in ink and watercolor, frequently depict interiors populated by interesting objects, sometimes accompanied by static human figures. Almost all his work shares a delicate sensibility that invites a closer look, even when the subject matter at first appears mundane.

“The world he has drawn for more than 45 years, in ad campaigns, magazine covers, portraits, children’s books and more, is highly restrained,” Alexandra Marshall wrote in a profile of Mr. Le-Tan and his daughter, the fashion designer Olympia Le-Tan, in T Magazine in 2013. “When his drawings are not actually about solitude, he often depicts rooms with only the faintest evidence of human presence, an open book here, a set table there; the emotional register of his figures is so still as to almost render them as objects.”

He was 19 when The New Yorker published his first cover for the magazine, in 1970, showing a red heart floating in an open window for Valentine’s Day. His illustrations also appeared in magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, in advertisements and promotional materials for luxury brands like Hermès and Chanel, and on handbags, shoes and accessories made by Coach.

Mr. Le-Tan’s work was exhibited at galleries around the world; in 2004, it was the subject of a retrospective at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. He made covers for books by writers like the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Patrick Modiano. And he wrote and illustrated his own books, including “Les Aventures de Ralph & Wulfran” (2012), on which he collaborated with the illustrator Emmanuel Pierre.

He also collaborated with his children. He designed the cover for his daughter Cleo Le-Tan’s autobiographical novel, “Le Famille” (2013); for his daughter Olympia’s fashion company, Olympia Le-Tan — known for handbags made to look like classic book and album covers — he designed its logo, store and showroom as well as fabric prints for ready-to-wear clothing.

“I tell him what I want, and then he changes it to his own ideas,” Olympia Le-Tan, who is no longer affiliated with the company and now works for Marc Jacobs, told Vanity Fair in 2014.

Those ideas often germinated in Mr. Le-Tan’s sumptuously cluttered apartment in Paris’s Seventh Arrondissement. He was a prodigious collector of art, antiques, furniture, curios and other treasures that struck his fancy.

“Renaissance marbles, a sketch by Giacometti, stacks of 18th-century Turkish rugs, original works by Hokusai, a framed pencil drawing by Andy Warhol, a row of Cecil Beaton first editions, oxblood Pierre Cardin oxfords with hand-molded, articulated toes — that’s just a fraction of what’s in the first two rooms,” Ms. Marshall wrote in her profile.

Mr. Le-Tan’s mixed-bag of a collection inspired a 2018 show at the Tristan Hoare Gallery in London titled “The Collection of Monsieur X.” The show included his own artwork, hung in rooms made to resemble his apartment and decorated with items from his collection. The viewer could then experience both the art and the refined environment that had inspired it.

He was born Pierre Tan Le on June 5, 1950, to the Vietnamese painter Le Pho and Paulette Vaux. Pierre flipped his surname to make it Le-Tan because he thought that sounded more Western.

He grew up immersed in art. His father had studied painting in Hanoi and Paris, where he settled and became well known for post-Impressionistic paintings that often portrayed Asian women among luminous flowers.

His mother, who took the surname Le-Pho, worked in the offices of Time and Life magazines in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris.

Mr. Le-Tan attended the Lycée Buffon secondary school in Paris, briefly enrolled at the Penninghen art school there and studied at the prestigious École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs before dropping out.

In 1975 he married Lesley Cowan, who uses the name Plum Le-Tan. They separated in 2002 and later divorced. He married Tobore Ukochovbara in 2013. She survives him.

In addition to her, he is survived by his mother; his daughters Olympia and Cleo as well as another daughter, Zoe Le-Tan; two sons, Alexis and Edward; a brother, Alain Le-Kim; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Le-Tan’s last collaboration was “A Booklover’s Guide to New York” (2019), for which he drew the cover and many illustrations. It was written by Cleo Le-Tan.

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