How do you set yourself apart from the sort of fashionable painters so beloved of art critics? Very carefully.
Set in Paris of the late seventeenth century judging by the size of the king’s wig, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau begins with the annual Grand Contest of Art, sponsored by the King. Needless to say, most of the artists paint large portraits of the king doing noble things–in armor, riding a horse, on his throne and so on. The judges dismiss Clousseau’s small portrait of a duck…until it quacks. Clousseau is awarded Grand Prize and is acclaimed throughout the city; his paintings hang in all the best houses and he cannot keep up with demand…until his paintings come to life with disastrous results. A boa constrictor crawls into bed with the owner of the appropriate painting. A volcano erupts, a river floods, and Clousseau is thrown in jail. All of his paintings are confiscated and removed to a safe location, except for one: a painting of a dog in the palace itself.
This painting comes to life at an extremely fortuitous moment for the king and Clousseau but not for the jewel thief making the rounds of Paris; the king comes down the morning following the thief’s burglary attempt to find his crown on the floor and the thief hanging limply from the jaws of the dog in his painting. Clousseau is released from prison and awarded the Medal of Honor, but he merely goes back to his studio…and returns to his painting.
Jon Agee’s written the sort of shaggy dog story that only works with an illustrated book: the last illustration is of what is clearly a painting, with a board propped up against the frame to serve as a bridge from the “real” outside world into the picture, and Clousseau is sauntering off down the street depicted in the painting. This was an ALA and New York Times Notable book in 1988; I think it’s still worth reading today, I think, though it might be better for slightly older kids.