Tag: art deco
The Art Deco wedding poster
The popularity of the vintage wedding is such an exciting recent development, and earlier this year my good friends Emma and James enjoyed what was unquestionably the wedding of the year, and to celebrate the event I produced this poster in their honour. It is a fusion of the two characters from my Martini posters featured in a couple of earlier posts here and here, but for this new incarnation I have changed the Martini glass to champagne glasses, slipped wedding rings onto their fingers and put a smile on their lovely faces.
I intend to produce bespoke versions of this idea, maybe taking in the Bal De La Couture design as well, as a celebratory product in the near future, and make it available for next year’s brides and grooms to order. I shall probably create a new category on the website exclusively for vintage wedding posters and cards. I’m sure there must be a demand out there somewhere. Please watch this space.
1930 Le Mans and the fabulous Bentley Boys.
The Le Mans race of 1930 was Bentley’s fourth successive win, and the last in which the company would compete. After catastrophic financial losses following the 1929 Wall Street crash, and the subsequent collapse in the luxury car market, Bentley pulled out of competitive motor racing and under the burden of increasing company debts, sold out to Rolls Royce in 1931. But their brief racing history had been a glorious one.
In the 1930 event Woolf Barnato was seeking his third successive win in three starts, (he remains the only driver with a 100% record of wins to starts at Le Mans) this time partnered by Glen Kidston. These men, two of the most notorious of the Bentley Boys, were most remarkable characters. Prodigiously wealthy Barnato was the heir to a fortune gained in the Kimberly diamond mines in South Africa, and an all round sportsman, excelling in just about every sport that took his interest. He won prizes in power-boat racing, was a keen amateur boxer, horseman, athlete and even kept wicket for Surrey cricket club. The 24-hour champagne fuelled parties that he hosted at his country house in Surrey became legendary.
But fast driving at the wheel of a Bentley was his real joy. On one occasion in March 1930 he accepted a bet to race the famous Blue Train from Cannes to Calais, but upped the stakes by saying that he could reach his London club before the train arrived at Calais. Setting off from the bar of The Carlton Hotel at 6pm he arrived at the port of Boulogne in time for the 11.30am sailing to Folkstone and reached The Conservative Club in St James’s at around 3.30pm, 4 minutes before the train arrived at Calais, winning his bet.
Glen Kidston was possibly even wealthier than Barnato, his riches coming from shipping and banking, and was a born adventurer, narrowly escaping death on several occasions, including motor boat and motor cycle crashes. As a naval officer in the First World War he survived being torpedoed three times, and as a submariner survived running his vessel aground in the North Sea. In 1929 he was the sole survivor when a commercial airliner crashed en route from Croydon to Amsterdam, suffering severe burns. In April 1931 Kidston set off on a record breaking solo flight from Netheravon airfield in Wiltshire to Capetown, South Africa, completing the journey in just 6½ days in his own specially adapted Lockheed Vega monoplane, averaging 131 mph. However, his luck ran out on the return trip when, only a year after his Le Mans triumph, his borrowed de Havilland Puss Moth broke up in mid-air while flying through a dust storm over the Drakensberg mountains, and Glen Kidston was killed.
These two daredevil romantic heroes lived sadly short lives, but packed into those years adventures that us mere mortals can only dream of. Oh, and did I mention that they were both dashingly handsome?
You can find further details of this poster here, and please take a few seconds to share this page with your friends on your chosen social network. Thank you.
Batiste Madalena: forgotten master of the movie poster.
Batiste Madalena was an American illustrator who enjoyed just four years in the sun between 1924 and 1928 before disappearing into obscurity, only to have his work rediscovered forty-five years later by a Californian documentary film maker.
In 1924 Italian born Madalena was studying art at the Mechanics Institute, later to become the Rochester Institute of Technology, at a time when a talent scout for the inventor and photographic manufacturer George Eastman was searching for an artist to produce posters to promote the silent movies soon to be shown at his newly built 3,000 seat Eastman Theatre in Rochester, New York. Clearly Eastman was very persuasive because this extraordinarily talented young man abandoned his art classes to work exclusively for the Eastman Theatre, without assistants, creating eight posters a week for four years at $4.50 per poster.
George Eastman disliked the publicity material that was sent from the studios, so Madalena’s brief was to produce these hand-painted posters every week, each one different and measuring 44” x 22” to fit the eight glass covered display cases around the main entrance to the theatre. The posters were to be simple and striking enough to be seen from the trolley cars stopping across the road from the theatre at the major intersection of Main and Gibbs. Batiste said, “The trolley was pretty far away, so the posters had to be big, not fancy and finicky. The point was to get people to cross the street and stop for a while at the Eastman.” He worked from black and white publicity photographs supplied by the movie studios, without sight of the movie itself, producing posters in bold, invented colours with beautifully realised hand-lettered titling. Then in 1928 Mr. Eastman sold his theatre to the Paramount-Publix chain and Madalena was dumped along with his artworks.
It was only by pure chance one evening when he was cycling home in the rain from the YMCA past the rear of the theatre, that Batiste saw all of his original paintings thrown out for the garbage collectors. Devastated and angry he attempted to salvage as many as he could, but being gouache on art board the rain had taken its toll and most of the 1400 pictures were totally destroyed. But he managed to get 225 of the artworks home and he and his wife worked most of the night trying to dry what remained of four years work, which he stored away in his attic for safe keeping.
In 1973 his daughter entered a number of the pictures in a local art show being held in the lobby of the Lincoln Rochester Trust Company on East Main Street, and by chance film maker Steven Katten, during a break in a nearby convention he was attending, happened to wander in and was struck by the superb quality of these pictures. Six years later he and his lawyer wife Judith bought the entire collection along with the copyright. Over the subsequent thirty years they managed to get the work shown in galleries throughout California, then across America and finally, in 2008, twenty years after the artist’s death, getting a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Batiste Madalena’s reputation was established. You can view a short YouTube film giving the background to the MOMA exhibition here.
But what might have been?
At art school Madalena was clearly a free thinking student, and an admirer of the graphic design work of such great European modernists as Ludwig Hohlwein (see the 1913 Kaffee Hag poster on the left) and Lucian Bernhard (see the 1914 Bosch spark plugs poster below), who were working in Germany before the First World War. This must have been quite unusual when one considers that his principal tutor at the Mechanics Institute was the very conservative and influential advertising artist J. C. Leyendecker, who set the style for American commercial illustration for decades to come, and was a major influence on the work of Norman Rockwell.
In 1924 Madalena won a scholarship to the very liberal Art Students League of New York, a relatively new establishment reflecting many young artists’ dissatisfaction with the conservative instruction offered by other schools. One of the leading lecturers here at the time was the great American muralist Thomas Hart Benton, and among its students were Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb and later Jackson Pollock. But before he could take his place at the Art Students League the very persuasive approach from George Eastman manifested itself and Madalena turned his back on further study, choosing instead to take up Eastman’s offer.
The posters that Madalena went on to produce for Eastman showed a remarkable understanding of the modernist principles of the European art deco movement, which was itself only just beginning to gel as a unified group in 1925, the year of the huge Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. This same year Madalena produced a poster for the movie ‘The Thundering Herd’ (shown on the left) which was pure art deco, a style that was cutting edge modern and almost completely unheard of in America. Indeed when the United States were invited by the organisers to contribute a pavilion at the Paris exhibition they declined, Herbert Hoover explaining that this was because there was no modern art in America.
There is, of course, no way of telling what might have happened had he taken up his scholarship at the Art Students League, but consider the contrast in fortunes between Madalena and Edward McKnight Kauffer.
Born Edward Kauffer in Montana he moved to San Francisco at the age of twenty to work in a bookstore and study art at the California School of Design between 1910 and 1912. By some chance a professor at the University of Utah, Joseph McKnight became aware of Kauffer’s work, sponsored him and paid to send him to Paris for further study. (In gratitude Kauffer took his sponsor’s name as a middle name). After two years study Kauffer moved to London where he remained for most of his career producing what have become some of the most famous and well-loved posters of the twentieth century for clients like Shell and the London Underground (see 1930 poster on the right).
On such matters of chance are lives turned. What if? What if Madalena had gone to New York to study art in 1924? What if he’d not cycled past the back of the Eastman theatre on that rainy night in 1928? What if Steven Katten hadn’t wandered into the lobby of the Lincoln Rochester Trust Company in 1973? So we have a small part of Batiste Madalena’s output, and for that we should be thankful. But I for one cannot help thinking of what could have been.
The Martini man.
This Martini poster, one of a pair (see the Martini girl here), features a male character in formal dress, top hat worn at a rakish angle, and a pierrot’s white face staring out of the picture. The influence for this motif is the Commedia Dell’Arte figure of the unworldly clown who loses his innocence. Commedia dell’Arte was a humorous theatrical presentation performed by professional players who travelled in troupes throughout Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. But the popularity of the commedia began to fade in the eighteenth century until a revival of interest was sparked in the early part of the twentieth century by the paintings of Cezanne (‘Le Clown’ shown on the left) and Picasso, and the music of Stravinsky (Pulcinella) and Schoenberg (Pierrot Lunaire). The latter tells the story of an innocent, moonstruck Pierrot who becomes sexually educated at the hands of a servant girl, Columbine, the situation being orchestrated by a domineering Brighella. (On the right is a scene from Glen Tetley’s 1962 ballet ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ performed by The Royal Ballet Company.)
The art deco movement was also quick to pick up on this revival and soon it became extremely influential in the designs of the period.
My Martini man is that same pale-faced Pierrot after the fall, dressed to kill and wearing a very confident, knowing expression as he sips his Martini, all the time gazing unerringly into the viewer’s eyes.
The lettering, as in the Martini girl poster, is hand drawn based on designs by the brilliant Dutch typographic artist of the early 1920s, Antoon Kurvers. Further details of this and other posters in my collection can be found here.
1928 Aston Martin International poster
I’ve always seen this poster as a very English design, and I have stolen the headline from that quintessentially English novel ‘The Wind In The Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame, published in 1908. In this passage from chapter two Toad is trying to persuade (or perhaps coerce) Ratty and Mole to join him in an adventure in his latest acquisition, a gipsy caravan. He stands proudly in the stable-yard at Toad Hall and declares, “Travel, change, interest, excitement! The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing!” But he will soon be abandoning the caravan in a ditch, having just been driven off the road “with a blast of wind and a whirl of sound” by a speeding automobile, and by the end of the chapter Toad has “ordered a large and very expensive motor-car.”
In this Aston Martin poster I have illustrated, in a very English style, a more gentle approach to motoring pleasure than that envisaged by Toad, but at the same time creating an image evoking the freedom of the open road, something very close to Mr Toad’s heart.
For further details of this and other posters in my collection please navigate here.
The Martini girl.
In the nineteen-twenties and thirties the avant garde art movements in Europe came under the enormous influence of exotic imagery from all over the World, with the arts of Africa and Japan appearing in important exhibitions in Paris, and new Archaeological discoveries, like the unearthing of the tomb of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter in 1922, made headline news and the great artists of the day became enchanted by the rich colours and distinct angular shapes presented by ancient Egypt.
The decorative arts designers of the time also fell under the spell of these cultures and were quick to incorporate these fascinating and romantic motifs into their creations, including architecture, furniture, jewellery and advertising.
In this Martini poster I have taken the motif of the sphinx of Giza and that of the death mask of the boy king Tutankhamun to create the ‘headdress’ for a rather austere character that looks straight into the viewer’s eyes whilst cooly sipping a Martini cocktail. I have additionally attempted to persuade the viewer to follow the green circle plucked from the ‘O’ in Vermouth, to the large stone (Serpentine?) of her ring, on to the olive in the glass, and finally resting on the cool gaze of her eyes and then all the way back again to the product.
The lettering is hand drawn based on designs by the brilliant Dutch typographic artist of the early 1920s, Antoon Kurvers. Further details of this and other posters in my collection can be found here.
Bal De La Couture Parisienne
I love this poster. I got a real kick out of producing it, and it was one that, as an illustration, just fell nicely into place. The lines and the composition flowed beautifully in the original sketch. I am not for one moment (Heaven forbid!) suggesting that this process was easy, as there was a great deal of research went in before committing to the design. But once the concept was developed the image almost designed itself. The viewer’s eye is drawn to the girl’s face (whose gaze follows you around the room) and then it circles that area for a while following the line of the hat before being led down to the text by the broad line of the gentleman’s white scarf. The girl is clearly the star of the show and the silhouetted figure of the gentleman is very much in a supporting role. I am also pleased with the fact that there is something a little enigmatic in the expression on the girl’s face. We cannot quite tell if she is happy to be on the arm of the doubtless wealthy but shadowy gentleman. Is that expression one of comfortable contentment or is it perhaps a trifle uneasy?
I stole the idea of the yellow lights from a Toulouse-Lautrec poster from 1891 of the dancer La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge, shown on the right. (“If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.” Who said that, I wonder?) ‘La Goulue’ (meaning, would you believe, ‘The Glutton’, real name Louise Weber) was the most famous quadrille dancer of her day and a regular performer at The Moulin Rouge, The Moulin de la Galette and other famous Parisian venues of the time, with her dancing partner Valentin-le-Décossé (seen in the foreground).
I did experiment with many different type designs before I felt that I had got it right, but I just knew when it was. The lettering is a hand drawn, original font, unique to me, although based on exsisting type styles of the period.
The text is taken from an original Bal De La Couture poster of 1925, (shown below) designed by Georges Lepape two years earlier than the date featured in my design, so the details are correct. Note the price of admission: 100 francs. It’s my guess that in 1927 100 francs was a great deal of money, so the ticket price must have pretty much guaranteed to the guests that they were unlikely to be rubbing shoulders with any of the Parisian riff-raff once they stepped inside the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.
The magnificent art deco structure of the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, opened in 1913 as a venue for contemporary music, dance and opera, in contrast to the more conservative Paris Opera. In its first season it hosted the Ballet Russes, staging the world premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring on May 29th, an event which became notorious for the ensuing riot amongst the audience.
A revival of the fashion ball has, in the last twenty years, been combined with the tradition of the debutants ball by Ophélie Renouard as Le Bal des Débutantes, in which the daughters of former celebrities, aristocrats, artists, politicians and others are dressed by haute couture and couture fashion houses in order to promote their reputations and products. This event was first held in 1992 at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris, which continues to serve as the venue to this day.
You can find full details of this poster here.