Absolute Classic Masterpieces (Part I)

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Here’s the truth: we receive so many superb works of poster art each auction, it’s impossible to showcase them all. Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassandre, and Cappiello steal the spotlight, but for every one of those world-famous works, there are five others, equally show-stopping. Here’s Part I of our Absolute Classic Masterpieces, mixing up the world-famous and those which ought to be.

281
281. Dubonnet. 1932.
A.M. Cassandre
53 3/8 x 75 1/4 in./135.6 x 191 cm
Est: $60,000-$80,000.

Cassandre’s most popular and enduring advertising idea was for Dubonnet, an odd aperitif created with fortified wine, herbs, spices and quinine. It’s basically the French version of the gin-&-tonic: a drink invented so French Foreign Legionnaires in North Africa could get the quinine down.

For a commercial market, however, the libation was a little more dubious. Cassandre ran with it: “Dubo,” (a casual French word for ‘doubt’); “Dubon” (‘good’)… Dubonnet. This is a grand portrait of the 2nd panel, and it is good – very, very good indeed.

347
347. Salon des Cent. 1895.
Rene Hermann-Paul
18 x 25 3/4 in./45.7 x 65.4 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000.

“Sometimes I feel so nice, – good god! – I jump back, I want to kiss myself.” In this self-portrait, Rene Hermann-Paul beats James Brown to the punch by about 75 years. This narcissism is in service to the Salon des Cents, a famous Parisian exhibition of the Belle Époque’s best graphic artists. See them all here.

361
361. The Plaza. ca. 1920.
Edward Patrick Kinsella
75 7/8 x 117 7/8 in./192.6 x 299.5 cm
Est: $3,000-$,4,000.

This tremendous five-sheet billboard promotes the magical evenings to be had at Britain’s “super ballroom,” The Plaza in Glasgow. As the beautiful couple rises above the raucous throng, the young woman melting into the gaze of the tuxedo’d gentleman in blissed-out enchantment, it is as perfect an illustration of falling in love on the dance floor as has ever been accomplished. Kinsella was primarily known as a postcard illustrator; this larger-than-life ode to elegance, rapture and celebration is a testament to his imagination at scale.

421
421. Le Sillon. 1897.
Victor Mignot
33 5/8 x 43 1/2 in./85.4 x 111.5 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500.

An invitation to the 1897 Annual Salon at the Museum of Modern Art. The winds of creation billow about the artist. A contemporary review noted “this composition is a chef d’oeuvre… Its gift of color, the simplicity of his line, and the general character of his designs have made Mignot one of the Maitres l’affiche” (1900).

508
508. Divan Japonais. 1893.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
23 7/8 x 32 in./60.7 x 81.2 cm
Est: $20,000-25,000.

That’s Jane Avril in the audience, dressed in chic black with the bemused expression; beside her – that’s the famous writer Édouard Dujardin leaning in a bit too close.

All the motion of the piece, from Dujardin’s cane and Avril’s fan to the orchestral fiddleheads and conductorial arms, is outstretched toward the performer on stage: it’s Yvette Gilbert, so instantly recognizable from her tall, thin frame and long black gloves we (the viewers of the poster) don’t need to see her face. It seems like an incongruous way to advertise a “Singing Café,” but Lautrec knows the attraction isn’t so much the performer. It’s the whole scene itself, to see and be seen within it. In the middle of all is Jane Avril, with whom we instinctively identify: “It’s all a bit ridiculous, isn’t it?” This remains one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s greatest works because of its encoded subversiveness.

218
Otto Baumberger
35 1/2 x 50 3/8 in./90.2 127.8 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000.

This isn’t your typical PKZ poster. The men’s clothing brand usually portrays a ramrod gentleman in coat or suit, standing or striding into the world with trusty dog at his side. Otto Baumberger decided to have none of that. This outstanding illustration is hyper-realistic – decades before that term was coined – and created with loving care to make the textures of these fabrics tactile, even multi-sensory: you can almost smell this coat as your eyes substitute for fingers, tracing every fold and woven loop.

227
T. Borsato
39 1/2 x 55 in./100.3 x 139.7 cm
Est.: $2,500-$3,000.

An absolutely rapturous fantasy of the Muses twisting in vaporous hallucination above Orpheus, tempting – and being tempted by them – with some erotic lyre-plucking. Lariane is the Latin name for Como, so it’s only natural that Greco-Roman mythology is summoned to beckon party-goers to this famous open-air festival on the Italian Lake. A cornucopia of events awaits the Renaissance man (or woman), with concerts, plays, horse races, a sailing regatta, swimming, gymnastics, wrestling and shooting competitions, car shows, flower shows, animal shows, dances, fireworks and more.

250
Leonetto Cappiello
38 5/8 x 58 1/4 in./98 x 148 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000.

The age-defying properties of Creme de Luzy are emphasized by displaying our model before she has finished dressing, the better to appreciate her flawless skin, courtesy of Luzy.

290
Germaine Casse
31 1/8 x 46 1/2 in./79 x 118.2 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700.

The lush colors, sinuous lines and exotic allure are reminiscent of a Gauguin painting, but this gorgeous island scene eschews Gauguin’s religious symbolism to announce the 1st Annual Salon of Antillian Artists in Pointe-a-Pitre, the capital of Guadeloupe. An accomplished painter, Casse received the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.

400
Charles Loupot
31 3/8 x 24 in./97.7 x 61 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,500.

Seldom has an ad for motor oil been so beautiful or evocative. Loupot’s treatment eschews packaging and product entirely, and instead creates a wonderful feeling of the product’s effect: a softness and a blur of speed. Rare!

437
Alphonse Mucha
10 3/8 x 23 7/8 in./26.4 x 60.6 cm
Est: $14,000-$17,000.

“This is one of the rarest posters by Mucha – a great pity because it is a veritable pastel rhapsody. It is one of the very few of his works that does not bear his signature – although, in this case, there is not the slightest doubt that it is actually Mucha’s work… Flowers whose fragrances are used in the trade abound throughout the design, in the girl’s hair as well as in the decorative panels… The girl…is one of Mucha’s loveliest creations; a bit more like a real girl of flesh and blood than some of the idealized ladies…which he often depicts.” (Rennert/Weill, pl. 71).