Ah, L’amour, le Ciel!

Air-France

Since 1933, when it was formed, Air France has had a unique raison d’etre among airlines. For more than 70 years, the brand has made a conscious decision to represent French values, culture, cuisine, and especially style in the air. This led to a unique mission for its advertising.  “Beyond simply promoting services and tehcnological feats,” wrote Raymond Pagès, “Air France wanted to promote a concept of itself as a ‘runner’ between cultures.”

This created a rare opportunity for artists. Few other companies have taken such a risk: giving free rein to poster artists, painters and illustrators so they can express themselves freely on aviation.

It continues today: ad agency Havas’s celebrated campaign “France is in the Air” is itself a rarity in today’s overcluttered and interruptive ad culture – a thing of great beauty and delight, as chic as a Paris runway and as light as a soufflé.

50. Air France / Golden Clipper. 1933.
50. Air France / Golden Clipper. 1933.
Artist: Albert Solon
24 1/4 x 39 1/4 in./65.99.6 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700.

Air France, as a company, was formed on October 7, 1933 from a merger of several airlines including Air Orient and Comagnie Générale Aéropostale – making this 1933 image one of the earliest and rarest in Air France’s prodigious artistic portfolio. Not only is it immensely cheery – not only is the typography so funky and modern – but a 95-minute transit between Paris and London is still faster than the Chunnel. This is the English text version.

55. Air France / Amerique du Nord. 1948.
55. Air France / Amerique du Nord. 1948.
Artist: Luc-Marie Bayle
24 1/4 x 39 in./61.5 x 99 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

If you have a deep love for both Paris and New York, as we do, you’ll dream the Rive Gauche lies just across the Brooklyn Bridge; the Arch de Triomphe will become the Arch of Washington Square Park. Bayle’s wonderful poster brings this daydream even closer, with the Statue of Liberty (and its replica, on an island in the Seine) the shared midpoint of the two great cities. Created in 1948, the sentiment expressed here is especially profound.

56. Air France / Afrique. ca. 1950.
56. Air France / Afrique. ca. 1950.
Artist: Jean Even
24 1/2 x 39 1/4 in./62.2 x 99.6 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

Jean Even was a super-talented artist as a child. Tutored by Devambez, he was awarded a year abroad at the Casa Vélasquez, in Madrid, an elite art school for foreign scholars. The only problem: the Spanish Civil War had broken out, and the Casa Vélasquez had been bombed and partially destroyed. The school administrators had a solution and took the kids to Morocco instead. Thus began his love affair for the country, and for Africa generally. He spent the next two decades in the region.

This piece is entirely unlike the two other examples of Even’s art in our auction (Nos. 57, below, and No. 210). His portrait of an African village market-day is so evocative, and so vibrant with the character and atmosphere of the place, that it’s become one of the iconic travel posters in the world.

57. Air France / Proche Orient. 1950.
57. Air France / Proche Orient. 1950.
Artist: Jean Even
24 x 39 in./61 x 99 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

From rustic impressionism (above) to crisp photo-realism – accomplished in the same year, 1950! – Jean Even’s ability to re-orient his art around the character of the subject matter is quite impressive.

61. Air France / Paris-Tokio. 1952.
61. Air France / Paris-Tokio. 1952.
Artist: Yasse Tabuchi
24 1/4 x 39 1/4 in./61.6 x 99.7 cm
Est: $700-$900.

An exceptionally beautiful piece by the well-known painter and graphic artist Tabuchi. From an early age, he was engaged in oil painting and copper engraving. After his service in the Japanese Army, he returned to the University of Tokyo to study art history, with a focus on French Colorism from Delacroix to Bonnard. That led him to Paris in 1951, to study at the Sorbonne. In 1952 he created this poster for Air France, creating a fusion between Japanese and French artistic cultures that represented an Air France brand ideal.

64. Air France / Dans Tous les Ciels. 1951.
64. Air France / Dans Tous les Ciels. 1951.
Artist: Badia Vilato
24 3/4 x 39 1/8 in./62.8 x 99.3 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

Vilato is one of the most mysterious commercial artists in the pantheon. Surrealist in his aesthetics, anarchist in his politics, he fled Spain during the Civil War for France and accomplished some of Air France’s most beautiful posters, including this one: a work that transcends mere physical flight for something more profound, mystical, and metaphysical. At the end of the 1950s, he settled in South America. Nothing more is known about him.

In all, we have 19 Air France posters in our 72nd Auction, to be held on June 22. For a complete view of all the art on offer, please consider buying our full catalogue of all 410 lots.