“To define Art Deco is as impossible as pinning a dozen live butterflies to a cork specimen board,” wrote the English art critic Brian Sewell (1931-2015). But you’ll know it when you see it – an attempt to fuse the forms of Classical idealism with the machine-driven industrialism of the early 20th century. The ideas of Art Deco had been burbling for a quarter century, at least; the 1925 Exposition Internationale des arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes defined the idea, and Le Corbusier gave it its name.
35 3/4 x 50 in./90.8 x 127 cm
Liestal, southeast of Basel, has cold winters, mild summers, and a spectacular public swimming pool worthy of an equally spectacular Art Deco poster. The diver almost appears like he’s elongating as he dives, at a perfect 45-degree angle, into the inviting waters. David Hockney would approve.
24 38 x 39 1/4 in./61.8 x 99.5 cm
An astonishing work of art that wraps a representational image in an illusion of abstraction. It takes the eye a moment to resolve the color fields into the coastlines of England and France, formed by the steam emanating from a ship’s smokestack and a locomotive’s. In vain we try to trace the curved coasts, before realizing: the quickest way across the Channel is Calais-Dover or Boulougne-Folkestone – the four red dots toward the top. An outstanding accomplishment, commissioned as a joint effort between English and French railroads.
44 1/2 x 61 3/4 in./113 x 156.8 cm
One of the original posters that Loupot created for this brand of bitters, featuring the two waiters who would become, in a series of redesigns and refinements, the company trademark. What remained constant was their comic contrast in physique, and their colors – red and white. An additional Loupot innovation is featured in this landmark design: the lettering. Up to this point, the St. Raphaël name had been presented in an all-capital letter format; here, Loupot introduces the first version of the personalized product signature that would replace the previous block-letter logo.
24 1/2 x 39 3/8 in./62.2 x 100 cm
Gaston Gorde has an eye-opening take on Art Deco – a type of intensity that’s almost hyperreal – which he’s deployed with meaningful effect in posters for Miel Alphandery (see PAI-LXXI, 336) and Superbagneres / Luchon (see PAI-XLII, 303). Here, a golden goddess arises from the mountain silhouette, steamy and icy at the same time, to seduce visitors to Uriage-les-Bains, a sulfur spa first settled and exploited by the ancient Romans. People still flock to Uriage seeking relief from psoriasis, arthritis and sinusitis. Ah, such relief!
39 1/8 x 55 in./99.3 x 139.6 cm
Lenhart plays an engaging game of silhouettes: the black outfit of the Garbo-like femme fatale like a cutout against the green background, the blouse and the hand cut out in turn from the black; standing out from both, the warmly glowing face and the white cigarette. Most elegant!
49 1/8 x 39 in./124.7 x 99 cm
A rare and beautiful romantic tableau for the London Underground, for which Dupas created six designs over a three-year period. This is arguably his best, accompanied by the quote: “Thence to Hyde Park, where much good company and many fine ladies.” It’s perhaps the most celebrated poster by Dupas, whose evocation of the Art Deco spirit so achieved ideals of elegance, his (lost) interior design for the Grand Salon of the S.S. Normandie still elicits gasps of awe and sighs of nostalgia 75 years later.
31 1/4 x 47 1/8 in./79.5 x 119.7 cm
All of Monte Carlo beach has gone high Deco. It’s just one of three posters created by Michel Bouchaud. After his military service, he asked to be demobilized in Algeria, where he joined his brother at Villa Abd-el-Tif and discovered the Mediterranean light.
26 3/4 x 39 in./67.8 x 99 cm
“In his promotion for Trieste’s third Maritme Festival, Urbana Corva calls upon a stylized futurist sailor to be more than a primary indicator of the high-seas theme – he uses him to direct the flow of visual information as well” (Crouse/Deco, p. 245).