“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.
23 x 31 1/2 in./58.2 x 80 cm
Jonny Mene La Danse (originally titled just Jonny) was billed as a modern jazz opera, but it’s also known as one of the first musical pieces openly confronting the paradox of black musicians and racist audiences. Undergoing several revisions, the plot ultimately revolves around the jazz musician Jonny who steals a high-end saxophone, seduces the public with his deft musical abilities, ultimately placing black musical culture on a pedestal. Openly condemned by the Nazis, performances of the show in Munich in 1927 were met with stink bombs going off in the theater. This did nothing to quash audience demand. The production was quickly translated into at least ten different languages, appearing on over 50 stages across Europe.
51 5/8 x 75 1/2 in./131.2 x 192 cm
This gleeful gentleman does not get his kick from Champagne! This is actually a poster for a carbonated lemon drink; if you look very closely at the bottle, the label contains an image of another (less portly, better dressed) gentleman chatting with a barmaid.
31 3/8 x 47 3/8 in./79.7 x 120.3 cm
Stop-Fire made fire extinguishers, adaptable especially for automobiles. To show its power and effectiveness, Loupot transforms it into a simpler and more familiar object – a candle snuffer: a more powerful and minimalist treatment than the earlier 1925 version for the same company (PAI-L, 302).
33 3/4 x 47 in./85.7 x 119.5 cm
Julius Klinger was one of the most gifted graphic artists of his generation. Born in Vienna, he relocated to Berlin and began a career as both a conceptual thinker and designer. He wrote extensively on the philosophy of advertising and created an altogether new design language during the 1920s. He was persecuted, deported and killed by the Nazis in 1942. This catches him at the very beginning of his career, anticipating the flat colors, crisp lines and geometric precision of Art Deco, on behalf of an unknown entertainer. Etingen notes that “the sense of graphic strength in La Joëla is further emphasized by Klinger’s limited use of text and the unadulterated exuberance of the dancer in the poster. She is the embodiment of a proud New Woman: unapologetic, proud and strong” (Klinger, p. 79). Magnificent colors here.
43 x 62 1/8 in./109.4 x 158 cm
Power and grace: our hair-on-fire writer pirouettes his pen around, in this ode to the writerly craft writ large. Waterman, established in New York in 1884, is one of the few first-generation fountain pen manufacturers left standing today.
25 x 40 in./63.5 x 102.4 cm
Now that’s a bathing-suit. This fresh, windswept beach-blonde is a knockout introduction to Atlantic City right around the city’s heyday as the Boardwalk Empire in the ’30s. Nary a Pennsylvania Railroad in sight, but there’s no doubt this ad was a head-turner – and remains so today.
28 1/2 x 40 1/8 in./72.5 x 102 cm
If anything could top Eggleston’s Atlantic City triumph, this would be it: a Deco swimming spectacular, with a ’30s Hollywood starlet fronting the extravaganza! Billy Rose’s Aquacade debuted here, at the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, in 1937. What is an Aquacade, you ask? Nothing less than an all-singing, all-dancing, all-swimming and diving dream spectacle – the type of performance you’d see in Hollywood spectaculars, but live. Flush with success in Cleveland, Billy Rose took his Aquacade to the 1939 New York’s World’s Fair where it instantly became the most popular attraction – not least due to the starring roles of Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) and the Olympian Eleanor Holm, who was also Billy Rose’s lover. Rare!
29 1/2 x 45 in./74 x 114.3 cm
Provenance: From the Andy Warhol Collection.
Announcing the fifteenth annual exhibition of decorative artists at the Grand Palais in Paris, this sumptuous image perfectly demonstrates Dupas’s skill as a master of Art Deco. “Over and over he depicted the same type of elongated, statuesque woman, which to him represented the ideal beauty of the period … [with the obvious] influence of Cubism and Léger, and partly to the popularity of the simple, elegant look made fashionable by Coco Chanel” (Art Deco, pp. 24 & 34). Possibly referencing the famous story of the Judgment of Paris, one of Dupas’s goddesses is shown holding up a golden apple, an item reserved in that myth for the most beautiful of all. This is the larger format.
31 1/4 x 47 1/8 in./79.5 x 119.7 cm
This is one of the best beach scenes in true Art Deco style ever printed. 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. Returning to Paris, he worked on behalf of perfumers, chocolatiers, designers, and jewelers. His work normally concentrated on a smaller, more experiential scale: barrels of Rum Négrita, record covers, etc. The totality of the Art Deco infusion in this poster is redolent of his will toward artistic immersion in experience.
89 3/8 x 59 3/8in./227 x 151 cm
A High Deco masterpiece on behalf of a German film (also titled “Nixchen”), which premiered in 1926 featuring Xenia Desni, a Ukrainian emigré whose very first film role was alongside Pola Negri, and who starred in dozens of movies throughout the 1920s. (This poster is for the French premiere.) Details on the film are lost, but these details are insignificant compared to the high-society swanning, posing and flirting, in a medley that makes for a perfect mural.
13 5/8 x 19 1/2 in./34.6 x 49.5 cm
Fortunato Depero was a major figure in the Italian Futurist movement, and a superb non-commercial artist within that aesthetic. (His work was included in the Guggenheim’s seminal 2014 survey of Italian Futurism.) In 1919 he founded the House of Futurist Art, where he began to translate the artistic precepts of Futurism into household objects like toys, tapestries, and furniture. From 1928 to 1932 Depero was in New York City, creating stage costumes, designing restaurants, homes and covers for magazines. This opened his consideration of commercial design, and upon his return to Italy, he created many brilliant posters, three-dimensional objects for in-store advertising (see PAI-LXXI, 280), as well as a 1932 bottle design for Campari soda that’s still in production. This brilliant poster for Bitter Campari is a classic, archetypal work of his: bright, stark, angularly energetic and seeking to thrill.
19 5/8 x 29 1/8 in./50 x 74 cm
Strike a pose. A perfect evocation of autumn fashion in the Deco era, this yellow-scarved huntress is cradling the barrel of a rifle as the autumn leaves fall about her. C’mon, go inside, for your finest inspiration; your dreams will open the door.
26 1/2 x 20 3/4 in./67.4 x 52.8 cm
A rarely seen Art Deco triumph by Vincent, with the lady’s billowing cape and half-dome parasol clothing the lady’s sun-yellow dress in hues of sea and sky. Very, very faintly off to the left, you may be able to discern faint outlines of three seagulls tossed in the breeze.
30 3/4 x 45 7/8 in./78 x 116.5 cm
If Madrazo’s color choice is any indication, Esmeralda was one red-hot dancer. (That’s all we have to go on; she’s been lost to history, though Esmeralda appears to be a traditional name for Flamenco dancers, and Flamenco dance schools.) Some of the most beautiful theatrical and dance posters of the 1930s were executed by the Spanish painter Madrazo, who arrived in Paris in 1923. He takes all the graphic liberties necessary to achieve motion with a singular clarity. There are about a dozen posters for various performers which Madrazo created, each sharing the same flair – terse, eloquent caricatures that capture the essence of the personality in sparse, fluid lines and shapes. Now very sought and very rare, these works mark a glorious end to the Art Deco style.
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