Charles Gesmar was practically the archetype of the precocious, sensitive artist. Slight of frame and frail as a child, he quickly – at the age of 15! – became a star artist and designer for the Parisian music-hall. In his first year, his eye shone upon Spinelly, but almost as quickly she drove him to despair; after he attempted suicide, she left.
Immediately, however, Mistinguett, the 41-year-old star of the Foliés-Bergére, took him under her wing. Over a career of just a dozen years, he produced over 12,000 costume designs, 30 program covers and 55 posters, until he died, quite suddenly, of fulminating pneumonia at the age of just 28.
Ooh, what is that you’re smoking, mi’lady? One of the rarest of Gesmar’s designs for Mistinguett, this image shows her flirtatiously smoking a pearl-encrusted pipe, glancing coyly – or is that warily? – over her shoulder. She’s shown in the “Bonjour Paris” revue of 1924-25. Gesmar also designed her costumes. The precocious and talented Gesmar began working for Mistinguett at the age of 16.
In this spectacular two-sheet poster, Gesmar shows the two distinct stage personas affected by Mistinguett: the flamboyant showgirl and the Parisian street urchin. She was equally effective and popular in both guises. The poster is usually referred to as “Rags to Riches,” and was the artist’s last poster for Mistinguett.
Mistinguett achieved her greatest success at the Moulin Rouge, where her 1926 revue was simply called Mistinguett. “It is one of Gesmar’s most beautiful posters: without jewels or fancy dress, it’s the Miss, child of Paris, which he shows us here. . . alluring, tender, and roguish with the rose between her lips which we would like to pluck.” (Folies-Bergère, p. 11).
She floats, euphoric, a luscious pin-up with a rainbow frou-frou skirt, bikini top and mint-green beret – an idealization of the one and only Spinelly. The dancer, singer, and actress discovered Charles Gesmar at the tender age of 15. He designed costumes for her, and this is one of the sunniest and most soufflé-light designs he’d create for her.
With a name like Max Dearly, it’s hard to not become a heartthrob of the stage and screen. That’s why Lucien Roland renamed himself (to the Max), and starred in 49 plays and films between 1903 and 1941, including Jean Renoir’s “Madame Bovary” and a 1934 version of “Les Miserábles.” Gesmar loved to draw his stars winking at you; in Max’s arch expression, he knows that you love him dearly. Rare!