Masterpiece posters
Awe-inspiring designs

There are some images that remain indelibly fixed in the collective conscience, and of course, posters have contributed heavily to our visual memories and associations. This staying power could be due to a particularly innovative treatment of the subject matter, or a terrific artistic hand, or even a paired-down design that allows you to see the subject in a new light. Our October 27 auction presents a large number of masterpieces—Art Nouveau, Art Deco, ornate, minimal, revolutionary, introspective, and jubilant—and they’re all exquisite.

103. 3me Grand Prix d'Endurance. 1925.
103. 3me Grand Prix d'Endurance. 1925.
Artist: U. Tranchant
25 7/8 x 37 5/8 in./65.6 x 95.6 cm
Est: $17,000-$20,000

This is the event we know as Le Mans: 24 hours of driving—about seven of them in darkness—the champion of all sports car races. First held in 1922, the race was the brainchild of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, with the support of Charles Faroux, the celebrated auto journalist who wrote the rules. In its early years, the event was referred to as the Rudge-Whitworth Cup in honor of the prizes offered by the popular tire manufacturer. For spectators, it was, and still is, an around-the-clock party with nonstop music, dancing, and drinking. The drivers’ experience can only be described as grueling. Here, with searchlights playing across the night sky and headlights streaming, an open car races against a dial that’s both clock face and speedometer. It’s a masterful design that captures all the event’s drama, speed, and intensity. The 1925 winner was the duo de Courcelles and Rossignol at the wheel of a Lorraine. They traveled 2,234 kilometers (1,388 miles) in 24 hours for an average of about 93 kilometers (58 miles) per hour. One of the rarest auto racing posters!

109. Meeting d’Aviation / Nice. 1910.
109. Meeting d’Aviation / Nice. 1910.
Artist: Charles Léonce Brossé (1871-1945)
29 1/2 x 42 1/2 in./75 x 108 cm
Est: $12,000-$15,000

From a bird’s eye view above the cockpit of an early monoplane resembling a Blériot, we share in the pilot’s vertiginous, breathtaking vista of Nice and the Gold Coast as he scatters a bouquet of roses to the town at his feet. Brossé, a graphic chronicler of the city of Nice, not only provided us with a magnificent poster for the 1910 air show, but was also one of the event’s key organizers.

193. “Campari” / l’aperitivo. 1926.
193. “Campari” / l’aperitivo. 1926.
Artist: Marcelo Nizzoli (1887-1960)
55 x 77 1/2 in./140 x 196.8 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

Nizzoli’s work for Campari is a masterpiece of composition and a classic of Cubism: as the table is raked forward and down, the bottles and glass manage to stay upright; the entirety of the composition lunges toward the viewer in gravity-defying space. All is grounded by the very traditional lettering. One of the rarest and most brilliant Art Deco designs ever created. This is the two-sheet, Italian-language format.

305. Lisa Duncan. 1927.
305. Lisa Duncan. 1927.
Artist: Paul Colin (1892-1986)
30 3/4 x 46 3/4 in./78 x 118.7 cm
Est: $30,000-$40,000

“It has all the characteristics of Colin’s fine touch, as the angular shape of the piano cuts through the dancer’s body to give us music-and-dance vibrations. Isadora Duncan, the famed dancer, was tragically killed in an accident in 1927. It is not clear just exactly who is represented in this poster: she had several adopted daughters and her sister, Elizabeth, carried on her work after her death—possibly she is the ‘Lisa’ of the poster. At any rate, Isadora, one of the first Western dancers to dance barefooted and appear on stage without tights in what she termed a ‘free dance’ style, would have approved of this treatment by Colin. It embodies her spirit, if not her person” (Colin, p. 8). Rare!!

322. XVme Salon des Artistes Decorateurs. 1924.
322. XVme Salon des Artistes Decorateurs. 1924.
Artist: Jean Dupas (1882-1964)
31 1/2 x 47 1/2 in./80 x 120.7 cm
Est: $12,000-$15,000

Announcing the fifteenth annual exhibition of decorative artists at the Grand Palais in Paris, this sumptuous image perfectly demonstrates Dupas’ 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 the popularity of the simple, elegant look made fashionable by Coco Chanel” (Art Deco, p. 24 and 34). Possibly referencing the famous story of the Judgment of Paris, one of Dupas’ 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.

326. Affiches et Estampes / Pierrefort. 1898.
326. Affiches et Estampes / Pierrefort. 1898.
Artist: Georges de Feure (1868-1943)
31 1/4 x 24 1/8 in./79.4 x 61.3 cm
Est: $17,000-$20,000

This is possibly the rarest and definitely the most fully expressive among the few posters of this noted symbolist painter and sometimes graphic designer. “The lady pointing to one of the items available from print and poster dealer Pierrefort is one of de Feure’s most enigmatic women: her face is alluring yet inscrutable, with a touch of slyness or private amusement: Is she mocking us, or simply being ambiguous?” (Wine Spectator, p. 89). Millman calls this “his most Japanese-influenced poster” (de Feure, p. 76). Pierrefort, along with Sagot and Arnould, was one of the most important poster and print dealers of Paris in the 1890s, and he often befriended promising graphic artists whose work he savored. Three of these protégés created posters for his gallery: Henri-Gabriel Ibels (see PAI-XIX, 371), P. H. Lobel (see PAI-IX, 336), and de Feure. Pierrefort was especially close to Toulouse-Lautrec, whose work he published and exhibited toward the end of the painter’s short career.

368. Absinthe Robette. 1896.
368. Absinthe Robette. 1896.
Artist: Privat Livemont (1861-1936)
30 5/8 x 43 1/8 in./78 x 109 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

One of the most iconic posters of all time, Livemont’s design for Absinthe Robette perfectly captures the spirit of Art Nouveau. Every element of the image is lavishly decorative yet delicately organic. Holding up her glass with the reverence of a holy relic, we do not see the hand that pours the water over the sugar, adding a mystical, otherworldly quality to the concoction. The background is made up of sensual plumes of mint on green, echoing the milky swirl within the cup.

421. La Maison Moderne. 1900.
421. La Maison Moderne. 1900.
Artist: Manuel Orazi (1860-1934)
44 7/8 x 31 1/2 in./114 x 80 cm
Est: $50,000-$60,000

Julius Meier-Graefe’s La Maison Moderne opened in 1899 as a competitor of Bing’s Maison de l’Art Nouveau, both high-end art dealers focusing on the latest in new, modern art—which, at the time, included the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Felix Aubert, and Pierre Selmersheim. The Maison, however, had a generally younger clientele and was more at the forefront of the movement than Bing’s. Orazi, the master lithographer and designer featured at the gallery, created one of the most brilliant masterpieces of the era to promote the gallery. The model, in serene stillness, is surrounded by all manner of delicate object d’art, from elaborate combs to fanciful lamps, curious statues to languid glassware. A tour de force in graphic design!

462. Cigarettes Job. 1910.
462. Cigarettes Job. 1910.
Artist: Armand A. L. Rassenfosse (1862-1934)
37 1/4 x 51 3/4 in./94.5 x 131.6 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

“Armand Rassenfosse… was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, a prosperous merchant in Liège, pursuing his penchant for drawing and engraving only as a hobby. But on a business trip to Paris, he met Felician Rops who persuaded him to attend the Academy at Liège… Rassenfosse at first designed small graphic works like ex libris and letterheads, then went on to book illustrations and magazine cover designs. His posters have a directness and simplicity that bring them an immediate attention. For CIGARETTES JOB, Rassenfosse uses more color, and for some reason, he has chosen a Spanish motif; it was probably easier, in 1910, to imagine a ‘gypsy’ woman smoking a cigarette than having a more genteel girl indulge in such unladylike behavior. According to Weber, women who smoked ‘belonged to the lower orders of to criminal classes… By the 1890s one begins to hear of respectable women smoking, but they were either eccentrics or feminists’” (Wine Spectator, 102).

471. Erry & Merry. 1912.
471. Erry & Merry. 1912.
Artist: Walter Schnackenberg (1880-1961)
37 1/8 x 49 3/4 in./94.3 x 126.3 cm
Est: $25,000-$30,000

In the period leading up to World War I, Berliners danced as fast and as hard as they could. Hotel ballrooms were grand places to fox-trot the night away and dance teams were very much in demand as nightclub performers. Despite the memorable name of this twosome (who Schnackenberg smartly depicts in brown rather than the usual black), no information about them survives. The design bears a strong resemblance to the artist’s Odeon Casino (see PAI-LXX, 626) and this work, created in the same year, very well may have been a brilliant study for the more styled, decadent poster yet to come.

480. Chat Noir / Prochainement. 1896.
480. Chat Noir / Prochainement. 1896.
Artist: Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923)
14 3/4 x 23 5/8 in./37.5 x 60 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

The text here promotes the opening tour of the Chat Noir’s resident performers, boasting a “highly illustrious troupe” presenting shadow plays, poetry readings, and songs. Incredibly popular when first unveiled to the public, the basic image was worked into a number of different formats and text arrangements. This represents the initial printing of the “Prochainement” poster; later, after Rodolphe Salis fell ill and was unable to perform with the company, the “avec” preceding his name was replaced with “de,” both as a tip-on and in a new edition of the poster. This is the smaller format.

515. Le Frou-Frou. 1900.
515. Le Frou-Frou. 1900.
Artist: Weiluc (Lucien-Henri Weil, 1873-1947)
45 x 62 1/4 in./114.3 x 158 cm
Est: $25,000-$30,000

One of the greatest, most alluring posters in the world: those sly cat eyes, those sumptuous cushions, that seductive plume of cigarette smoke, and most breathtaking: the white negative space of the petticoats, on which to dream. Le Frou-Frou was a lighthearted satirical publication that ran from 1900 to the beginning of World War I; its pages contained pictures of can-can dancers, cartoons, humorous anecdotes of Parisian life, and more risqué elements like some of the first advertisements for condoms. This is the rare, large format version of the poster.

This is just the beginning…
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Sunday, October 27 at 11am EDT
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