Masterpiece Posters
Extravagant lithographs throughout the decades.

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 June 23 auction presents a large number of masterpieces—Art Nouveau, Art Deco, ornate, minimal, revolutionary, introspective, and jubilant—and they’re all exquisite.

194. Chocolat Menier.
Artist: Firmin Bouisset (1859-1925)
23 3/8 x 31 1/8 in./59.5 x 79.2 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

When it was founded in 1816, the Menier Company sold and manufactured a variety of pharmaceutical products, chocolate being one of them. It wasn’t until 1830 that their chocolate went beyond coating bitter pills and perking up powders, and was sold as an individual bar, wrapped in the same sunshine yellow of this poster’s background. Their chocolate bar became so popular that by the middle of the century focus had shifted entirely to its production. As the company expanded, they commissioned Bouisset to design this, and many subsequent posters—it became one of the most instantly-recognizable advertisements, taking on a variety of forms over the years, yet always utilizing a little girl scrawling the company name with a piece of chocolate on a wall. This is a rare version with Arabic text and a letter adhered to the wall at left.

230. Pèl & Ploma / Setmanari. 1899.
Artist: Ramon Casas (1866-1932)
35 1/8 x 25 1/8 in./89.2 x 64 cm
Est: $15,000-$20,000

As art director for the Catalan graphics weekly, Pèl & Ploma, Casas took the task upon himself to create several promotional works to further the lithographic cause. He succeeds in spectacular fashion with this poster featuring the charms of a languid artiste, decoratively laid out whilst perusing this week’s edition. Casas was one of Spain’s premiere posterists around the turn of the century—an extraordinarily sensitive artist who always portrayed his women with delicacy. With Alexandre de Riquer, close friend Miguel Utrillo, and Pere Romeu, they virtually set the standards for Spanish poster art for a whole generation of designers. Like Utrillo and Romeu, Casas honed his art during an apprenticeship in Paris and applied it well on his return to native Barcelona.

245. Musée Grévin / Fantoches de John Hewelt. 1900.
Artist: Jules Chéret (1836-1932)
34 1/2 x 48 3/4 in./87.7 x 123.7 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

This is the exception that proves the rule: a poster with letters that’s far more rare than without letters! Many copies of Fantoches de John Hewelt have survived without any imprint, but few remain with the subsequent advertising text on them. The text in this version is for a puppet show extravaganza staged at the theater of the Musée Grevin. The same design was also used to announce a “Fête des Artistes.” The poster shines with Chéret’s fine sense of composition and his great lithographic skill.

249. Ballets Russes de Diaghilew. 1939.
Artist: Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)
32 1/4 x 59 3/4 in./82 x 152 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

Originally used in 1911 to promote performances at either the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo or the Théâtre Chatelet (see PAI-LXX, 305), this design featuring the dancer Tamara Karsavina advertises an exhibition of the Ballet Russes in Paris.

321. Normandie. ca. 1934.
Artist: Hubert Herkomer (1881-?)
24 3/4 x 39 1/4 in./63 x 101 cm
Est: $20,000-$30,000

This nighttime image of the Normandie offers a very different experience from Cassandre’s poster of the same title—here, she quietly glides away from the glimmer of New York City. With six decks of cabin lights reflecting in the water, there is an element of romance combined with the usual magnificence of the ship. After the Cunard Line’s Queen Mary beat the Normandie’s speed records in August of 1938, French Line began promoting her as “the world’s most perfect ship” rather than the fastest. Such a description could not be better expressed than in this image—and this version has exceedingly fresh colors!

342. Absinthe Robette. 1896.
Artist: Privat Livemont (1861-1936)
31 3/8 x 43 3/4 in./79.8 x 108.7 cm
Est: $12,000-$15,000

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.

353. Sandeman / Porto & Sherry. 1928.
Artist: George Massiot
46 5/8 x 63 in./118.4 x 160 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

Known as “The Don,” the shadowy icon of the Sandeman port & sherry company is one of the most recognizable figures in poster history. He is typically thought of as a Portuguese horseman, quietly reveling in the simple delights of a glass of ruby port. While there have been many reissues of the image, this is the original from 1928.

354. Brixia / Parfumerie de Luxe. ca. 1924.
Artist: Luciano Achille Mauzan (1883-1952)
39 1/4 x 55 in./99.7 x 139.7 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

This lovely design by Mauzan presents the fresh, floral aroma of Brixia’s deluxe perfume as the central focus. Our lady-of-the-orchids contrasts vibrantly with the black background (surely, a nod to Cappiello), and one can easily imagine the wafting of spring blossoms through the air. Rare!

361. Mele. 1908.
Artist: Aldo Mazza (1880-1964)
57 1/8 x 80 in./145.2 x 203 cm
Est: $17,000-$20,000

Like something out of My Fair Lady, a posh pair glide by in their afternoon finery. Taking a quick glance over her shoulder, the woman contentedly notes that she is the envy of everyone they pass. This two-sheet poster is the finest specimen we’ve ever seen!

428. Folies-Bergère / La Loïe Fuller. 1897.
Artist: Pal (Jean De Paléologue, 1860-1942)
36 3/8 x 51 in./92.4 x 129.7 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

Pal created a total of five posters for Fuller’s appearances at the Folies-Bergère. Here, the billowing folds of her diaphanous dress are rendered in flaming orange, adding considerably to the light-and-motion image with which we are presented.

428. Salon des Cent. 1897.
Artist: Louis J. Rhead (1858-1926)
19 3/8 x 25 5/8 in./49.2 x 65.2 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

This is Rhead’s announcement for his Paris exhibition which preceded Mucha’s at the famed showplace. It consisted of 60 maquettes, all of which are listed in the April 15, 1897 issue of La Plume. The design is one of Rhead’s best, showing the artistic muse in contemporary dress with a triumphant wreath of laurel in her hair. The handsome scheme of three colors is carried out in the daubs on her palette. A critic writing in the issue of La Plume a month later had high praise for Rhead’s restrained color play: “Nothing is more powerful in achieving a variety of effect than limitation of means. See how often this economy and methodic restraint create, as a result, the development of nuances. Rhead has banished half-tones, and by juxtaposing a blue with other colors, he has created a whole chromatic range. In the panel, for example, you seem to see greens, blues and violets; you notice their freshness and . . . you’re continually astonished to discover that there is one and only one color!” (Salon des Cent, p. 61). Not only is this the extremely rare version of the poster before letters, but it is one of 50 copies hand-signed and dedicated by the artist.

450. Lait pur Stérilisé. 1896.
Artist: Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923)
37 1/4 x 53 3/8 in./96 x 135.6 cm
Est: $10,000-$12,000

All the warmth, humanity, and affection for which Steinlen is so loved comes through gloriously in this poster for the newly-marketed “lait stérilisé” that was touted over the “lait ordinaire” at that time. Charles Knowles Bolton, writing a year after its publication, proclaimed that this “is perhaps the most attractive poster ever made. No man with half a heart could fail to fall in love with the child.” Louis Rhead himself commented: “When I saw it in Paris last year… it seemed to me the best and brightest form of advertising that had appeared.” This is the medium format version.

453. Felixstowe.
Artist: W. R. S. Stotto
49 3/4 x 39 5/8 in./126.5 x 100.7 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

British artists showed unflagging inventiveness in depicting beach scenes, perhaps because the season is so short. Here, we have a puppet theater being enjoyed by a group of children, with a few adults observing, against verdant slopes of the popular family resort and busy ferry port town on the North Sea. Published by LNER.

483. Guinguette Fleurie. 1901.
Artist: Jacques Villon (1875-1963)
35 5/8 x 51 7/8 in./90.6 x 131 cm
Est: $40,000-$50,000

Villon’s celebrated design promotes Guinguette Fleurie—noted below as “The Flower of the Singer-Poets”—at the Manège Central, a Montmartre music hall that was formerly a riding school. Villon was an important figure in the history of Modern art and a quintessential figure in the bohemian scene of Fin-de-Siècle Paris. A Cubist painter, illustrator and filmmaker, he created only six posters—all graced by his superb drawing skills and observation of character. We fancy that the small bearded figure in the distant background of this poster is a self-caricature.

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