Jack Rennert, President of Poster Auctions International, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on poster art. He’s authored works on Cappiello, Mucha, Colin, and many more; posters from his own vast personal collection have been loaned for many major museum exhibitions: from the Smithsonian to the Bilbao Guggenheim, and from the Matsuzakaya Museum in Tokyo to the Musée de Publicité in Paris. On the eve of his 70th poster auction, Jack agreed to give us a guided tour around the gallery’s star attractions. Direct links to all lots are in the text.
David Schneider: So we’re here with Jack Rennert, on the occasion of his 70thposter auction, and we’re wondering what’s special about this one? What’s really exciting to see?
Jack Rennert: One of the great things we’ve got going on in this auction is our Art Nouveau section. And when you talk about Art Nouveau, you’ve got to talk about Toulouse-Lautrec. And we have here some of the greatest works of the master Toulouse-Lautrec. We have an extremely fine specimen of the Moulin Rouge –
DS: How often do you see one of these come around for auction?
It’s rare, but what’s especially rare is to find it in such good condition. This is the 1891 poster, his very first poster, his very first attempt at lithography, and he he just sort of revolutionized poster art in one fell swoop. So I’m very pleased, I’m very proud, to have this Toulouse-Lautrec as the star of our Lautrec section if not the entire auction.
Every now and again when it comes to Toulouse-Lautrec, he’s important enough for us that we have some non-poster items. For instance we have here this famous Napoleon, one of 100 copies hand-signed by Toulouse-Lautrec, in gorgeous condition.
We’re very pleased to have that in the sale as well. We have the L’Artisan Moderne, also rare, not so much the image, but to see it before letters is extremely rare. And we have on top, here, the Aristide Bruant, one of the smaller posters that Lautrec did, but as far as we know, it’s the only copy in the world without any lettering, and we know very well from the provenance that it comes from Lautrec’s own private collection. And this is a lithograph for a menu that Toulouse-Lautrec did, for a very debauched dinner party, and we don’t know more than two or three copies that exist. In fact, we only thought there was one copy, and that’s in the Chicago Art Institute, but in fact we know there are two copies. So Toulouse-Lautrec is definitely the star of our show.
Coming in second would be the great Alphonse Mucha, Art Nouveau and Mucha are synonymous, he really created the market for it, with his beautiful women, they’re all sort of on pedestals with halos around them… Of course he did not only posters, but also what the French call panels d’decoratifs (Nos. 475-477), which were simply meant to help enhance light in the home. He truly felt that if beauty entered your home, it would make you a better person. That was his philosophy, and in a way the philosophy of Art Nouveau – the need for all of the embellishments, and the floral motifs that you see.
We also have some of his most famous posters. I love the Medée, which I think is the most posterish poster that Mucha’s ever done, forceful, compelling, dramatic… And yet you do have the halo around her, she’s not quite on the pedestal –
DS: Well she’s protected by the gods!
JR: Ha! So yes, a tragic scene, but given Art Nouveau flourishes. And here we have Gismonda. It is this poster that really established Mucha and began his whole career and relationship with Sarah Bernhardt. And interestingly, we have both the original French edition and then the edition that she used in 1896 when the following year she comes on one of her many farewell tours of the United States, and she brings the design of Mucha and has our #1 printer in the United States, Strobridge in Cincinnati, print this for her. So we have both. In fact, the American one has become even rarer than the original French one.
Also rounding out the Art Nouveau, of course, is this incredible billboard by Steinlen. It’s called “La Rue,” and it’s a poster advertising the workmanship, the craftsmanship, of Charles Verneau, who was the printer of almost all the posters of Steinlen. And it’s a six-sheet billboard – and it’s almost difficult for us to understand – why the heck would you do such a billboard? You’re not going to put it in the streets of Paris, because a pedestrian in Paris is not a customer for this printing plant. So it must have been placed in a special spots, maybe occasions, maybe fairs, exhibitions, just to show the ability, the workmanship, of Charles Verneau.
DS: It’s really interesting. It basically becomes a mirror to any street scene.
JR: You’ve got every class coming together. You have the rich burgher there, you have the lady with the wash, you’ve got the daughter in the middle, you’ve got every walk of life, very compressed, almost as if they were on the subway station!
It’s very, very rare to be able to see it, and to be able to see it in such a fantastic condition. I’ve never seen one quite this special.
We have two great Bugatti posters, by René Vincent, here, and the one that’s on the cover of our book, the Soubie poster, and that is super-rare. You see lots of reproductions, but this is the original – I’ve frankly never seen this before. And I’ve been looking at posters for 50 years now, I’ve never seen this anywhere. And even in the Bugatti book indicates it has to reprint a reproduction, they couldn’t find this original. And more importantly: it’s spectacular.
We have a couple choice works of Cassandre – a very bold treatment of the Statendam, and of course with Cassandre the important thing was not the destination but the romance of travel itself. We don’t see anywhere the Statendam is going to take you, we just have the excitement of wanting to be on that ship, and then we have a very different treatment here, with the Cycles Brillant. This is Art Deco at its best, and it’s one of the rarest posters of Cassandre.
Becoming very rare is this Cannes Film Festival of 1946 by Colin. It was right after the war, and this was one of the first celebrations of creativity to come after the destruction.
DS: And there’s also the spectrum here, referencing the emergence of color film.
JR: Yes, absolutely.
We have, as you can see, some fine works of another Art Deco artist, who was for a time a partner or associate of Cassandre, and that’s Charles Loupot. His Philippossian poster, very hard to get and we’re very pleased to have it. done for an Egyptian cigarette manufacturer, is really spectacular, plus Durable and PKZ. Again, three classics of Loupot.
We also have the largest collection – almost 50 items – of Edward Penfield. He was America’s premier posterist. We have the largest collection we’ve ever had of Penfield, nearly 40 of his celebrated work for Harper’s, and it’s really great to see the output.
DS: What’s behind your interest in Penfield?
JR: Well I just don’t think he’s gotten quite the recognition that he should. One of the reasons why I’m working on a book, which will be a Catalogue Raisonné – not only his posters but all his graphic works, he did a lot of books, advertisements that appeared in magazines, and magazine covers, and we have some here. And I hope that the book will contribute to him gaining a little bit more recognition for his work.
DS: What’s the most unusual find you’ve acquired for this auction?
JR: Well, that Mele is quite remarkable. This does not appear anywhere. Not in any book on the art of Mele Department Stores, of which there are a few. So to see something for the first time, for this department store that championed poster artists in Italy, was a very special thing. It’s the only one in which we actually see the entrance of the store.
But for special items, this maquette – it’s a mixed-media maquette for a Soviet film, and this was the copy that was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art when they did their Stenberg exhibition, and this is the copy which is also in the Russian Film Posters book, so it’s been widely seen, and it’s a unique work. We think people will really appreciate it.
DS: Thank you very much for your time, Jack!
PAI’s RARE POSTERS LXX Auction will commence at 11am EDT, October 30, 2016.