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Who is she? Muses, models, and starlets in posters.

Who Is She? Muses, Models, And Starlets In Posters.

One of the joys of art is seeing how the artist or designer reinterprets the subject matter to create a unique vision. In posters—whether they promote a performer or employ a model for other purposes—we are always fascinated by the contrast between the photographic document and the interpretive design. Below, we take a dive into the inspiration points behind various posters in our 82nd Rare Posters Auction.

262. Pennsylvania Railroad / Atlantic City. ca. 1935.
Poster by Edward M. Eggleston (1887-1941)
24 3/4 x 39 3/4 in./63 x 101.2 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000
Photograph: Anonymous, 1937.

The black and white photograph shows Eggleston working on his design for the 1937 Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, which became one of his most famous posters. The model is Edith Backus, who was just 19 years old at the time. In 1941, she married Chrysler vice president Jack Chrysler and moved into his 71 East 71st Street in Manhattan—better known as 740 Park, a building with a long legacy of socialite residents. We don’t have proof that Backus is one and the same as the model used two years earlier for the Pennsylvania Railroad poster, but the similarities are striking—as is the bold red swimsuit! In either case, the blonde at the beach provides a compelling bit of eye candy for interested travelers.

236. Folies-Bergère / La Loïe Fuller. 1893.
Poster by Jules Chéret (1836-1932)
34 1/8 x 48 1/2 in./84.2 x 123.2 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000
Photograph: Anonymous, hand-colored nitrate print. 1905.

Using chemical compounds for color gels and chemical salts for luminescent lighting, Loïe Fuller developed a mesmerizing kaleidoscopic aesthetic for her dance performances. As she moved, the lights rhythmically pulsed and shifted colors across her white dress, creating an almost psychedelic experience. As color photography was not widely available until the 1930s, the best way to capture the full scope of her performances was with posters or by hand-coloring the black and white photograph, as seen here. She commissioned many lithographs for her performances; this one from Chéret lives on in infamy. His deft understanding of color lithography allowed him to capture a very realistic rendering of the color transitions she typically used.

344. Folies Bergère / La Loïe Fuller. ca. 1894.
Poster by E. Charle Lucas
38 5/8 x 58 3/4 in./98 x 149 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500
Photograph: Elliott & Fry

In one of the rarest designs promoting Loïe Fuller, Lucas captures the dancer at the moment of anticipation, with her diaphanous fabrics curled against her like oversized robes. In the next instant, she would be leaping and twirling, the sheer gowns revealing her curves, dozens of colored lights creating a psychedelic vision of modernity long before psychedelic drugs became popular. She was considered the perfect blend of human and machine, so much so that many art historians mark the beginning of the Modern period with her first performance. But while Loïe put on a masterful aura, we can see from this photograph that she was quite an ordinary-looking girl—with a highly innovative mind.

272. Mistinguett. 1925.
Poster by Charles Gesmar (1900-1928)
46 1/8 x 63 in./117 x 160 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500
Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection

This wry image of Mistinguett plays on her legendary performance style involving luxurious flirtation with the viewer. It’s also a testament to the seamless collaboration between the showgirl and her costume-designer artist, the young prodigy Charles Gesmar, who designed thousands of costumes and 55 posters for her. He perfectly captures her coy nice-girl smile, the mischievous glint in her eye, and her Jazz Age flapper bravado.

289. Folies Bergère / Lona Barrison. 1896.
Poster by Albert Guillaume (1873-1942)
38 3/4 x 51 3/4 in./98.4 x 131.2 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

The flamboyant Lona Barrison, in an audacious pose, makes for one of the best fin de siècle posters. There were originally five Barrison sisters, Danish by birth. Their parents took them to the U.S. at an early age and developed a vaudeville act in which the five danced and acted with an air of kittenish innocence augmented with a boatload of suggestive flirting and naughty songs. The act went over well and was booked in Europe as an American troupe; in 1894, they appeared at the Berlin Wintergarten and created an unprecedented (and to this day still unsurpassed) sensation, so much so that soon self-appointed moralists rose to condemn their frivolity. Seeing that a scandal was in the offing, Abelone (nicknamed Lona), the eldest—allegedly born in 1871—broke off and developed a solo act with which she toured in the best of music halls and circuses for several years. This is the larger format.

390. Russia Restituenda. 1922.
Poster by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939)
18 1/4 x 31 3/4 in./46.5 x 80.6 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

Mucha famously worked from live models and photographs of them posing in his studio for his lithographs and decorative panels. Often, the models are his inspiration point for his Art Nouveau goddesses; in this case, the unknown model serves as the basis for a much more somber design. Between 1918 and 1921, during the Russian Civil War, it was all against all. Bolsheviks, White Russians, Anarchists, and seceding nationalities had each provisioned their sides by seizing food from those who grew it, giving it to their armies and supporters, and denying it to their enemies. Drought, then severe flooding in the Volga region, made matters worse. As late as 1921, Lenin refused outside aid as interference in Russian internal affairs. Mucha’s 1922 poster, portraying a starving mother and her lifeless child, is adorned with two words: “Russia Restituenda,” i.e. “Restore Russia” (to health). It was part of an international relief effort throughout Europe and the United States once Lenin relented in 1922. “Two wounded doves in the upper corners signify a Slavic nation that would die without aid, and the hearts in the lower corners express hope in human compassion” (Mucha/Art Nouveau, p. 181). The aid, however helpful, was belated; an official Soviet publication concluded that about 5 million deaths occurred in 1921 from famine and related disease.

451. Jane Avril. 1893.
Poster by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
37 1/8 x 51 1/4 in./94.5 x 130.2 cm
Est: $60,000-$70,000
Photograph by Paul Sescau, 1890

Toulouse-Lautrec adored the stars of Parisian nightlife, but Jane Avril ranked among his favorites. He created many designs featuring her, but this poster is “Universally considered his most brilliant and successful design” (Wagner, p. 22), Toulouse-Lautrec shows “Jane Avril on stage doing her specialty, which, according to contemporaries, was essentially a cancan that she made exotic by making a pretense of prudery—the ‘depraved virgin’ image aimed at arousing the prurience in the predominantly male audience. The sexual innuendo was captured by the artist by contrasting the dancer’s slender legs with the robust, phallic neck of the bass viol in the foreground—a masterly stroke that not only heightens our perception but also creates an unusual perspective: we see the performer as an orchestra member would, and this allows Toulouse-Lautrec to show, as if inadvertently, how tired and somewhat downcast she looks close-up, not at all in keeping with the gaiety of the dance that is perceived by the audience. It is clear, as Maindron has pointed out, that she is dancing entirely for the viewer’s pleasure, not hers, which makes it a highly poignant image. Seemingly without trying, Toulouse-Lautrec not only creates a great poster but makes a personal statement: Only a person who really cares about his subject as a human being would portray her with such startling candor” (Wine Spectator, 41).

460B. May Milton. 1895.
Poster by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
10 3/4 x 14 1/4 in./27.5 x 36.3 cm
Est: $10,000-$12,000

Parisian actress Marcelle Lender had been appearing in a series of comic operas, principally at the Théâtre des Variétés, since 1889. Utterly enamored with the performer, Lautrec did many drawings of her in a variety of her roles. Here, she is depicted in Chilpéric, an operetta-revue that was revived in 1895. “The main attraction in Chilpéric was the bolero, danced by Marcelle Lender as the Galaswintha at the court of King Chilpéric. It was not so much the flimsy plot of this medieval farce as the actress… who led Lautrec to sit through the operetta nearly twenty times. Always watching from the same angle, from one of the first tiers on the left, he would lie in wait with his sketch pad” (Adriani, p. 157). Lautrec’s attentions were well repaid. His half-length portrait of Lender in her fantastic Spanish costume, bowing to the audience applause, is considered a lithographic masterpiece. “No other lithograph is printed with such a wealth of subtle color combinations, and none embodies, as this does, the opulent decoration of an age moving towards its close” (Adriani, p. 161). This is the Pan edition, in extremely mint condition.

27. I Want You for U.S. Army. 1917.
Poster by James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
29 3/4 x 40 1/4 in./75.7 x 102.3 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

Flagg was already a successful and prolific illustrator by the time World War I started, and this poster became his greatest public triumph. For whatever reason, arranging for a model was too troublesome, so Flagg used himself as Uncle Sam—although he had to add some wrinkles, a goatee, and grey hair. It’s a wonderful example of unbridled creativity.

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