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Black Images
41 posters featuring people of color.

From pejorative imagery to admired stars, this collection provides valuable insight into the evolution of black imagery in advertising. Though much of it is fraught with astonishing racism, we consider these images to be important historical documents and reminders of the work yet to be done. We thank Keith Williams for providing most of this collection to us; he fastidiously amassed black images regardless of political correctness, thereby forming a comprehensive perspective of this subject.

3. The Yashmak. ca. 1897.
Artist: John Hassall (1868-1948)
20 x 29 7/8 in./51 x 75.8 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

It appears as if this societal beauty is about to begin a trip that will lead her down the opium-infused primrose path to hell. A Story of the East was a theatre play also known as The Yashmak—the name for the veil worn by Muslim women to hide all but their eyes. The play was first produced at the original Shaftesbury Theatre in London in 1897 for a run of 121 performances.

5. Aux Ambassadeurs / La Revue en Fêtes. 1898.
Artist: Adolph L. Willette (1857-1926)
15 1/4 x 23 1/4 in./38.8 x 59 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

“The rise of cabarets and the music-hall in Belle Epoque Montmartre made it possible to popularize mixed couple dancers: the 1900 woman, whimsical and free of her body, happily slums with the Negro in the style of minstrel’s shows. Adolphe Willette, caricaturist of Courrier Français and L’Assiette au Beurre, designed the costumes for the music hall show. There was the character of Mr. Brown who was simultaneously a Negro deputy, brother chauffeur, secretary of the theater, and soldier of the regiment. The revue allowed comments on political events: the anti-Semitic refrain ‘down with the Jews, down with the Jews’ punctuated the numbers” (Negripub, p. 182).

6. Durban Oil & Soap.
Artist: Pal (Jean De Paléologue, 1860-1942)
43 3/4 x 61 1/2 in./111.2 x 156.2 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

It’s an astonishing image to behold from our contemporary viewpoint—and perhaps even more beguiling is the proliferation of this imagery in early advertising. Many posterists depicted black people washing away their pigment in an advertising ploy to prove the power of cleaning products, and Pal is no exception to the rule with his poster for the Durban soap and oil line, complete with an inset of the company factory in Jacobs-Durban. Also note that the credit is given to Louis Charbonnier—a posterist of some merit himself—for executing this Pal design on lithographic stone. Rare!

9. Nouveau Cirque / Le Cake-Walk. 1903.
Artist: Maurice Mahut (1879-1929)
50 5/8 x 36 3/4 in./128.6 x 93.2 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

The cakewalk, originally intended to parody the high-class pretensions of slave owners, developed into a dance practice of its own right as the “cakewalk dance craze” swept America from 1890 to 1910. Massive contests were held in which black couples danced vigorous high-step moves to upbeat music—a foreshadowing of 1920s jazz dancing. Soon, white couples were eager to join in, and then the craze landed in Paris with the arrival of “cakewalk champions” Mr. and Mrs. Elks. They performed at the Nouveau Cirque in a review called “Les Joyeux Nègres” (The Joyous Negroes) alongside other performers, including the two children depicted here, Rudy and Fred Walker. It was a huge hit: French filmmaker Louis Lumière produced a short film on the aforementioned dancers, all of whom went on to spread the cakewalk craze in Paris and other European cities.

10. Bougie Oléo / Huile Auto D. ca. 1910.
Artist: Raoul Vion
47 1/8 x 62 5/8 in./119.7 x 159 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

“The assertion of the stereotype seems to be the prerogative of the Oléo brand. Vion refines the grotesque—carnivorous mouth, phosphorescent eyes, triangular head—to play on the humorous register of the head as “black light.” He enhances the visual impact of the treatment with solid colors and enlarges the motif at the expense of the product [a spark plug]. At the beginning of the century, a brand like Oléo could successfully illustrate its name, built in the form of a pejorative onomatopoeia, by the ugly face of the black man to whom mocking expressions were attributed in the satirical newspapers” (Negripub, p. 144).

15. Colored Man is No Slacker. 1918.
Artist: Anonymous
11 3/4 x 15 7/8 in./30 x 40.2 cm
Est: $800-$1,000

“Colored Man is No Slacker”—or rather, he’s no draft-dodger. For this World War One enlistment ad, an African American infantry unit marches with the American flag held aloft as a couple tenderly says goodbye. Patriotism is both literally illustrated and subtly implied with notes of red and white punctuating the flowers around the woman’s blue dress—these are good people who serve their country, the poster intones. In fact, more than 350,000 black men, trained and deployed in segregated units, served in the U.S. military during World War I, and 42,000 of them saw action in Europe. There’s no denying the conflation of American ideals at this time: Americans were encouraged to enlist, to form a strong united front, to fight the evils of Europe together—and yet the troops were segregated, and black men were usually given burdensome non-combat shifts. The Peters Sisters astutely highlighted this oxymoronic ideology in their 1919 poem, “The Slacker:” So when the Victory is won / And the world is at peace / When the shedding of blood is done / And mankind again is free / Uncle Sam, if giving up life / For the deliverance of men / Does not give all, equal rights / Who will be, the slacker then?

22. Bal des Employés de Banque. 1927.
Artist: François Clérice & Victor Clérice (1880-1947)
28 3/4 x 44 1/8 in./73.2 x 112 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

“The Most Chic Party of the Year” was a snazzy affair for bank employees held at the Hotel de la Paix. The Clérice brothers give the event a jazzy announcement, complete with flapper fashion and a full jazz band.

27. Benglia. 1928.
Artist: Paul Colin (1892-1986)
47 x 62 3/4 in./119.5 x 159.4 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

Habib Benglia (1895-1961) was a French actor from Algeria. He made himself famous at the theatre, and played in twenty-five films between 1926 and 1959. In Paris, he was quickly swept up by negrophilia, becoming a sexual icon at the cabarets and in the theatre. At the Folies-Bergère, he accompanied Josephine Baker on stage, wearing a short grass skirt to resemble her. “The year before, Benglia had caused a sensation at the Folies by dancing with a white girl. J. A. Rogers, visiting Paris for the Amsterdam News, reported that this sight—’of a magnificent Senegalese Negro nude, save for a loin cloth, dancing with an equally striking white woman, similarly dressed’—had caused ‘the crackers who are here in great numbers to gnash their teeth with rage… In the dance, the woman sat on his knee and caressed him. It sure made the Mason-Dixon folks mad…'” (Josephine, p. 136). Here, Colin de-sexualizes Benglia by showing only his head above the neck—but he has imbued him with statuesque contours and a determined gaze, reflecting the common attribution that Benglia was like an ancient statue. Rare!

29. Joséphine Baker. 1931.
Artist: Georges B. de Pogédaieff (1897-1971)
43 5/8 x 62 7/8 in./111 x 159.8 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

Pogédaieff proves that sometimes rules are meant to be broken. His decision to place the text only on top of Josephine Baker’s smiling face is unconventional—and striking. Add to that the pop of lime green background and Baker’s dramatic pearls and you’ve got an unforgettable design. Pogédaieff was born in Russia, took up portraiture and book illustration, and later became most well known for his contributions to stage and costume designs for the theatre.

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