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Masterpieces
Designs that stand the test of time.

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

131. Cycles Gladiator. ca. 1895.
Artist: Anonymous
53 1/2 x 38 1/2 in./136 x 97.8 cm
Est: $25,000-$30,000

Acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest posters, this image of a flame-tressed sylph, propelled among the stars by the Gladiator and its winged pedals, has been appropriated throughout culture ever since its debut in 1895. Shockingly, it remains anonymous, despite the presence of the faint initials L.W. in the lower right corner.

184. Clair de Lune / Michelin. 1921.
Artist: Albert Philibert (?-1945)
19 1/8 x 29 1/2 in./48.6 x 75 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

In the 1920s, automobiles were still too unreliable to undertake spontaneous road trips or long adventures. But in Philibert’s design, a carefree Bibendum enjoys a starlit drive with his trademark cigar alit. He turns to us with a gesture that insinuates the safety and joy of cruising with Michelin equipment. Strikingly, a Bibendum twin sits behind the wheel—a rare duplicity in the company’s long history of posters. And this design, too, is rare!

235. France-Champagne. 1891.
Artist: Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
23 x 31 in./58.5 x 78.8 cm
Est: $20,000-$25,000

“Bonnard was just 24 when he made his first foray into lithography and poster design, but his initial effort, France-Champagne, was a stunning success. The great poster connoisseur, Maindron, immediately called it ‘one of the most interesting works to be seen on the walls of Paris.’ It created a marked contrast to Chéret’s colorful fairyland: it was sparse and subtle, making the most of a few strokes of black against a muted yellow and pink background, with ingenious composition and fluid lettering. Some saw in it the first major advance in the art of poster-size prints since the work of Daumier a generation earlier” (Wine Spectator, 57). Jane Abdy adds the interesting note: “He received a hundred francs for this ebullient design, in which the froth of the champagne foams like a bubble bath. Toulouse-Lautrec so admired it in the hoardings that he sought an introduction to Bonnard, and the two artists were intrigued by each other’s talents. Bonnard took Toulouse-Lautrec to Ancourt, his printers” (Abdy, p. 90).

295. Étoile du Nord. 1927.
Artist: A. M. Cassandre (Adolphe Mouron, 1901-1968)
29 3⁄4 x 41 1⁄2 in./75.5 x 105.5 cm
Est: $17,000-$20,000.

The North Star was the name of a Paris-to-Amsterdam express; Cassandre gave it glamour by catching the purely sensual enjoyment of rail travel: the rhythm of the wheels, the fascination of the endless perspectives of converging tracks, and the North Star itself. A truly mesmerizing achievement.

331. Bal des Étudiants / Alhambra–8 Janvier 1927.
Artist: Jean Dupas (1882-1964)
51 x 77 5/8 in./129.7 x 197 cm
Est: $40,000-$50,000

There’s nothing that uncommon about seeing commedia dell’arte characters or extravagant court stereotypes in advertisements for student balls. In fact, we’ve seen these elements time and time again in virtually all of our auctions. What is astonishingly rare, however, is to find an uncommon Art Deco masterpiece created by one of that genre’s virtuosos that employs such exquisite artistry to promote a rather standard event. It transforms every on-poster persona—from courtesan to clown to capitano—into a vibrant objet d’art, a blanched member of a tableau vivant representing merrymaking at its most sophisticated. In all of his poster-related work, Dupas presents highly stylized, very fashionable people from the very fringes of our imagination, occupants of the realm that exists in the split second before true wakefulness alchemizes into peaceful slumber with gorgeous quasi-humans with Modigliani necks in idealized and extravagant settings. His women are statuesque in a nearly literal sense. And to the contemporary eye, they appear, in fact, as monuments to a natural extension of a time and place when all was glitter and sophistication, like so many head-turning mannequins in the chic 1920 window of our psyche.

374. Marco Polo Tee. 1926.
Artist: Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949)
29 3/4 x 43 3/8 in./75.4 x 110 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

Over the course of his career, Hohlwein would produce numerous designs for Marco Polo tea, all presenting the Orient with jewel-toned, dignified exoticism. In this particularly rare image, the product appears almost secondary. Instead, the visage of the Other stares out at the viewer, as if pondering whether or not we are good enough for the product and not the other way around. A defiant and bold artistic choice.

380. Flight / Daily Herald. 1918.
Artist: E. McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954)
15 1/4 x 30 in./38.8 x 76.2 cm
Est: $30,000-$40,000

Flight is considered to be Kauffer’s most significant work. It is also his chief contribution to the Vorticist movement, marks the first issue of the Daily Herald, and represents the hopes and ambitions in the postwar “Reconstruction” period. The first version of this design appeared in Colour magazine in 1917, where it accompanied a call for design submissions. In 1918, Kauffer adapted the design for a poster that was sold to an advertiser for 50 dollars, who then resold the poster to Francis Meynell, who organized the Daily Herald’s campaign launch. He captioned this poster “Soaring to Success, the Early Bird,” and called it “a flight of birds that might almost be a flight of aeroplanes; a symbol, in those days of hope, of the unity of useful invention and natural things” (Kauffer, p. 18). As Kauffer stated in 1950: “The design Flight was not invented in a studio. It came after much observation of birds in flight… Birds in flight and aeroplane formations are singularly alike. The arrowhead thrust is the dominant motif. But wings have a contrary movement—so this too has to be considered…” (Kauffer, p. 17). The success of this poster is, in part, due to his astute observance of nature—but it’s also admired for its innovative composition and form. The much larger three-sheet poster is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; this smaller version is in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and was donated by Mrs. Edward McKnight Kauffer.

383. Trouville. 1927.
Artist: Maurice Lauro (1878-?)
29 1/2 x 41 in./75 x 104.2 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

One of the finest travel posters ever created—Lauro’s Art Deco masterpiece perfects a vision of Trouville’s boardwalk as the place to see and be seen in the 1920s. With the famed Casino in the background, every detail here is perfect: from the beauty mark on the foremost flapper’s cheek, to the exaggerated hat-doffing of the gentleman, to the whiplash of two college lads, one éminence grise, and a German Shepherd—even to the au courant stylings of the women’s footwear. All things contribute to the chic, dynamic, head-turning ambiance of France’s first resort town, a favorite of Monet, Flaubert, Proust, and Duras—now thoroughly fashioned as a place for the Great Gatsby to make an appearance. The artist, Lauro, is also known for his Le Rire caricatures and film posters.

390. Plantol. 1919.
Artist: Charles Loupot (1892-1962)
35 1/4 x 50 1/2 in./89.5 x 128.5 cm
Est: $12,000-$15,000

Loupot loved to design posters for soap, and this image is one of his first forays into that particular subject of advertising. “This is an opportunity for him to indulge in a singular decorative composition, with this woman at the toilet and her astonishing expression of wide-eyed surprise, the upper body naked and the bottom dressed in a puffy tulle dress with volatile frills like soap suds, which extend as long as necessary to house the lettering. In a formula that Loupot often retained at the time, the figured part of the image is reserved for the upper third of the available surface” (Loupot/Forney, p. 58).

402. Il Mattino. 1896.
Artist: Giovanni Mataloni (1869-1944)
45 1/2 x 65 5/8 in./115.5 x 166.7 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

This sensuous, unencumbered design is perhaps one of the most provocative newspaper promotions ever created. A larger-than-life nude basks by the seaside, her head reclining into the trees, her pose orgiastic, the earth beneath her fertile. The sun, anthropomorphized, gazes upon her either with longing or wonder. Is she Eve, relishing in sin? Or is she Gaea, giving birth to all the landscapes and creatures of Earth? We may never know, but Mataloni’s two-sheet design for the daily newspaper Il Mattino is a remarkable example of Italian Art Nouveau tinged with Jugendstil—and an artist’s visision of unbridled dynamism. Rare!!

470. L'Estampe et l’Affiche. 1898.
Artist: Jean M. Peske (1870-1949)
51 1/4 x 36 in./130.2 x 91.4 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

L’Estampe et l’Affiche was probably the most influential publication in the field of color lithography in France at the turn of the century and, under the editorship of André Mellerio, it did much to encourage poster art in the brief period of its existence. In an article in the magazine announcing the publication of this poster, the critic Crauzat is full of praise for it, indicating that its clear tones and design show the artist to be a master of decorative effect. As far away as London, The Poster magazine also lauded the work: “On the green summit of a cliff, two women—one lying down and the other sitting—giving a back view of themselves, look far away into the dying perspective of the ocean. Their dresses, respectively red and blue, give two beautiful contrasting notes to the ambient tonalities. Mountains encircle the bay, the calmness of which is disturbed only by the modulated swing of a smack. The colours are cleverly harmonised, and the light line of water produces a very good effect” (June 1898, p. 28). This is the rare version with complete text.

482. Deutsches Theater.
Artist: Walter Schnackenberg (1880-1961)
35 1/2 x 47 3/4 in./90 x 121.5 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

There is a delicacy of expression on the faces of both the viewer and the dancer that elevates this extraordinary design far beyond the standard theatrical poster. This gifted German artist could be one of the poster collector’s favorites, if only there were some more posters of his to collect. He did only a few, and all of those, printed in very small quantities, are so rare that most poster enthusiasts never come across them. A cultured, sophisticated painter, Schnackenberg did most of his poster work for acquaintances in Munich theatrical circles. His designs are a quaint amalgam of caricature and fantasy which he himself called “suggestive dreams.” With an unerring instinct for color, and an exquisitely refined taste of subtle irony, he created a body of work that is uniquely individualistic—small but choice.

490. Chat Noir / Prochainement. 1896.
Artist: Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923)
15 x 23 7/8 in./38.2 x 60.6 cm
Est: $6,000-$7,000

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.

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