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Paul Colin (1892-1986) was the right artist in the right place at the right time—his background in painting and his immersion in theatre propelled him to be one of the most important French posterists of the 1920s and 1930s. He compels attention through a use of movement, Cubist angularity, a spare color palette, and an inept ability to harken the energy and personality of his subject—all with the sharpness and wit of the Art Deco movement.
Our 83rd auction presents 8 compelling works by this influential Parisian posterist.
In 1930, Josephine Baker opened a new show at the Casino de Paris entitled Paris qui Remue. That July, Columbia Records released a recording of the production. The poster shows Baker in transition—the exotically posed dancers of her Revue Nègre days are mere sketches in the background, while a more sophisticated, Western version of the star coyly pushes itself forward.
Well, that’s one way to play a record. Grock (Adrien Wettach, 1880-1959), was known as “the king of clowns.” At one time he was the highest-paid performer in the world. Here, he plays his latest album on the Odéon label (and, presumably, the crowd) like a fiddle. This is the smaller format of the poster.
In 1926, when John Colton’s stage play The Shanghai Gesture opened on Broadway, it created a major furor, as it was all about an establishment of shady reputation in Shanghai run by a tough expatriate hustler called Mother Goddamn. Some adjustments had to be made; the tamer version later became a movie directed by Josef von Sternberg. This poster is for the French adaptation of the play by Charles Méré. Evidently, at least some of the original raw material survived, as Colin’s design shows an innocent nude chained at the wrists—not exactly a wholesome image. Marnac (1886-1976) was a celebrated actress who performed on stage for more than half a century. This is the smaller format version.
This lighthearted and playful image shows two figures dancing, but the emphasis is placed on their movement: saturated blue pastel forms an aura of shimmying exultation.
The Bal Tabarin opened its doors in 1904, and became home to the cancan, then later the Charleston, and then whatever the latest dance craze was. From the outside it looked like the entrance to a tomb, but inside it was hot and, as the magazine Candide put it: “The star of the Tabarin, that’s woman” (March 4, 1937). Colin expresses this idea graphically with one of his favorite techniques, a multiple exposure of three women doing the cancan, the Charleston, and a ballroom dance. This is the smaller format.
Although best known for her provocatively dressed performances, Colin presents Yvonne Guillet in both a simple, contemporary sheath as well as a frilly theatrical ensemble in this two-toned poster.
For an aviation themed event at the Olympia, Colin embraces a minimalist approach: against the endless blue sky, a parachute languidly glides while a couple in evening attire soar off in a sort of aerial dance. It’s a succinct and engaging design from the master of Art Deco.
“Serge Lifar, born in Kiev in 1905, became the last of Diaghilev’s discoveries. Only a teenager when he joined the Diaghilev troupe, within two years he was made premier danseur (1925), a post he held until Diaghilev’s death and the dissolution of the company in 1929. He began his choreographic career with his mentor and, with his appointment to the Opéra in Paris in 1930, he launched himself as a prolific creator of ballets, many of them starring vehicles for his own artistry. Surely this is one of the finest posters ever created for a dancer and even among the many superb dance posters produced by Colin… it has to rank at or near the top… [T]he effective use of his two favorite colors, red and black, the strong central image, the movement of the dancer by imposition of the form over the face, the use of light and shadow, the typography—everything works together, and well” (Colin, p. 10). Rare!