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Mele & Italy
15 classic images for fashion, theatre, and travel

The Mele department store was founded in 1875 with the goal of providing smart fashions at affordable prices. To boost their business, they secured the services of Italy’s best lithographic printer: Ricordi. They then enlisted the best posterists of the era to promote their wares, including Dudovich, Villa, Metlicovitz, and even Cappiello, who was an ex-pat in Paris. And just as these artists channeled Italian popular tastes towards the appreciation of Mele’s fashions, they applied this ability to intoxicate the viewer to their other commercial work.

31. Mele & Ci. / Abiti per Uomo. 1899.
By Aleardo Villa (1865-1906)
58 5/8 x 98 1/8 in./149 x 249.7 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

“The advertising of men’s clothes is rather difficult, and therefore the designer had to use all his imaginative skills. Here it is the ‘nocturnal’ effect that attracts, together with the sensation of an exquisitely metropolitan crowd. The chiaroscuro is made essential and almost nonexistent; the evidence of the figures is entrusted to the luminous profiles against the light” (Mele, p. 212). Notice the painterly expressions of rain puddles shimmering in the city lights and Villa’s incorporation of the Mele logo in the street lamps. This is a three-sheet poster—and rare!

34. Mele / Novità per Signora. 1903.
By Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942)
59 1/2 x 80 5/8 in./151 x 204.7 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

One of the main selling points of the Mele department store was that the average woman could obtain high-fashion style for a relatively low dollar figure. Coined “bourgeois realism,” posters like this splendid two-sheet design by Cappiello showcase attainable glamour and elegance without making it seem pedestrian or cheap. Rare!

36. Mele & Ci. / Cappelli Paglie. 1902.
By Franz Laskoff (François Laskowski, 1869-1921)
59 1/2 x 80 5/8 in./151.2 x 204.8 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

Laskoff’s last poster for Mele advertises straw hats. His penchant for caricature is evident in the slightly exaggerated awestruck way in which the man regards the item of his choosing, while the text below emphasizes the value of shopping at the store. It is interesting to note that the only color used in this two-sheet poster is the yellow in the hat, making it the natural center of attention.

38. Fleurs de Mousse. 1898.
By Leopoldo Metlicovitz (1868-1944)
31 x 43 in./78.7 x 109 cm
Est: $3,000-$3,500

In one of the finest works by the prolific Metlicovitz, a French perfume is advertised with a nude sylph in a reverent pose, enraptured with the fragrance from a small vial which “is so potent that the artist imagines it attracts even butterflies” (Gold, p. 7).

39. Iris. 1898.
By Adolfo Hohenstein (1854-1928)
37 3/8 x 108 3/4 in./94.8 x 275.6 cm
Est: $3,500-$4,000

The Mascagni opera “Iris” takes place in Japan. Iris—the daughter of a blind man—is desired by two suitors, Osaka and Kyoto. Hohenstein depicts a scene at the end of the first act: Osaka, the wealthy man, arrives to court Iris by singing her a ballad. She listens, enraptured, and is covered with veils by three geisha fairies representing Beauty, Death, and the Vampire as seen here in the upper right corner. Under the cover of these veils, she is abducted by Osaka, who sets her up in a house of illicit pleasures, resulting in much drama and tragedy that ends with Iris throwing herself down a shaft and ultimately dying in a dreamlike, flower enshrouded state. “The theatrical illusionism of the mature Hohenstein, his prestigious virtues in the manipulation of line and color, stand out fully in this poster, which for the artistic director of Casa Ricordi marks a decisive leap forward… a leap into the light: the sparkling and overwhelming light of the spotlighted scene, which here envelops Iris in a red glare, staining her fluctuating dress, in an omen of a bloody epilogue. Hohenstein… transforms the wavy and transverse lines of Iris’s dress and hair into a salient feature of the poster. It should be remembered that for Mascagni, Hohenstein also created four scenographic sketches in tempera or oil, 40 fashion sketches in tempera or watercolor, and nine tooling tables: all of which were used both for the Roman ‘prima’ and for the subsequent revival of the Scala, of which Hohenstein personally supervised the scenic realization” (La Dolcissima, p. 73). This is a two-sheet poster.

41. Prima Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte. 1902.
By Leonardo Bistolfi (1859-1933)
57 1/2 x 41 in./146 x 104 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

This successful sculptor, who produced many public monuments—including one of Garibaldi—unfortunately created few posters. But when he did, it was a sight to behold. Here, in a decorative style clearly influenced by Metlicovitz and Hohenstein, Garibaldi presents angelic maidens frolicking in the fields, their diaphanous white gowns twirling around them. The reason for their celebration? The first International Exhibition of Modern and Decorative Arts held in Turin. Rare!

44. Italian Line Cruises.
By Marcello Dudovich (1878-1962)
25 3/8 x 39 in./64.5 x 99 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

Dudovich has refined his classic aesthetic approach to create a sleek and clean Art Deco design for Italian Line Cruises. Using sculptural shadows, modeled forms, and luxurious Jazz Age apparel, his seafaring blonde evidences the delight of standing on the deck with the ocean breeze in your hair.

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