Privat Livemont (1861-1936) was the foremost Belgian practitioner of the Art Nouveau style. His posters invite comparison to Mucha, but it should be remembered that he had already produced several posters by the time Mucha created his first. Above all, Livemont was a skilled lithographer, a quality evident in the subtle color gradations and detail of his sensual posters.
This is one of Livemont’s most expressive works. In 1901, W. S. Rogers called this poster of a girl painting on porcelain, “his most beautiful work, by reason of the excellence of its composition, its comparative simplicity, and the refined loveliness of the girl’s face.” The Delacre company, more than 120 years later, still uses this design on its biscuit containers.
One of the most iconic posters of all time, Livemont’s design for Absinthe Robette perfectly captures the spirit of Art Nouveau. Every element of the image is lavishly decorative yet delicately organic. Holding up her glass with the reverence of a holy relic, we do not see the hand that pours the water over the sugar, adding a mystical, otherworldly quality to the concoction. The background is made up of sensual plumes of mint on green that echo the milky swirl within the cup.
In one of Livemont’s most gorgeous designs, the Art Nouveau goddess-next-door is about to indulge in her first sip of Van Houten hot chocolate. Perhaps the most evocative element in this image is not the beautiful woman dripping with flowers, but the sinuous wafts of steam gliding toward the sky. This is the larger format version of the poster.
A more romantic design could hardly be imagined than Livemont’s design for the Amsterdam perfumery of J.C. Boldoot. And this version, with full text, is much more rare than the before-letters image!
A brand of both coffee and tea, Rajah is presented to us by an opulently dressed Byzantine lady. Set against a deep burgundy background, its name spelled in the steam, the product takes on an Eastern exoticism.
“The woman and her child admire the beauty of a garden, shown behind them in subtle earthy colors, landscaped by the nursery company named on the completed version of this poster with letters… [The poster is] a prime example of one of [Art Nouveau’s] precepts: a reverence for women, always shown in the best possible light” (Gold, p. 26). Note the thin, halo-like white outline around the ladies’ profiles: one of Livemont’s special touches. This is the proof before letters.
This design shows a strong Japanese influence with its paneled composition and cherry blossom branches. Livemont shows a Belle Époque maman bribing her misbehaving brood with a tin of sweet biscuits. She stands a good chance of succeeding with them all, save for the far left grouch in the midst of a temper tantrum. Rare!
In a graphic and lithographic tour de force, Livemont creates a lush riot of ornamentation, from the marquee archway to the floral wallpaper and lilies at lower left, to the fabulous adornment of the model’s flame-haired tresses—all contrasting with the rigidity of control in the corset and in the vertical spine of crowns to the left. As a visual metaphor for the fine intricacy involved in corset construction, it’s never been surpassed.
“Bitter Oriental has a girl with hair meandering about in luxuriant abundance, almost in Mucha’s style. Another similarity is the circular motif in the ornamentation—and then again, there is Livemont’s characteristic white outline and distinctive lettering. The Oriental bitter was basically gin with a flavoring of various herbs” (Wine Spectator, 81).
In-gallery viewing February 24-March 25 (11am-6pm daily)