Pour St Moritz by George Barbier (Photo credit: Google Images)
I have been trying to understand the conflict in the Middle East, but had to pause because reports I read seemed to contradict one another.
It therefore occurred to me to send you an amusing post.
The Monvel are a dynasty. Bernard is the son of Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (18 October 1850 – 16 March 1913), but he had cousins who where also illustrators and designers. George Barbier (1882–1932) was a first cousin who made illustrations for fashion magazines. He may be the better-known Boutet de Monvel. Pierre Brissaud (23 December 1885–1964) was also a first cousin.
However, the most sophisticated and wealthiest was Bernard Boutet de Monvel (9 August 1881 – 28 October 1949) who travelled back and forth between Paris and New York to decorate homes. He was enormously talented and elegant. Bernard was killed in the plane crash that also took the life of Ginette Neveu (11 August 1919 – 28 October 1949) and her brother, her accompanist. Ginette Neveu was one of the best violinists ever. World boxing champion Marcel Cerdan, Édith Piaf‘s partner at the time, was another victim of the crash.
Bernard Boutet de Monvel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A Golden Age of Illustration
France didn’t have a Golden Age of illustration, at least not for children’s literature. However, it had a golden age of fashion illustrators whose pochoirs (stencils) appeared on the cover of French magazines and other magazines, such as Vogue. Particularly famous was George Barbier who is associated mainly with La Gazette du bon ton. George Barbierand Pierre Brissaud were Bernard’s first cousins. All were illustrators, but none had the sophistication of Bernard Boutet de Monvel. Bernard was a work of art as a person and slightly précieux. His portrait of The Maharaja of Indore seems a reflection of Bernard Boutet de Monvel, the artist.
The Maharaja of Indore by Bernard Boutet de Monvel, c. 1934 (Photo credit: Google Images)
Fashion and the Ballets Russes
In other words, France had its Golden Age of illustrators, but only Louis-Maurice, Bernard’s father, was mainly an illustrator of children’s literature, not his son nor his nephews, George Barbier and Pierre Brissaud. They illustrated fashion magazines and worked for the BalletsRusses, as did Pablo Picasso.
My posts on the Boutet de Monvel dynasty generated an interest in pochoirs. Reproductions are now available from various companies.
In my last post, I stated that Leo Rauth (Wikipedia, in German) differed from George Barbier in that Barbier concentrated on fashion. In this regard, I was both right and wrong. Barbier’s illustrations were a gift to the fashion and publishing industries. However, in the artwork Barbier contributed to La Gazette du Bon Ton and other fashion magazines, he let fantasy guide him as did many other illustrators.[I]The same could be said about the designers.[II] Fantasy seems our keyword.
Moreover, it could well be that Rauth’s commedia dell’arte characters resemble Barbier commedia dell’arte characters because the subject matter tends to dictate style. In Barbier’s Fêtes galantes, the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte are depicted in Antoine Watteau‘s “galant” style, perhaps not to the same extent as Rauth’s commedia dell’arte‘s characters, but in a “galant” style nevertheless.
The term “galant” is associated with music composed in the eighteenth century but, interestingly, Verlaine’s Fêtes galantes would be an inspiration to late nineteenth-century French composers, Claude Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918) and Gabriel Fauré in particular. The decadent “fin de siècle” was also called “la Belle Époque.”
During the first years of the twentieth century, there occurred a merging of the arts prompted in part by Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes.
The Ballets Russes
We looked at Barbier’s illustrations of Paul Verlaine‘s Fêtes galantes, but as you know from earlier posts, published in 2012, Barbier also chose the Ballets Russes as one of his subjects. He portrayed not only Nijinsky, but also Russian prima ballerina Tamara Karsavina (10 March 1885 – 26 May 1978) during the years she worked for the Ballets Russes. Nikinsky, however, was its star.
In the work featured directly below, there are elements of Art Deco. The torchère is an Art Deco prop, avant la lettre. However, Barbier’s Vaslav Nijinsky flying in mid-air seems to me to be Barbier’s Vaslav Nijinsky flying in mid-air (Shéhérazade [Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov], 1910).
Art Deco is associated with the twenties, les Années folles, the Golden Twenties, but art movements overlap.
Tamara Karsavina as Salomé by George Barbier
(Please click on the images to enlarge them.)
Nijinsky in Schéhérazade, 1910, by George Barbier (Photo credit: Google images)
Fashion Magazines and haute couture illustrators
La Gazette du Bon Ton (France)
La Gazette du Bon Genre (New York)
A subscription to La Gazette du Bon Ton cost a fortune. It targeted the rich; wealthy New Yorkers in particular. The articles contained in both Gazettes were written impeccably, the publishers used good quality paper, and subscribers indulged their fantasies. Other fashion magazines were more affordable, so women dreamed, as did men. As noted in Wikipedia’s entry on Vogue magazine, the magazine sold profusely during the Great Depression:
I should think that never had the superfluous been so essential than during these troubled times: fantasy! (See Vogue magazine, Wikipedia.) Men also wished to wear designer clothes. As I noted in my last post, Bernard Boutet de Monvel was a dandy. Certain clothes were not very practical. For instance, few women would wear clothes like Beer’s beach dress (robe de plage; Pierre Brissaud), shown below. But mothers sewed little sailor suits for their children.
Rentrons (Let’s go home) Robe de plage de Beer by Pierre Brissaud, 1920 (Photo credit: Google images)
I feel I’ve travelled to another world. A world to which I do not belong. However, discussing Barbier and his colleagues does provide examples of the acceptability of the decorative arts, interior design, haute couture, posters. Design is everywhere, from dishes to arranging food on a plate.
Note the influence of japonisme: flat colours and diagonal lines. Barbier’s Pour St. Moritz, is an example of japonisme. We are also looking at creative minds working together and constituting a network. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes were a beehive and a gathering place that attracted illustrators and designers. Living in such a milieu must have been very stimulating.
Where fashion is concerned, I did not mention Coco Chanel who triggered a revolution. Many women still dress à la Coco Chanel: elegance, but simplicity and comfort.
Cover by George Barbier (Photo credit: Wikimedia.org, all)
Pierrot and Harlequin by George Barbier
Charles Deburau (Jean-Gaspard’s son)
Pantomine and Mine
Les Enfants du Paradis
A few weeks ago, I posted an article on “Leo Rauth’s fin de siècle Pierrot.” Leo Rauth died too young and under tragic circumstances. However, although Rauth‘s artwork predates George Barbier‘s (1882–1932), who is considered an Art Deco artist, both artists depicted commedia dell’arte stock characters: Pedrolino, or Pierrot formerly known as Gilles, and Harlequin (Arlecchino and Arlequin) and did so in “galant” fashion following in the footsteps of Jean-Antoine Watteau (10 October 1684 – 18 July 1721).
George Barbier: illustrator
However, Leo Rauth differs from George Barbier. First, Barbier is considered an Art Deco artist. Second, he was a fashion illustrator at a time when haute couture was developing rapidly and the publishing industry sensed an opportunity it quickly seized. Moreover, japonisme, woodblock printing, would prove the technique of artists who needed copies of their work: posters, illustrations. Printmaking was not new to the western world. François Chauveau engraved the Carte de Tendre.
As you know, the fine arts diversified in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century due, to a large extent, to japonisme. Japanese prints flooded Europe, France and England particularly. They were plentiful and therefore an inexpensive yet beautiful artwork. Illustrators needed such a tool.
Barbier, used pochoirs (stenciling)[I]that enabled him to make replicas of his designs, but many artists chose various forms of engraving. They made etchings (on copper usually), woodcuts (wood), linocuts (linoleum) or some other material.
Engraving is referred to as an intaglio technique. For instance, etchers trace their drawing into a “ground” applied to metal, they use acid to bite into the drawing. They then insert ink that flows into the engraved (etched) parts of the metal and, when pressed onto paper, only the engraved or etched parts of the pieces of metal, the image, will show on the paper. Artists and designers can also make reproductions of their work using lithography, silkscreens (stenciling) and pochoirs (also stenciling).
Chansons de France pour les petits enfants Maurice B. de Monvel
The Boutet de Monvel Dynasty
Maurice Boutet de Monvel
his son: Bernard Boutet de Monvel
his nephews: George Barbier and Pierre Brissaud
Barbier was also a first cousin to, Bernard Boutet de Monvel, Maurice’s son as well as a first cousin to Maurice’s other nephew, Pierre Brissaud. All three were occasional designers and/or illustrators, or exclusively illustrators and designers.
Barbier also designed theatre and ballet costumes. In fact, he helped Erté, Romain de Tirtoff (23 November 1892 – 21 April 1990) design sets and costumes for the Folies Bergère. In French “R” is pronounced er and “T,” té = Erté. In fact, Barbier led a group nicknamed “The Knights of the Bracelet,” by Vogue.
The Plane Crash: 28 October 1949
Bernard was also an interior designer, a portraitist, and the last of the Paris dandies, a work of art in himself. He died as he lived, conspicuously. Bernard B. de Monvel was killed in the Air France Lockheed Constellation crash of 28 October 1949, in the Azores. Among the forty-eight victims were world-champion boxer Marcel Cerdan (aged 33), Edith Piaf‘s lover, and virtuoso violinist Ginette Neveu (aged 30). Benard B. de Monvel was 68.
As I was going through my neglected email, I found an advertisement for this pochoir.
“Original pochoir by Bagge Huguet from La Gazette du Bon Ton, a leading Art Deco revue in Paris in the 1920s, showcasing the latest fashion and design. The Art Deco period was a highpoint in French art. Leading artists included Georges Lepape, Georges [sic] Barbier, Edouard Garcia Benito, Erté, and others.”
But let us look at Barbier’s reading of Fêtes galantes. Les Années folles, or the Golden Twenties, were a reborn fête galante,à la Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925) that dictated a degree of resemblance between Rauth and Barbier. However, people danced the Charleston, not the sensual tango a product of the 1890s.
Pierre Louÿs(Dec. 10, 1870, Ghent, Belgium – June 4, 1925, Paris, France), was a “French novelist and poet whose merit and limitation were to express pagan sensuality with stylistic perfection.”[i]
In 1894, Louÿs, who was born Pierre Louis, published Les Chansons de Bilitis(1894), prose poems about Sapphic love. According to Wikipedia, The Songs of Bilitis were written by a woman of Ancient Greece called Bilitis, a courtesan and contemporary of Sappho. As for Sappho, who could be Bilitis, she was an ancient Greek poet, a woman, born on the Island of Lesbos between 630 and 612. She was very gifted as a poet and was, therefore, included among the Nine Lyric Poets. Pierre Louÿs translated the mostly lost Sapphic, i. e. lesbian poems of Bilitis or, possibly, Sappho. So it would appear he invented many of them, showing talent, “stylistic perfection,” and providing himself and his readers with an opportunity to indulge in both exoticism and eroticism.
Exoticism and eroticism are very effective marketing tools, which may have motivated Louÿs to “fill in the blanks.” As we know, many of the “Bilitis” or Sappho’s poems, were Louÿs own poems. He was therefore able to deceive many readers, which is quite an accomplishment on Louÿs part, but somewhat humiliating for those readers who thought they were reading what my students would call “the real thing.” Given the artful eroticism that pervades “Les Chansons de Bilitis,” let us be a little forgiving with respect to those who were deceived. According to Britannica, Louÿs’s finest achievement isLa Femme et le pantin (1898; Woman and Puppet), which is set in Spain. More exoticism!
Sapho: the seventeenth-century France
In seventeenth-century France, the famous salonnière (from Salon) and late précieuseMadeleine de Scudéry (15 November 1607 – 2 June 1701) nicknamed herself Sapho. Madeleine de Scudéry isthe author of Le Grand CyrusorArtamène, arguably the longest novel ever written. She is also the main cartographer of the Map of Tendre, a map of love included in Le Grand Cyrus. Madeleine de Scudéry was Georges de Scudéry‘s younger sister. So the memory of Sappho linguered in the mind of erudite salonnières. Not to mention that the Greek Sappho wrote love poems. But did they know that Shappic love was lesbian love?
The Daughters of Bilitist
The Daughters of Bilitist[iii] is a gay rights movement, active since the middle of the twentieth century. We have little information on Bilitist, who wrote in the manner of Sappho, but we know Sappho was born in Lesbos and, although she is purported to have given birth to a daughter, Leïs, Sappho’s mother’ name, even Ancient Greeks doubted Sappho’s heterosexuality. She may of course have been a lesbian, but this mattered little to the citizens of Ancient Greece. She may also have had an affair with Thracian courtesan Rhodopis, which is fascinating as Rhodopis would be Cinderella. This, however, I must investigate. I must also investigate the reason why Sappho was exiled to Sicily? It would have been a short exile as she lived in Lesbos for most of her life. She probably died around 570 BC.
Sappho as a Poet
Sappho was an extremely talented poet, one of the Nine Lyric Poets, not a trivial achievement. However, most of her poetry has been lost. What is left is mostly fragments. Moreover, Sappho wrote in Aeolian Greek, a lesser–known Ancient Greek dialect of which there were several. She therefore had fewer readers.
George Barbier illustrated Pierre Louÿs’ Chansons de Bilitis and did so discretely and tastefully. I have therefore included a video or his illustrations, hence the above information.
Jacques Brel‘s “Ne me quitte pas” is a song one can never forget. It has a visceral quality that few singers other than the very intense Brel, its creator, can convey. Moreover, it is a poem and poems tend to suffer in translation, particularly in a literal translation. But I am nevertheless providing a literal translation. The song is translated one paragraph at a time.
Fortunately, Rod McKuen′s rendition of “Ne me quitte pas” is as translations should be, i.e. a rendition. It goes beyond the words to convey the same despair as Brel’s song. At times, he uses Brel’s devastating imagery, but at times, he strays from it in order to give the translation a more or less equivalent degree of intensity as the original version. Jacques Brel was a chansonnier, a singer-songwriter, and so was McKuen. Moreover, they were kindred spirits, so there is considerable affinity between Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” and McKuen’s “If you go away.” We will therefore hear both versions.
McKuen is now 79. As for Brel, his signature cigarette killed him at 49.
Barbier’s illustration dates back to an age of affluence and composure. It does not seem to match “Ne me quitte pas,” except remotely and in another mode. Barbier’s illustration is an Art Deco classic and reminds me of the television episodes of Agatha Christie ‘s Hercule Poirot, her charming Belgian detective. Actor David Suchet has become Poirot’s embodiment. But I could not resist Chabrier’s red and black illustration: le rouge et le noir ne s’épousent-ils pas? Unlike Brel’s chanson, which expresses raw grief, the lady’s tears suggest mere sorrow. But the lady is in a public environment, she is French, and appearances are deceptive.
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas / Il faut oublier / Tout peut s’oublier / Qui s’enfuit déjà / Oublier le temps / Des malentendus / Et le temps perdu / À savoir comment / Oublier ces heures / Qui tuaient parfois / À coups de pourquoi / Le cœur du bonheur / Ne me quitte pas (repeated)
Don’t leave me now / We must forget/ All can be forgotten / It escapes already / Forget the time / The misunderstandings / And the moments lost / We must know how / Forget those hours / Which killed at times / With each thrust of ‘why’ / The heart of happiness / Don’t leave me now… (repeated)
Moi je t’offrirai / Des perles de pluie / Venues de pays / Où il ne pleut pas / Je creuserai la terre / Jusqu’après ma mort / Pour couvrir ton corps / D’or et de lumiere / Je ferai un domaine / Où l’amour sera roi / Où l’amour sera loi / Où tu seras reine / Ne me quitte pas…
Me I’ll offer you / Pearls of rain / That come from a country / Where rain never falls / I would mine [dig into] the earth / ‘Til after my death / To cover your body / With gold and with light / I’ll make a kingdom / Where love shall be king / Where love shall be law / Where you shall be queen / Don’t leave me now/ Don’t leave me now / Don’t leave me now…
Ne me quitte pas / Je t’inventerai / Des mots insensés / Que tu comprendras / Je te parlerai / De ces amants-là / Qui ont vu deux fois / Leur cœur s’embraser / Je te raconterai / L’histoire de ce roi / Mort de n’avoir pas / Pu te rencontrer / Ne me quitte pas…
Don’t leave me now / I’ll invent for you / Such [nonsensical] words / That you’ll understand / I’ll speak to you / Of those lovers there / Who have seen two times their hearts all ablaze / I will recount for you / The story of that king / Dead for not having the chance to meet you / Don’t leave me now…
On a vu souvent / Rejaillir le feu / D’un ancien volcan / Qu’on croyait trop vieux / Il est paraît-il / Des terres brûlées / Donnant plus de blé / Qu’un meilleur avril / Et quand vient le soir / Pour qu’un ciel flamboie / Le rouge et le noir / Ne s’épousent-ils pas / Ne me quitte pas…
We have often seen / Fire gush out / From an ancient volcano / We thought was too old / There are, it seems / Some scorched fields / That yield more wheat / Than the best of April / And when evening comes / So that the sky is blaze / The black and the red / Do they not wed / Don’t leave me now…
Ne me quitte pas / Je ne vais plus pleurer / Je ne vais plus parler / Je me cacherai là / À te regarder / Danser et sourire / Et à t’écouter / Chanter et puis rire / Laisse-moi devenir / L’ombre de ton ombre / L’ombre ta main / L’ombre de ton chien / Ne me quitte pas…
Don’t leave me now / I’ll no longer cry / I’ll no longer speak / I’ll hide right there / Just to look at you / Watch you dance and smile / And listen to you / As you sing and laugh / Let me become / The shadow of your shadow / The shadow of your hand / The shadow of your hound / Don’t leave me now…