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.