18 March 2013

Nouveau Risque

For those who don't read French, the poster at left announces an exhibition of  pictures and drawings in Paris, but you probably recognize the artist Jules Cheret's style.  Cheret chose to include this work from 1888 in the collection he named Les Maitres de l'Afiiche and the Syracuse University Art gallery chose the collection as the centerpiece for their recent exhibition Nouveau Risque: A Perspective on Women and Progress.
Published in Paris as a monthly subscription, similar to a magazine, from December 1895 to November 1900, The Masters of the Poster was the inspired marketing idea of the man now considered the father of the modern poster, Jules Cheret (1836-1932).  At the same time the series made reproductions of artworks available at reasonable prices, Cheret was also elevating the poster to the realm of art.  He may have been familiar with a previous but unsuccessful attempt by the publisher Cadart who, in 1862, assembled a portfolio that included works by Edouard Manet. 

I remember the anticipation I felt as a child when a package  arrived each month in the mail  from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Similar to Cheret's portfolios,  the museum's  booklets (on an artist or a special subject) came with  a large sheet of glossy color images that could be detached and mounted on the appropriate pages   What was also similar was the ingenious combination of art for appreciation and  elucidation.   You could even collect the booklets in sturdy melon-hued cardboard folders, stamped in gold lettering.  From that experience, I can teleport myself to Belle Epoque France for the delivery of  Les Maitres de l'Affiche.

Cheret is also notable for his signal creation of a type - the Cherette - a young woman definitely nouveau in her day and slightly risque.   Whether attending cafe concerts and cabarets or strolling the sidewalks, stopping to inspect some of the newly available consumer goods for sale, (art prints were a frequently depicted example), she was neither recgonizably a respectable matron nor a working class servant.   

A survey of working Parisians taken during the 1890s found that one in ten was involved in the production and maintenance of clothing. From dressmakers, cobblers, and milliners to laundresses and seamstresses it took a legion of poorly paid workers to keep the population washed and dressed.  Many women thus employed had little choice but to supplement their meager wages with prostitution.  It was to this fact, in part, that women appearing in public alone or together but without a male escort were seen as risque.

Great improvements in color lithography came along just in time to record the first stirrings of women's emancipation, a work  still in progress today. Out of the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, and influenced by the Japanese ukiyo-e prints that were the rage in Belle Epoque Paris, Cheret created a style that was originally seen in the street and then on the walls of art salons and eventually the homes of the bourgeoisie. 

Having taken some modest steps into the life of city streets, the turn of the century woman began to try other activities.  Tennis and bicycling, as we know well, are activities that call for  clothing other than ordinary street-wear.    But the split skirt or culotte was a new and daring outfit, so a sensible young woman would have a male escort at her side when she ventured out thus attired. 
Nouveau Risque, the exhibition, includes other artworks from the period, including favrile glass pieces from the Tiffany Studio. What is  most interesting and apropos, for me, is the Diana, a woman's bicycle produced by the Cortland Wagon Company in upstate New York in 1894.  It large rubber front wheel is red and the bicycle measures 45 inches in height.   The bicycle, like the automobile, has been a vehicle of mobility and freedom, precious commodities in the lives of women,  then as now.
 The 'Women's Edition' unlike the ghetto that was regular women's pages in newspapers a century ago, allowed them to particulate - if only for a day and for charitable fund-raising purposes - in all aspects of producing the paper.  Usually published on holidays, these editions were often referred  to as 'Charity Editions', with what overtones you may suspect.  They were the brainchild of  the then popular women's clubs.  From small town newspapers to the nation's flagship publications such as the San Francisco Examiner and the Buffalo Courier, women took over.  We know little about Alice Glenny Russell, but one thing we do know: she was the rare woman to have her work included in Cheret's series.   Ethel Reed (1874-after 1920) from Boston, somewhat better known, is the only other one I have found.

Nouveau Risque: A Perspective on Women and Progress, an exhibition at the Shaeffer Art Gallery, Syracuse University, January 24 - March 17, 2013.

Images: Syracuse University Art Galleries, Syracuse, NY.
1. Jules Cheret - Exposition: Tableaux & Dessins de A. Willette, 1888.
2. Maurice Debis - La Depeche de Toulouse The Toulouse Dispatch - a newspaper) , 1892.
3. Georges Meunier - Trianon Concert, 1897.
4. Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen - Two Women Looking at a Window Display, 1896.
5. Ferdinand Misti-Mifliez - Cycles Gladiator, 1896.
6. Alice Russell Glenny - Women's Edition - Buffalo Courier, 1895.
7. Ethel Reed - Miss Traumerei, 1895.

13 March 2013

From Fukagawa To Munich: Peter Behrens

He did his best work as an architect and designer but, whether you recognize his name or not, Peter Behrens (1866-1940) is most familiar for a woodblock print from Pan. a short-lived literary magazine published in Berlin from 1896-1900.  Whenever there is a revival of interest in Art Nouveau,  there is The Kiss.   Behrens gave the woodblock print to his friend, the poet Richard Dehmel, who displayed it in his dining room.
Printing from woodblocks was one aspect of the late 19th century interest in all things Japanese.  I had not thought particularity  of Peter Behrens in that connection until I saw Storm, a print Behrens made the year before The Kiss.  Obviously a reinterpretation of one of Hiroshige's 100 Famous Views of Edo (Tokyo), Behrens drew freely on the extravagantly curvilinear  style popular among the artists of Pan and Jugend, especially his friend the influential Otto Eckmann.

 Behrens removed any signs of human habitation from the landscape to make room for the play of wind and waves.  The absence of waterbirds also has the effect of making the eagle seem less menacing.  The eagle's wings curve in harmony with the imaginary lines of the wind; he might almost be mistaken for  a kite on a windy day.   In Behrens's version the large bird functions as a framing device, similar to Hiroshige's use of a giant paper lantern in Kinyruzan Temple Asakusa, another of the 100 Views.   Behrens gave Storm to the playwright Otto Hartleben who hung it in - his dining room! 


1. Peter Behrens - Sturm (Storm), 1897, State Museum, Berlin.
2. Peter Behrens - The Kiss (Der Kuss),  1898, Musuem of Modern Art, NYC.
3. Utgawa Hiroshige - Kinryuzan Temple, Asakura, July, 1856, Broolyn Museum. 
4. Utagawa  Hiroshige - Eagle over the Fields of Susaki at Fukagawa, May, 1857, Musee Guimet, Paris.

Articles posted here on another contemporary dining room, this one designed by Lucien Levy-Dhurmer and reconstructed for display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City:

1. The Wisteria Dining Room - March 22, 2010.
2. Lucien Levy-Dhurmer At The Metropolitan, May 27, 2008.