T H E  L U X U R Y  T R A V E L E R

Photo: © Fortuny Museum, Venice

George Barbier (1882-1932) La Fontaine de coquillages, da
Gazette du Bon Ton
, marzo 1914

(Encore Edition)

This is the very first exhibition dedicated to George Barbier (1882-1932), artist and fashion illustrator, theatre designer and protagonist of the Art Deco movement. Curated by Barbara Martorelli, this exhibition presents over two hundred works including paintings, drawings, articles, pochoir, photographs, books, manuscripts and films from the extensive collections of Palazzo Mocenigo – Study Centre of the History of Fabrics and Costumes, from the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale in France, Musée des Beaux Arts in Nantes as well as from private Italian and French collections.

By reconstructing the diverse contexts of his production and comparing them to the artistic movements and avant-garde of that period, the exhibition focuses on the manifold aspects of the artist’s creativity, the author of renowned images - including the black panther that is Cartier’s symbol. The exhibition is in collaboration with Venezia Musei. The catalogue is by Marsilio, with essays by Barbara Martorelli, Giandomenico Romanelli, Alain Stoeffler, Mauro Nasti, Giuliano Ercoli, Doretta Davanzo Poli, Carine Picaud, and Jean Izarn.

The exhibition is a remarkable and fitting opportunity to revive both the memory and knowledge of a considerable renown artist while alive, but quickly forgotten after his death. For the first time, it makes it possible to study and understand the diverse aspects of his vast production. It is arranged according to themes. It begins with his early works, then continuing with a section dedicated to theatre and cinema with his drawings for costumes and theatre design. It then goes on with a vast, spectacular section dedicated to fashion illustration – including, amongst other things, pochoir, watercolours and drawings - followed by the priceless, limited editions of the highly refined albums, almanacs and books illustrated by Barbier. Finally, the subject of his advertising production is of considerable interest.  

As a whole, this surprising, exhaustive exhibition makes it possible to both document the progress of the artist's work and to highlight the link between these greatly differing works, and the editions they had been created for, recreating where possible, rare volumes that had been taken apart after his death. The priceless period garments from the Pezzato collection are an addition that is perfectly suited to the rooms of the Fortuny Museum. 

Born in Nantes in 1882, in 1907 George Barbier attends the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the atelier of Jean Paul Laurens. In 1910, he exhibited works at the Salon des Humoristes under the name of Edward William Larry. Noticed by the publisher Lucien Vogel, he works as illustrator for the Gazette du Bon Ton, together with Iribe, Lepape, Marty, Martin, Boutet de Movel Brissaud, and Brunelleschi; he works for the same magazine after the war, writing reportages from Italy and Venice, with reviews on theatre, dance and ballets by Diaghilev. Member of the Socièté des Artistes Décorateurs, he regularly exhibits at their Salon from 1912 until his death. A versatile artist, he produces all kinds of different work over the years: book illustrations, costume designs for the cinema and theatre, fans, jewellery, glass, fabrics, wallpaper and above all, fashion illustrations, the most successful and refined expression of his creation. From 1917 on he starts working on personal publishing projects, illustrating articles for the most important writers and journalists, and signing them himself . He also illustrates the highly elegant, limited editions of novels and poetry by authors such as P.Verlaine, P.Louÿs, C. Baudelaire, T. Gautier and others. Amongst other things, in the field of costume design and the theatre and cinema, he also designs costumes for Folies Bergère in 1923 and works together with Erté on various set designs and costumes, for American productions as well. He designs the magnificent costumes for Rodolfo Valentino in the film Monsieur Beaucaire (1924). He also works on advertisements for famous trademarks such as Cartier, Renault, Elizabeth Arden. He dies at the height of his success in 1932. He is 50 years old and has no heirs. Six months later, his entire collection, including his priceless library is put up for auction in Paris and over the years, Barbier is only remembered in the field of the most refined collectors and bibliophiles.

Biography: George Barbier (Nantes 1882- Paris 1932)

 Born in Nantes on 10 October in 1882 to a family of wealthy merchants, George Barbier attends the new Ecole des Beaux–Arts in the city with Chantron, Lesage and Broca. He leaves Nantes but continues to take part in the Breton Salon of the Société des Amis des Arts de Nantes. When he arrives in Paris in 1907, he enrols in Jean Paul Laurens’ atelier at the Ecole des Beaux -Arts and in 1910 he is already exhibiting his work at the Salon des Humoristes under the name of Edward William Larry and at the Salon d’Automne. Member of the Socièté des Artistes Décorateurs, George Barbier exhibits each year from 1911 to 1923 and once again in 1929 at the Salon des artistes decorateurs, where he is one of their most active members. His first personal exhibition is at the Galerie Boutet de Monvel in 1911 with over 92 works belonging to great French collectors and he presents a catalogue with essays written by Pierre Louÿs.

 His character as a highly versatile artist can be seen from his first exhibits at the Salone and his early shows. Indeed, the work he produces over the years is of the most diverse nature - book illustrations, costume designs for the cinema and theatre, objects, jewellery, glasses and above all, fashion illustrations. The latter is to be the most successful and refined expression of his creations.

Noticed by the brilliant publisher Lucien Vogel, he becomes one of the illustrators (1912) for his Gazette du Bon Ton, together with Iribe, Lepape, Marty, Martin, Boutet de Movel Brissaud, and Brunelleschi.

The partnership between Barbier and these artists is to become a mainstay of Gazette du Bon Ton and he works there until 1925.

The years between 1910 and the outbreak of the First World War are probably the most prolific of his entire production: The wallpaper he designs for André Groult’s atelier meets with resounding success, and he works together with important artists such as Poiret, Paquin, Lanvin, Worth, and Vionnet, illustrating their creations. He does designs and illustrations for his friend Louis Cartier. This relationship then leads to a successful partnership with Maison Cartier, resulting in the designs for jewellery and the famous black panther motif.

His early work with the press is with comic journals such as le Rire or la Baionette His meeting with Lucien Vogel leads to many more partnerships for women’s magazines in particular; he not only does illustrations for Gazette du Bon Ton, but also for Le Jardin des dames et des modes, Modes et Manieres d’Aujourd’hui, La Ghirlande, L’Illustration, Les feuillets d’art, Femina, Vogue and Commedia illustre e La Vie Parisienne.

After the First World War, he works for Gazette du Bon Ton and Vie Parisienne as both editor and journalist, writing articles, society news and stories that he signs either with his real name or various pen-names.

A study of the George Barbier’s illustrations for magazines during that period is of the utmost interest as it shows how his style and passages changed depending on the audience and target of the magazine. From 1913 onwards Barbier devotes himself to personal publishing projects, illustrating articles that the most renowned writers and journalists had been commissioned with such as Colette, Marie de Régnier, alias Gérard d'Houville, Anna de Noailles, Albert Flament, Francis de Miomandre; he also publishes his own works including le Bonheur du Jour (1924), Falbalas et Fanfreluches,(1922-1926) Album dedié à Tamar Karsavina (1914), Dessins sur les danses de Nijinsky (1913), and La guirlande des mois (1917-1921).

In addition to his tireless and continuously innovative work as an illustrator, his countless designs for theatre costumes and decorations also deserve to be mentioned, for example the costumes for les Folies Bergère in 1923, the stage design and costumes for Casanova (1919) and La dernière nuit de Don Juan (1922) by Maurice Rostand, and the woodcuts Vingt-cinq costumes pour le théâtre (1927).

He works together with Erté on various set designs and costumes for the cinema, also for American productions. His costumes for Rodolfo Valentino in the film Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) are renowned: the film did not meet with particular success with the critics but the quality of the costumes was noticed by the New York Times, who reviewed Barbier’s work as follows: “”magnificent…such spectacular costumes and set design have never been seen before.”.

He is also famous for his illustrations for works such as Fêtes Galantes by Paul Verlaine, Poèmes en prose by Maurice Guerin, Les plus belles heures de Casanova, La Double Maitresse, La Pecheresse by Henry de Regnier, Le Chansons di Bilitis by Pierre Louÿs, in the 1922 edition and the more erotic one of 1929 (only 25 copies were printed), comedies by Alfred de Musset and other works by Baudelaire, Theophile Gautier, all in highly refined limited editions, with just over a hundred copies being printed.

George Barbier dies after an illness on 16 March 1932 at the age of 50; he is at the height of his success.  Six months later, in December 1933 his entire collection, including the library, is put up for auction at Hotel Drouot in Paris. He leaves some works to the museum in the city of his birth, Nantes, and a valuable collection of erotic Japanese prints to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, now part of the Enfer collection.

This patrimony is therefore dismantled and over the years, Barbier is only remembered by the most refined collectors and bibliophiles.

The Exhibition :GEORGE BARBIER The birth of Art Deco

Exhibition Venue:  Fortuny Museum, Venice,

Exhibition runs to January 5th, 2009

Link to online information: www.museiciviciveneziani.it  

Editor's note: We are gratful to the Fortuny Museum for providing us the attendant image for this article.