japonisme: 1/28/07 - 2/4/07

03 February 2007

Henri Georges Jean Isidore Meunier

"This design for Rajah coffee is a classic of Belgian Art Nouveau poster art. It was called Meunier's 'best work' and 'a masterpiece' by L'Stampe et L'Affiche in 1898. Appropriately, a strong coffee tone dominates the colour scheme"

"Henri Meunier was an artist of exceptional purity. He took flat colours in flat tints and his thick outlines from Japanese prints to construct strong and clear images: 'With two or three pure colours, he fixes an impression that penetrates and imposes itself like the truth' justly notes Demure de Beaumont."

"As a poster designer, Meunier knew how to organize well-observed detail to create an almost musical ambiance…by compositions that are gravely meditative, clean and synthetic…

The Son of Belgian engraver Jean-Baptiste Meunier and nephew of sculptor Constantin Meunier, Henri seems to have come by his artistry in a genetic fashion. After completing brilliant studies at the academy in his native Ixelles, he went on to pursue many fields: printmaker, poster designer, graphic reporter and book binder. Oostens-Wittamer characterizes his poster work as focused on bringing out opposing light and dark values within his often large, contained, flowing masses of color"

Not unlike the Maitre de L'Affiche series, L'Estampe Modern was a portfolio printed between 1897-98, published by Imprimerie Champenois, Paris, contained 24 monthly portfolios, with four original lithographs in each. Each commissioned only for this series. As well as Mucha, some of the contributing artists included Rhead, Meunier, Ibels, Steinlen, Willette and Grasset.

"Meunier was the scion of a distinguished Belgian art dynasty: his father worked in copper, and an uncle was a sculptor… His design for Starlight soap, with the artfully synthesized design of a bathing child, two or three simple colours, are all he needs to get across a definite visual impact"1

despite all of this, and besides a few postcards, these are nearly all that remain accessible of his work.


02 February 2007

what we remember

michael often speaks about the fact that there are many wonderful artists from the past out there that just aren't known by many people at all today.

i think of his comments frequently as i go through various books, various collections. so many artists that i've never heard of, after studying this area for decades, and of whom only a tiny bit of work remains.

for many, the only work of theirs that is remembered, reprinted, is from Les Maîtres de l'Affiche. because they received a life outside of their lives as posters, they remain.

but i'm grateful that any remain at all. look at her blue eyes. see the whole collection at the nypl.

(the only remaining image i could find by alice r. glenny; the only image i could find by fred hyland; only two from otto fischer.)

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31 January 2007

hohenstein: father of the italian poster

The rise of the Italian poster is intimately tied to the opera, the only national cultural institution in Italy at the turn of the century. Ricordi, the music publisher of Verdi and Puccini, decided in 1874 to create an in-house printing operation to promote its music. It began by installing the most advanced German lithographic presses and hiring a brilliant German Art Nouveau master, Adolfo Hohenstein, to train a staff of Italian artists.

Though born in Russia of German parents, Hohenstein (1854-1928) understood the Italian spirit so thoroughly that he is often called the "Father of the Italian Poster." Hohenstein’s charming La Boheme of 1895 was his first great Italian opera poster. It revealed the artist’s absorption of French poster art, particularly Cheret, in its playful and carefree depiction of Bohemian life in Paris. Yet in its classically rich color harmonies and use of strong diagonals to build dramatic impact [ital mine], the poster showed traits which would increasingly distinguish Italian poster art from other national traditions.1

Adolfo Hohenstein was a set designer at La Scala before being engaged by the Ricordi Publishing company in 1889 as a poster and frontispiece designer. His Edgar [not found] poster was his first known work in that capacity. Opera was a national past time in Italy and Ricordi published hundreds of opera-themed postcards that the public collected and mailed with fervor. The best of their efforts were postcards from the designs of Hohenstein and Metlicovitz. The La Bohème set, attributed to Hohenstein, no doubt coincided with the premiere of Puccini's piece. One of his other postcard sets is of Mascagni's neglected masterpiece, Iris. 2

Ricordi opened an in-house lithography shop to promote its operas and sheet music business. Ricordi quickly became the leading lithographer in Italy and by 1895 was creating posters for other clients such as Campari, the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, and the Mele Department store of Naples. Under the tutelage of Adolfo Hohenstein, a brilliant stable of artists emerged at Ricordi. Artists including Cappiello, Caldanzano, Cavaleri, Dudovich, Laskoff, Metlicovitz and Mataloni brought Art Nouveau, known as Stile Liberty in Italy, to a world class level.3,4

(i know these little stories contradict each other and are not somehow chronological, but this is how legend is built, i'm finding. only occasionally am i willing to come up with an official version all on my own. all of the artwork is by hohenstein except for the giulio marchetti, which is by leopoldo metlicovitz, an obvious student of the master.)

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30 January 2007

japonism: beauty from the netherlands

george hendrik breitner was one of the pre-eminent dutch impressionists and devotees of japonisme. friends with van gogh, and working just at the time that japanese imports hit europe, it is easy to see how he became aware of, enthralled with, this new aesthetic.

apparently there are seven paintings of girls (and women?) in kimono, but i could only fine these five. the one in black, the one adult woman, could almost be by whistler, or maybe john singer sargent, but the rest make me very curious.

while they are really not suggestive in any way, i just wonder why he chose young girls. is this all one girl, his daughter? i wonder.... most of the websites i found for him are in dutch, and i couldn't find an online translator that really was that helpful, so perhaps the answer is out there, and it was just lost to me.

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28 January 2007


In Paris, thanks to the craze known as Japonisme, Japanese prints were everywhere, and along with his first glimpses of Van Gogh, Gauguin, and the Belgian Symbolist James Ensor, they were catalysts for the style of The Scream and his other best-known works, with their strong, sinuous, flowing lines, contrasting vivid or lurid colors, and flattened or compressed space.1


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