The Art of Lefèvre-Utile

By Edith Gregor –

Visitors to this website may have seen some of the gorgeous vintage ads originally created for the biscuit brand Lefèvre-Utile. Down the years many illustrious French artists have created posters for this much-loved brand.

Such artists include the giant of ad art René Gruau. He lent his ink and his eye to LU in 1955, in an image (shown below) that embodies both Gruau’s own aesthetics and the well-established spirit of Lefèvre-Utile. Visible are the bold, black outlines and the bright, block colours so characteristic of his work. The subjects depicted—an elegant, society woman and her sweet little girl—are both appropriate to the LU brand.

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LU developed an upper-class image for itself and had become famous for featuring children in its advertising ever since the artist Firmin Bouisset was commissioned to produce a poster for the company’s ‘Petit Beurre’ (‘Little Butter’) biscuits in 1897.

Bouisset had offered his talents to a number of food companies in France, his best known work being an ad for chocolate manufacturer Menier from 1893 which showed a young girl writing the company’s name on a wall. Already practiced in the child motif, Bouisset painted a portrait for LU of his own son. The boy was depicted dressed in the uniform of a prestigious private school and munching on a delicious Petit Beurre biscuit. He called the piece ‘Petit Écolier’ (that’s ‘The Little Schoolboy’ in English), and the poster has become such a classic advertising image that in the 1980s LU brought out a variety of biscuit named Petit Écolier, its surface embossed with a representation of that same turn-of-the-century schoolboy.

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That 1897 ad was the first to use the acronym LU to denote Lefèvre-Utile, and from that point on the name stuck. Many notable artists contributed to LU’s commercial look in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, perhaps the most memorable being Alphonse Mucha, talented pioneer of the Art Nouveau style. Taking inspiration from Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha’s elaborate, opulent artworks reflected the joyous spirit of France’s Belle Époque and helped to establish the strong reputation for luxury which LU still enjoys today.

Mucha is recognised fondly for his depictions of gorgeous, often redheaded women with flowing tendrils of hair that later inspired the psychedelic art of the 1960s. In their neoclassical-looking garb, these attractive women continued to charm the French public for many years after 1894, when Mucha created his first of many commercial art posters for the play Gismonda starring famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. His style was developed in a wide range of media, including postcards, paintings wallpapers, theatre sets and book illustrations. Though Mucha preferred his non-commercial work, his advertising art (such as the images below for LU) remains highly collectable and is respected worldwide.

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The two artworks which historically bookend this blog post—Bouisset’s 1897 ‘Petit Écolier’ and Gruau’s 1955 poster—are from two periods of economic boom in Western Europe, the ‘Belle Époque’ (or ‘beautiful era’ in English) and ‘Les Trente Glorieuses’ (‘The Thirty Glorious Years’). The Belle Époque lasted for roughly forty years from the beginning of the 1870s to the dawn of the first world war, whilst the ‘Trente Glorieuses’ span the end of the second world war until the early 1970s. In both periods, France was a beacon of art, fashion, advertising and luxury goods. Vintage Advertising Art documents and celebrates this post-war boom period through the 1940s and 1940s advertisements that featured in the pages of French periodicals of the period. The retro wall art we sell harks back to that time of opulence and optimism.

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