The Influence of Art Nouveau on French Advertising Art
By Faith Duval –
Art Nouveau was a movement which lasted from the 1870s to the beginning of the First World War. Many who were paragons of the golden age of advertising art posters were stalwarts of the movement, such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen, Jules Chéret, Pierre Bonnard and Alphonse Mucha.
Among the key features of this new style, influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement, were inspiration by the shapes of plant life, emphasis on curves over straight lines, and the depiction of glamour and femininity.
Toulouse-Lautrec in particular was a significant influence on the post-war fashion illustrator René Gruau. Through his celebrated vintage ads he delighted in depicting the glamorous women of the Parisian demimonde at the turn of the century. He famously created posters for the Moulin Rouge club, and visited brothels and cafes to find his subjects. While he depicted women of a less refined disposition than the elegant ladies of Gruau prints, Toulouse-Lautrec’s thick black outlines and his use of blocks of colour inspired the vintage art of Gruau.
There was always an organic quality in Art Nouveau work which betrayed its rebellion against Victorian industrialism. They resisted the frivolity of Victorian ornamentation. Though they made extravagant use of tendril-like shapes, Art Nouveau artists intended them be an integral part of the image rather than superfluous decoration. Thus there was a certain economy to Art Nouveau that set it apart from the art which recently preceded it.
Its emphasis on depicting women, particularly women who were glamorous and self-confident resonates with advertising art in the ’40s and ’50s, as post-war women recaptured the feminine mystique which wartime employment, sartorial restrictions and shortages had repressed.
Many of the advertisements of the ’40s and ’50s depicted women in a somewhat more demure fashion than their Art Nouveau counterparts at the fin de siècle. See for example René Gruau’s work for Dior which depicts women more restrained than the sumptuous beauties in Toulouse-Lautrec prints. Nonetheless, a similar attitude of joyous consumption and optimistic splendour prevailed after the Second World War as during the Belle Epoque of 1871-1914 and was reflected in the advertising art of the time.
The influence of Art Nouveau is visible in this piece of vintage art, a 1951 illustration for the Lancôme perfume ‘Fleur de Feu’ which possesses a fiery boldness. The evocation of branches in the outline of the woman’s head and the surrounding lines recalls the organic look of much of Art Nouveau.
The development of mass advertising in the late nineteenth century and advances in chromolithography meant artists’ prints could be reproduced hundreds of thousands of times. The great open boulevards of Paris were the galleries for this new poster art which reached its high point in the 1890s; rather than the work being holed up in exclusive galleries or private collections, this art was directly accessible by the urban masses. In those days, for Parisians, advertising was art in its own right.
Much of the commercial art in magazines of the 40s and 50s which we sell at Vintage Advertising Art can be regarded in the same way. As advertising as a genuine art form has somewhat fallen by the wayside since with the ascendancy of photography and computer-generated imagery in advertising, our business hopes to remember that unique period and preserve its artwork for posterity.