Pulling him away from his desk on this sunny spring morning, the Vintage Poster Blog asked Jack Rennert for his run-down of the upcoming May 3 auction at Poster Auctions International:
Vintage Poster Blog: I noticed that the back cover of the auction catalog is the Café Jacqmotte by Fernand Toussaint. You obviously felt it was an important enough work to highlight – what makes it so great?
Jack Rennert: We actually have two great posters by the Belgian painter Toussaint. He is better known for his paintings rather than his posters because he did very few posters. But, his two best ones are the Café Jacqmotte and the Le Sillon, both of which are featured in this sale. They’re of note not only for their design but also for their incredibly fine lithographic treatment that Toussaint got on both of them from De Rycker, the number one printer in Belgium. There are really such fine gradations of color in both posters, and they come up very seldom at auction; so, we expect them to be met with a lot of enthusiasm from buyers.
VPB: Would you say he is the most important Belgian posterist?
JR: Well, him and I would say someone like Livemont of course. But Toussaint is rarer and very much in demand.
VPB: There’s also this incredibly rare variant of the famous Chat Noir poster.
JR: While we have many interesting posters by Steinlen, this is particularly intriguing because Rodolphe Salis – the owner of the Chat Noir nightclub – had financial problems, and he had to sell out everything in his cabaret. This was done at the Hotel Druout – an auction house that still exists today in Paris – in 1898, and this is the very rare version of the famous Chat Noir poster with text announcing that famous sale. It is also in really excellent condition because all these tones – these greys against the black – are missing in most surviving versions of the poster, but here they are very strong, giving a sharp outline to the fierce cat.
VPB: I thought the reason for the sale was that Salis died?
JR: He did die around this time, but I think the auction occurred before that.
VPB: So, if they sold everything in the Chat Noir, does that mean the club shut down?
JR: Yes, so this is the absolute final version of the Chat Noir poster. The club itself may have lived on by name, but certainly not by management.
I’d also like to point out the Clinique Chéron poster by Steinlen, hanging next to the Chat Noir in the gallery right now. This one I like for all the obvious reasons: there is a compelling charm to everything that Steinlen does, especially if it involves children – largely his daughter – or if it involves animals. And here we have a congregation of them! It’s always interesting to figure out why one small shop in Paris would need such a huge poster, which really could only have been put up in about 20 or 30 places in all of Paris. Why would he go through that huge expense of getting a top artist to do this very large poster? And the reason for it is that Steinlen’s home was filled with between 30 and 40 cats – stray cats that he would pick up off the street – at all times. Of course, he needed a veterinarian. So, Chéron was his vet, and I have a feeling – I can’t prove this of course – that instead of paying him francs, Steinlen decided to give him as a gift this very impressive poster.
VPB: I also noticed that there are actually three posters in this sale promoting the esoteric sport of jai-alai, most notably the image by Dufau.
JR: In the Dufau, you have everything that’s great about Art Nouveau present in the poster. First, you have fashion – but then, you have the movement, the way the player is seen and the way he is framed by these very stylish spectators, and also the exclamation point of his rich red cap. I think it is one of the classic Art Nouveau designs, and rarely seen at that.
VPB: There’s also quite an impressive collection of images of Mistinguett in the sale.
JR: We are very fortunate to have in this auction at least a dozen Mistinguett posters. She was, of course, one of the leading singers of the early 20th century, and more importantly she was able to get the top posterists of the period – largely Gesmar, Zig, Van Caulaert – to do posters for her. She’s always exuberant, very youthful. Even when she’s in her 60s performing, she’s advertised to look like she’s in her 20s. And some of the very finest posters of the 1920s and 1930s are of Mistinguett.
VPB: Speaking of fine, I also noticed that you have both the poster and the maquette of the Chocolat Menier.
JR: By anyone’s definition, one of the most iconic French posters ever done, period, would be Bouisset’s charming poster for Chocolat Menier in which a little girl takes a chocolate to write this graffiti of the brand’s name on a wall. Sometimes it says just simply “Chocolat Menier,” and here it says “Avoid Any Substitutes.” Utterly charming. And what we have beside the poster even more importantly is the very fine drawing. We call it a maquette – meaning a preparatory design for the printing of a poster – but this is so fine that I have a feeling it was done after the poster as a presentation artwork, possibly for the president of the company. It’s one of a kind – you have gouache, watercolor, crayon – all mixed media. It is hand signed, and it’s always nice to have a unique work by an artist. Speaking of, we are also showing by Bouisset his interpretation of the Four Seasons in which he shows children in nature, each hand signed.
VPB: Now, my favorite poster in the auction is this design for Marshall Field – can you tell me more about it?
JR: It’s a very, very rare poster. You know, American Art Nouveau is already rare – I mean, we do have Bradley. Penfield is Art Nouveau in terms of period but not necessarily in terms of style. And here, you have everything we think is great in Art Nouveau, especially the rendering of the female figure and the ornamentation of the background with leaves, trees – nature, if you wish. We have never seen this poster before, and I’m not, frankly, familiar with the artist – his name is Godfrey. And it was done for the grand reopening of the Marshall Field store in Chicago in 1907. So this, to me, is one of the finest and certainly one of the rarest posters in terms of American Art Nouveau.
VPB: Of course, I couldn’t finish this interview without asking you to elaborate on the large presence of Bernard Villemot posters in this sale.
JR: We have, in conjunction with our publication of his catalogue raisonné, been able to source a collection of about 30 of his posters in this sale. I don’t think that we need to “launch” Villemot per se – he is already well known and very much appreciated – but I think we are launching a new appreciation of his posters. We have his designs for Perrier, Bally, Orangina, and others – all of which are some of the most iconic advertising designs of the latter half of the 20th century. It’s a great opportunity to invest in the Lautrec of the Modern period.