Every auction I walk around the gallery with Jack Rennert to discuss his favorite items in the upcoming sale. Below you’ll find some highlights as well as interesting insights from the man responsible for starting the Poster Craze in America.
Posterette: To cut straight to the point, what do you think are some of the stars of the September 21 auction?
Jack Rennert: Well, one always focuses of course on Toulouse-Lautrec and Mucha and Cassandre – and they’re the stars of any show we do; but, I’m looking right now, for instance, at Savignac. His early works are really very hard to find, and when he went to the United States he was commissioned to do some posters for LIFE magazine. The posters themselves are entirely unavailable – they’re quite rare. And what we have here are even rarer than that: we’ve got the maquettes, the original drawings for the series. So we have some of the rarest works of one of the top 20th century French posterists.
Featuring Cappiello’s “Kub,” Loupot’s “Valentine,” and a selection of Savignac maquettes
P: One of the most impressive pieces in my mind is Cappiello’s Kub, which is currently hanging in a place of prominence in the gallery. Can you tell me more about its importance in the artist’s oeuvre?
JR: Whenever I give a talk on Cappiello, people always ask “well, of the hundreds of posters he did, which one is your favorite?” That’s a little difficult. That’s like asking which is your favorite child. Nonetheless, if pressed, I will always say it’s the Bouillon Kub. To me, it’s just a terribly compelling, forceful graphic image, and in the simplest and most colorful of terms. It really projects the product. I think it’s just brilliant. And for us to even have it – and in such good condition – is very exciting.
“Dentol” by Aleardo Terzi, 1914. Est: $12,000-$15,000
P: One of the other images that caught my eye was Terzi’s design for Dentol.
JR: Some posters are just about graphic appeal, and some are about utter charm. What can you say about this monkey who, while dangling from a tree branch with one hand, brushes his teeth with the other? It’s obviously attention grabbing, but I think it’s mainly appealing. And its one of the rarest and best Italian posters – so rare that this is the first time we’ve ever had it!
“To London by Sleeper” by Alexander Alexeieff, 1932. Est: $30,000-$40,000
P: Known more commonly as The Night Scotsman, we also have the super-rare image by Alexeieff.
JR: Well, of course, with Alexeieff, he’s trying to show you that it’s a night train – a sleeper – so it’s very fitting that the train is not on rails, but rather in the sky. And this is the same image that was used for the other textual variant of the poster known as the Night Scotsman. That image advertised the route between London and Edinburgh, while here it is coming back from Scotland to London by was of the sleeper. It is one of the great posters of English Art Deco, and we’re exceedingly pleased to have it.
Featuring Alphonse Mucha’s 1896 Seasons on silk
P: I was excited when I heard that we were getting a completely unseen variant of a famous work by Mucha.
JR: When we talk about Mucha, we talk about his posters and his panels decoratifs – his decorative panels. Of all the decorative panels, there’s no question that the best, the most sought after, is the Four Seasons he did in 1896. It is the first of his seasons groupings. And we have never, ever seen or heard of it being printed on silk. When I did my catalogue raisonné on Mucha I was totally unaware of it. It’s only very recently that a copy – this copy – has come to the world’s attention. And [being on silk] really adds a certain luminosity to the lithograph – it’s just beautiful to see. The colors are sharp and rich. Sometimes silk mutes a color, but in this case it doesn’t. For instance, the hues in the Autumn panel – the auburn hair is just so very strong. So, I’m very pleased to have this set in the auction.
P: I noticed that in the addendum we have Mucha’s Gismonda as well. Isn’t that one of his most important works?
JR: In terms of importance – importance to his career – Gismonda has to be at the top of the list. This was his first real poster in France. This established his relationship with Sarah Bernhardt, which was so vital. He would go on to design not only all of her posters, but her sets, her decor, jewelry, costumes – and this was the poster that launched that career, while also doing a lot of Bernhardt. Of course, what it did for him was more important. He had to quickly design it – he maybe had two days – and it’s just magnificent.
P: As I’ve mentioned in the blog before, there’s also a relatively huge section dedicated to Fenneker in this sale. Were you excited to get such a large grouping from such a rare artist?
JR: Well, I mean, with Fenneker you get a kind of German Expressionism, sort of the dark world of theater. And the world of theater and film is what he’s all about. Very few copies were done for this small cinema – the Marmorhaus – so they’re incredibly rare. And for us to have a collection of a dozen of his best works is quite remarkable.
P: Moving to the front of the gallery, I see a ton of automobile posters – as well as a huge classic car. If someone was only to consider one image from this section, which would you recommend?
JR: We have about 50 automobile posters that launch this auction. No question about it, the rarest, the most powerful, the most compelling graphically is Mazza’s design for the Milan race. It’s a large format poster. The colors are very, very sharp, and he really gets across the idea of speed. And nothing tells you speed like wheels coming at you. So, it’s a powerful poster, and it’s on the cover of our catalog for good reason. We also have some Monaco Grand Prix posters – the best by Falcucci and Geo Ham – as well as the Voisin poster by Charles Loupot, and some others by McKnight Kauffer. So, I think it’s a strong section on automobile posters, and there seems to be a subset of collectors who collect not only automobile posters, but specifically racing posters – and for them this is a really excellent section.
Featuring Weiluc’s Le Frou-Frou
P: In terms of Art Nouveau, is there one poster that really stands out in this sale?
JR: Oh, that would be the Frou-Frou by Weiluc. It is one of the greatest of all the Belle Epoque posters. Not too many artists really followed Toulouse-Lautrec, but one of the few was Weiluc. And when I say ‘followed’ Lautrec, I’m referring to how he was a master of using the reserve – the sheer paper – as a design element. He didn’t have to fill in every square in with color. And by Weiluc leaving the petticoat here as just paper, he is adding a great deal of appeal to the image. I love the Frou-Frou. It’s for a magazine, and it was actually meant to have a further poster attached to it at the bottom which you almost never see. We have it here and, although it’s just text, it indicates all of the great artists in each issue – some of the top illustrators of the day were being featured. You’ve got Cappiello, Bac, Guillaume, Grun, Georges Meunier, Steinlen – all of these artist who are very well known to poster collectors are here.
P: One of the most dominant images in the gallery is Steinlen’s Clinique Chéron. It’s fairly rare, correct?
JR: Steinlen’s Clinique Chéron has to be one of the great posters involving animals. Of course, almost every poster of Steinlen’s involves animals, largely cats. But here we have a whole menagerie in addition to a lovely young lady – Steinlen’s daughter who he featured in so many of his posters. The image is for a veterinarian. The idea that a vet would go through such expense to do a large, two-sheet poster for his Paris practice is difficult to understand. We certainly wouldn’t see something like this today. However, I’m glad he did it, as the poster is utterly charming and extremely rare.
P: Finally, give me a wildcard. If you could bring any of these posters home, which would it be?
JR: Oh, that would be the Marguerite Dufay. There’s just something utterly charming. I find myself looking at her. I really would love to go to her concert tonight – obviously, I’ve missed the date somehow. She just grabs me. The idea of this well-endowed lady and her trombone – it’s bizarre but I think it’s eye catching and very, very pleasing.