George Barbier & the Great War

by Arthur on Tuesday, December 1, 2009

in 19th-Century,20th-Century,Art,Design,Uncategorized

Barbier, George, & Jules Meynial.  La Guirlande des Mois.   Anées 1-5 (1917-1921) (all published).  Paris (Meynial) 1917-1921. [45546]

En avant! Early art deco illustration depicting a soldier at the front by George Barbier. For for La Guirlande des Mois, 1916.

"En avant!" Early art deco illustration depicting a soldier at the front by George Barbier. For La Guirlande des Mois, 1917 (illustration dated 1916.)

Renowned illustrator, costume designer and Art Deco stylist George Barbier was 32 in 1914 when war broke out in Europe.  Although little is known about his personal biography, it stands to reason that he would have been drafted to defend France against German encroachment.  If he was at the front, it didn’t prevent him from continuing to work as an illustrator.

As the profoundly charming pochoir prints in this series of almanacs demonstrate, Barbier continued to work in his signature Art Deco style throughout the war years.  Published by Jules Meynial, the five-issue run of La Guirlande des Mois commenced publication in 1917 and ended in 1921.  The series is redolent with reminders of the conflict, from the title-page cupid who’s traded his traditional archer’s kit for a mortar,

La Guirlande des Mois, 1917, title page.

La Guirlande des Mois, 1917, title page.

to the amorous soldiers home on leave who decorate several of the books’ silk-covered boards and their interior pages.

La Guirlande des Mois, 1917, cover illustration.

La Guirlande des Mois, 1917, cover illustration.

La Belle Marraine, by George Barbier for La Guirlande des Mois, 1919 (illustration dated 1918.)

"La Belle Marraine," by George Barbier for La Guirlande des Mois, 1919 (illustration dated 1918.)

Which is not to say that the almanacs are at all macabre.  Far from it:  given the hell on earth that was being unleashed at Passchendaele and elsewhere, the quaintness of Barbier’s illustrations seems almost bizarre.  But as we know in our own day, life goes on even at a time of war…

The Guirlande almanacs were light, convivial affairs printed to satisfy the vogue for finely printed, fashionable books.  Filled with calendars, musical scores, articles and fiction by noted cultural figures, they evoke a privileged world of elegant splendor.

Les Ballets Russes, Illustration by George Barbier for La Guirlande des Mois, 1919.

"Les Ballets Russes," Illustration by George Barbier for La Guirlande des Mois, 1919.

Lindiscret Recompense, illustration by George Barbier for La Guirlande des Mois, 1919.

"L'indiscret Recompense," illustration by George Barbier for La Guirlande des Mois, 1919.

LAmerique

"L'Amerique," illustration by George Barbier for La Guirlande des Mois, 1921.

Cardboard slipcase, 1920

Cardboard slipcase, La Guirlande des Mois, 1920

Barbier died in 1932 at the age of 50, still at the height of his powers.  Soon after his death, the Second World War effaced his memory and his work has largely been the domain of dealers and collectors of art deco graphics. That may be changing.  Just clast year, “George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco” at the Fortuny Museum in Venice provided a long overdue reconsideration of his career.

FAB Item I.D. # 45546

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arthur Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 2:06 PM

Molte grazie!

2 alejandra barbery Monday, April 26, 2010 at 11:58 PM

bellísimas ilustraciones.

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