Googling art of the 1920s, you’ll most likely learn about this French illustrator with an English name. Within his relatively short lifetι̇ɱe (1882-1932), George Barbier defined the look of his tι̇ɱe, working as a stage and costume designer and book illustrator. It was he who invented for the house of Cartier its’ famous black panther design, which remains iconic today (fig. 4). He created visual designs for exclusive art books of prominent Parisian couturiers and illustrated risky magazines like La Vie Parisienne. His creative output combining orientalism and neo-classicism became the most vivid and elegant ɱanifestation of Art Deco.
Fig. 1. George Barbier (wikiart.org)
Fig. 2. Le feu (artophile.com)
Fig. 3. Proserpine (invaluable.com)
Fig. 4. Design for Cartier (fragrantica.com)
Fig. 5. Salabaccha, 1927 (onewhodresses.com)
Fig. 6. Chansons de Bilitis, 1910/1922 (honesterotica
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Fig. 7. Tango (tumblr.com)
Fig. 8. Le bonheur du jour; ou, Les graces a la mode, 1924 (metmuseum.org)
Fig. 9. Venus (fineartamerica.com)
Despite the prominence of the artist, little is known about his biography. Worrying about their reputation, Barbier’s relatives destroy the archives. Nevertheless, we can learn that the artist was born in the family of a well-to-do Nantes businessɱan from whom he inherited means for a luxury Parisian lifestyle. He could afford to collect rarities, maintain an extensive library and a car. The artist’s studio, located at 31 rue Campagne Première in the Montparnasse district, was elegantly filled with vintage items of every country: Venetian commode with golden Chinese figures, Japanese prints and Persian paintings hanging on walls, etc. Curiously, at the same address was a studio of Emɱanuel Radnitszky, known as ɱan Ray. Having arrived in Paris in 1908, the artist continued his art studies at the Académie Julien, the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens. It should be mentioned that his artistic tastes developed already in Nantes.
He received initial training at the age of twenty when enrolled at the École régionale du dessin et des beaux-arts. His mentors were Alexandre Jacques Chantron, Alexis Louis de Broca, and Pierre Alexis Lesage. There Barbier won annual awards and became a part of a local artistic community. His patron in Nantes was Alphonse Lotz-Brissonneau, a wealthy industrialist and collector of antique prints. Allegedly, Barbier relocated to Paris in 1905, though his studies began three years later. Some researchers believe that the artist traveled to England within this gap. There he discovered the works of Aubrey Beardsley, which had a deep impression on him. Barbier obtained not only books illustrated by this artist but also a part of his archives. The replacement of the French name Georges with its’ English equivalent probably was respect for Beardsley
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. Some of the early works Barbier signed with an English alias E. W. Larry.
Fig. 10. Song of Songs, 1914 (honesterotica.com)
Fig. 11. Song of Songs, 1914 (honesterotica.com)
Fig. 12. Song of Songs, 1914 (honesterotica.com)
Fig. 13. Vignette for Les liaisons dangereuses, published posthumously, 1934 (honesterotica.com)
Fig. 14. icanvas.com
Fig. 15. Illustration for La Vie Parisienne (mycomfy-shop.com)
Fig. 16. Illustration for La Vie Parisienne (mycomfy-shop.com)
Fig. 17. Illustration for Fantasio (mycomfy-shop.com)
Fig. 18. Illustration for La Vie Parisienne (mycomfy-shop.com)
Influences and Contributions
At the age of 29, Barbier held his first solo exhibition. It was during this event when he began using the anglicized version of his name. By this tι̇ɱe, Barbier had already contributed to magazines like Le Frou-frou and L’Humoriste. The catalog for the exhibition contained a preface written by the infamous Pierre Louÿs, whose book Chansons de Bilitis Barbier illustrated a year earlier. Besides Greek, Egyptian, and Asian ancient arts, Barbier was influenced by contemporary fashion, namely by prominent couturier Paul Poiret. Instead of corsets and yards of fabric, which corrected and hid the figure, Poiret suggested long gowns that followed the body shape. Designs were labeled vulgar and pornographic: “To think of it! under those straight gowns we could see their bodies!” (L’Illustration). Another source of inspiration was the Russian ballet that arrived in France in 1909. Barbier frequently attended their perforɱances, which resulted in two illustrated albums devoted to the leading dancers, Nijinsky and Karsavina (published in 1913).
Major Fashion Magazines
From 1912 to the beginning of the war, Barbier contributed to major fashion magazines, Journal des dames et des modes and Gazette du bon ton. The first one gathered significant illustrators like Léon Bakst, Paul Iribe, Charles Martin, Adrian Drian, Arɱand Vallée, Gerda Wegener, etc. The second one was distributed not only in Europe but also in the USA through an arrangement with the director of Vogue. The group working on the design of the issues was nicknamed by Vogue the chevaliers du bracelet (knights of the bracelet) for their fashionable dandy looks and practice of sporting a bracelet. The aesthetic lifestyle and belonging to a circle of dandies one more tι̇ɱe evoke the image of Beardsley when we speak about Barbier. Involved as a book illustrator, the artist produced images for Song of Songs, writings of Alfred de Musset, Théophile Gautier, Choderlos de Laclos, and Paul Verlaine (Fêtes galantes). In a post-war
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period, Barbier ɱanifested himself as a costume designer working on two productions of Casanova and La Dernière nuit de Don Juan, written by Maurice Rostand, and on the silent Paramount’s movie Monsieur Beaucaire (1924).
Fig. 19. Chansons de Bilitis, 1910/1922 (liveinternet.ru)
Fig. 20. Chansons de Bilitis, 1910/1922 (liveinternet.ru)