Monday, September 14, 2009
George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco
Are you familiar with George Barbier, shown above? I was vaguely aware of his name and knew that he was an illustrator during the Art Deco period. But beyond that...nothing else. Evidently, I'm not alone.
Barbier was one of the leading figures of the Art Deco era, enjoying fame and notoriety with fellow artists Léon Bakst, Erté, and Aubrey Beardsley. Much of Barbier's work centered around fashion illustration (including very stylish works for Cartier), although book and magazine illustrations and theater designs (set and costume) rounded out his oeuvre. His illustrations were so very evocative of the Deco era; they were lavish, stylized, and at times erotic. They captured the modernity and frivolity of that time.
Unfortunately, Barbier's name has been obscured with time. Bakst and Erté's stars continued to shine bright through the years, while Barbier was relegated to the annals of time. And amazingly enough, no exhibitions of his work had been staged since 1932 until this year when the Fortuny Museum in Venice held a retrospective of Barbier's work. An accompanying book was recently published entitled George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco, edited by curator Barbara Martorelli (distributed in the U.S. by Rizzoli New York). The book is a fascinating study of the man who helped define the Deco aesthetic. There are numerous color plates of Barbier's work, and I think you'll be charmed by them. (I know that I was, especially by his theater designs.) The text is informative and concise, but the book really is all about Barbier's illustrations.
If you have an interest in illustration, in fashion, or in the Deco period, I highly recommend this well researched book. After reading it, I think you might agree that it's high time more people are familiar with George Barbier.
(Those of you in New York might be interested in an upcoming lecture by the author on November 17 at the Art Deco Society. Sponsored by the American Association of University Women, the event will take place from 6-8pm, $20 for ADSNY members and $25 for guests & non-members. For more information, please call 212-679-3326)
(All images copyrighted George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco edited by Barbara Martorelli, Marsilio, 2009)