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)

Mademoiselle Spinelly chez elle, 1921 from Le Bonheur du Jour ou les Grâces à la Mode, 1924

Mademoiselle Sorel en grand habit, 1921 from Le Bonheur du Jour ou les Grâces à la Mode, 1924

Costume Study, Chinese Dancer, c. 1920

La Fontaine de coquillages, from Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1914

Falbalas et Fanfreluches, almanach des Modes présentes, passées et futures, 1924

The Romance of Perfume, 1928; a promotional book for Richard Hudnut and Richard le Gallienne.

(All images copyrighted George Barbier: The Birth of Art Deco edited by Barbara Martorelli, Marsilio, 2009)


  1. I think Barbier was one of the most inventive art deco illustrators of them all, and his work is endlessly inspirational. There is quite a lot about him and his work floating around on the Internet if you "Google" him. Anyone who likes his work and is seeing it for the first time might also want to also look up Georges Lepape and Helen Dryden among others. Barbier's work has a lot to offer to a contemporary illustrator or anyone else who designs anything involving shapes, colors, and lines.

  2. I am sorry to admit I did not know of his work. The illustrations are superb and I am off to search for that book. Thank you, xv.

  3. Thanks for opening my eyes. I too am off to search for this book!


  5. Anonymous11:26 AM

    As soon as I read your post, I was reminded of some notecards that I have from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I went to my desk, and sure enough, all the "Turn-of-the-Century Spring & Summer Ensembles" on the Notecards are by Barbier! A visit to the Boston MFA would surely allow us to see some originals :) I will be getting the new book - - thank you!

  6. So interesting to learn about his work. Really like the illustrations.

  7. We are one of the largest pochoir print dealers in the world. Many of our prints are by George Barbier. You can see all of the the Gazette du Bon Ton prints at You can also contact us at to purchase original prints. John Vassillew

  8. Thanks for the education - these drawings are really marvelous. It's easy to see how much of his designs seeped into our daily aesthetic.