Alphonse Mucha et Son Oeuvre

mucha01.jpg

Alphonse Mucha was so wildly prolific, and his work maintained such a consistently high standard, that book collections tend to focus on the popular Art Nouveau prints and posters to the exclusion of everything else. This short study of Mucha’s career was published in 1897 when the Nouveau style was becoming a dominant trend in Continental Europe, thanks in part to the promotion of art journals like La Plume, as well as to Mucha himself. The reproductions are all monochrome halftones but they include many sketches, illustrations and smaller works that are either never seen elsewhere or are marginalised by his advertising graphics and the designs for Sarah Bernhardt. Browse the book here or download it here.

mucha02.jpg

mucha03.jpg

mucha04.jpg

mucha05.jpg

Continue reading “Alphonse Mucha et Son Oeuvre”

Aubrey fakery

nichols2.jpg

Cover of Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley (1920).

I’ve long been fascinated by fakes and forgeries especially those one finds in the art world, when the ability to imitate another artist’s work succumbs to the temptation to defraud. Artistic forgeries succeed best when there are convenient gaps in an artist’s career, and when the historical record is vague enough to plausibly allow the existence of a lost or neglected work. The fake Aubrey Beardsley drawings that were presented by HS Nichols to the New York art world in 1919 are unusual for offending both these criteria. Beardsley and his work will be subject to renewed attention in March when Tate Britain stages the largest exhibition of his drawings for 50 years, and it was news of this that reminded me of the Nichols fakes. I know the drawings from an appendix in The Collected Works of Aubrey Beardsley (1967), edited by Bruce S. Harris, which presents almost everything that Nichols published in a subscriber-only collection, Fifty Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, in 1920. Nichols had been in the Beardsley milieu in the London of the 1890s, and was for a short time a partner of Leonard Smithers, the publisher and pornographer who not only published Beardsley’s later works along with The Savoy magazine, but also commissioned the notoriously “obscene” Lysistrata drawings. Smithers was, by Victorian standards, a scoundrel, but also an aesthete, whereas Nichols seems to lack any redeeming qualities. One of the curators of the Tate exhibition, Stephen Calloway, describes Nichols in his 1998 study, Aubrey Beardsley, as “scurrilous”, and provides an account of the Nichols fakes:

That Beardsley’s style was more or less inimitable was sadly proved by almost all those, and there were many, who attempted to fake his work. From the period immediately after the First World War, at a time when AE Callatin and a number of other American collectors were beginning, really for the first time, to make Beardsley originals more valuable, forgeries began to abound. In 1919 a celebrated fraud was attempted when HS Nichols reappeared on the scene, claiming to have an important and sizeable cache of previously unknown Beardsley drawings. They were put on a show in New York. Considerable excitement was generated, especially when doubts about the authenticity of the works began to be voiced in several important quarters.

Denounced as fakes by Callatin, Joseph Pennell and other connoisseurs, these hopelessly inept specimens of the forger’s pen were vigorously defended by Nichols, who claimed in the New York Evening Post, “I know a great deal more about Beardsley than either Mr Pennell or Mr Callatin, but I absolutely decline to make known to the world what I do know”. In fact, he claimed to have had more intimate dealings with the artist than even his erstwhile partner Smithers. The drawings, fifty in number, were published in an expensively produced album, like the Van Meegeren Vermeers; it is difficult now, with hindsight, to see how anyone could possibly have been taken in even then. But, in spite of a useful essay on How to Detect Beardsley Forgeries by the great Beardsley scholar RA Walker, which specifically alludes to these efforts at deception, examples from this very group and others of their like still circulate and surface from time to time.

The note in the Harris book refers to a dismissal of the fakes by Oliver Brenning in the September 1919 edition of Vanity Fair, an article which may be read here (PDF). As for the Nichols book, this turned up recently at the Internet Archive so it’s now possible to see all the fakes in one place. Whoever was responsible for the Nichols drawings (I’ve seen Nichols himself credited) isn’t merely a bad imitator but is also a bad artist, with many of the drawings being remarkably graceless and inept. Beardsley’s art, especially his early work, is often grotesque (“I am nothing if I am not grotesque,” he once said) but it is never ugly. When they’re not being ugly the Nichols fakes assault one’s credulity by showing a pair of young women wearing clothes of a style unknown in the 1890s (Plate 15: “The Twins”), or plagiarising Alphonse Mucha (Plate 49: “Design for a Church Window”). I haven’t checked but I think another of the drawings may be a copy of a piece by Eugène Grasset.

nichols1.jpg

Whistler by unknown artist (not by Aubrey Beardsley, despite the signature).

Stephen Calloway is correct when he says that the fakes continue to circulate today, mechanical (and digital) reproduction having given them a life they really don’t deserve. (This post might be accused of extending that lifespan.) The Whistler portrait above is one of the more convincing examples which no doubt explains why it was credited to Beardsley in Nick Meglin’s The Art of Humorous Illustration (1973), a book from a reputable New York publisher, Watson-Guptil.

egerton.jpg

When Virago published Keynotes & Discords by George Egerton in 1995 they used another of the fakes on the cover. This was particularly ironic when Egerton’s stories had been first published in John Lane’s Keynotes series, a line of books that not only took their name from the first Egerton volume but which were illustrated by Beardsley himself. The worst example of proliferation I’ve seen in print was the Beardsley postcard book published by Taschen in the 1990s which scattered the Nichols fakes among genuine Beardsleys, thus ensuring that the uninitiated would continue to litter the world with the things. Today we have Pinterest, home of the erroneous credit. I doubt the Tate exhibition will draw any attention to the fakes but now that Nichols’ book is online it’s easier for those who suspect an attribution to assuage (or confirm) their suspicions.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Under the Hill by Aubrey Beardsley
Aubrey Beardsley and His World
After Beardsley by Ryan Cho
Aubrey Beardsley’s Keynotes
Antony Little’s echoes of Aubrey
Aubrey in LIFE
Beardsley reviewed
Aubrey Beardsley in The Studio
Ads for The Yellow Book
Beardsley and His Work
Further echoes of Aubrey
A Wilde Night
Echoes of Aubrey
After Beardsley by Chris James
Illustrating Poe #1: Aubrey Beardsley
Beardsley’s Rape of the Lock
The Savoy magazine
Beardsley at the V&A
Merely fanciful or grotesque
Aubrey Beardsley’s musical afterlife
Aubrey by John Selwyn Gilbert
“Weirdsley Daubery”: Beardsley and Punch
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé

Buchschmuck und Flächenmuster by Max Benirschke

benirschke01.jpg

A recent arrival at the Internet Archive was this collection of Art Nouveau book decorations by Max Benirschke (1880–1961). Very welcome it is too, although I wish it had been accompanied by its companion volumes from Koloman Moser and Carl Otto Czeschka. The three books formed a series, Die Quelle (The Source), a Viennese equivalent of the design books produced by Alphonse Mucha and others in France. Both the Benirschke and Moser books have been available from Dover Publications at one time or another but the Benirschke one seems now to be out of print. There’s more about Die Quelle and its artists (plus related subjects) at the excellent Vienna Secession. Benirschke’s book may be browsed and downloaded here.

benirschke02.jpg

benirschke03.jpg

benirschke04.jpg

benirschke05.jpg

Continue reading “Buchschmuck und Flächenmuster by Max Benirschke”

Hector Guimard’s Castel Béranger

guimard01.jpg

Art Nouveau is never far from these pages or from my own work, as has been the case this week when work-related research turned up this recent addition to the scanned books at the Internet Archive. Hector Guimard is best known today for his entrances to the Paris Metro not all of which survived the ravages of the 20th century. His designs for the Castel Béranger, an apartment block in Paris, slightly precede the Metro commission, and were intended by Guimard as a showcase for his own development of the Art Nouveau style.

guimard02.jpg

Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Guimard attended to every detail of the building’s construction and interior design, furniture included, and that’s what you have here, a book length guide to the building inside and out. The asymmetrical wrought-iron gate is a familiar sight from studies of Art Nouveau but other views of the building are less common. Compared to Alphonse Mucha’s control and Victor Horta’s sinuous curves, Guimard’s decoration can appear undisciplined but the wildness also makes it seem in advance of its time. Some of the wallpaper patterns for the Castel Béranger contain shapes that wouldn’t be seen again in a design context until the psychedelic posters of the 1960s. Guimard believed he was designing for the future but didn’t live to see the world that could make use of such stylistic delirium.

guimard03.jpg

Continue reading “Hector Guimard’s Castel Béranger”

Alphonse Mucha’s Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli

mucha1.jpg

One of the recent weekend posts linked to a Kickstarter page for a reprinting of Le Pater, one of several books designed and illustrated by Alphonse Mucha. Two years before Le Pater Mucha had created an equally sumptuous volume, Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli. The Mucha Foundation describes the book thus:

Based on Edmond Rostand’s La Princesse Lointaine, written for Sarah Bernhardt in 1895, L’Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli was commissioned from the author Robert de Flers by the Parisian publisher Henri Piazza.

By the time De Flers had completed his manuscript, Mucha had only three months to prepare 134 coloured lithographs before the edition was due to go to print. (more)

I’ve often wondered how Mucha managed to create so many posters and other designs—never mind books—in a short space of time, even if he used assistants now and then. Judging by this example he could work fast without diminishing his flair or invention. The pages here are from Gallica where the scans seem to be improving in quality. The whole of Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli is available for viewing or downloading, as is their copy of Le Pater and many other Mucha prints and illustrations.

mucha2.jpg

mucha3.jpg

mucha4.jpg

mucha5.jpg

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alphonse Mucha record covers
Combinaisons Ornementales