The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

October 16, 2016

October 16, 1882

Georges Barbier (October 16, 1882 to March 16 1932) was a French illustrator said to have helped create the art deco style. According to the blurb from an antiques roadshow event we picture one of the illustrations Barbier did for one of Diagaliev's shows featuring Nijinsky.

Barbier was a leading figure in the birth of the Art Deco style and renowned for his exquisite illustrations that capture the mood, fashion & atmosphere of the 'Roaring Twenties'. He also frequently contributed to many important fashion publications and is regarded as a principal artist of the time frame.

Georges Barbier became most famous with the publication of two rare albums representing the dancers Nijinsky and Karsavina in the years 1913-1914 as illustrated above.

A prolific designer, Barbier worked for many years in the field of theatre design, cultivating an aptitude for vivid colour effects derived from the example of the revolutionary Russian artist, costume and set designer Léon Samoilovitch Bakst.

The New York Times, on the event of a retrospective, allows a more nuanced look at this artist:

... In the France that emerged from World War I, George Barbier, then in his 30s, was one of the best-known artist-designers, especially famous as a creator of the brilliantly colored fashion plates that had been launched by the couturier Paul Poiret a decade earlier, and of jewelry for Cartier. He also made his mark as a writer and reviewer for magazines, a designer for theater and film, and a book illustrator....

[Contributing to the scholarly oblivion which followed his death] were his own reticence and a surprising sparseness of biographical information. Born into a prosperous bourgeois family in the provincial town of Nantes, he lived a clearly very different lifestyle in Paris, where he frequented unmistakably, if not exclusively, homosexual circles - he was, for example, an intimate of the dandy and poet Robert de Montesquiou, who introduced him to Marcel Proust.
The subtitle of the exhibition, "The Birth of Art Deco," risks giving a misleading impression. The term Art Deco only came into use in the late 1960s and is easier to define in architecture, interior design and household wares than in the visual arts. Barbier's work differs from that of obvious Art Deco artists like Tamara Lempicka, for example, and he was untouched by Cubism, one of the principal inspirations of later Art Deco....

From the outset an ardent admirer of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, he produced sumptuously colorful albums celebrating Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, ....But he parted company with the Ballets Russes aesthetically and musically with the Cubist-style production "Parade" in 1917, which he condemned in print as "strange, noisy, eccentric" and "the apotheosis of the sneer."...

A fashionable sapphic subtext is often present in Barbier's exquisitely composed fashion plates....Barbier turned his skills to the more explicit depiction of lesbian relationships in a series of editions of the erudite poet and novelist Pierre Louÿs's "Chansons de Bilitis" - the results, however, being more decorously erotic than pornographic by modern standards.

"Bilitis," first published in 1894, purported to be a prose translation of newly discovered lyrical verses by an eponymous Greek courtesan and friend of Sappho, celebrating physical love between women. So adept was Louÿs that the imposture at first fooled even classical scholars.

The exposure of the hoax did nothing to undermine the popularity of the book, and it became a favorite text for illustrators and producers of limited, deluxe editions....

This cat is attributed to Barbier:

From another review of that retrospective on Barbier, we learn he pictured the first Cartier panther.

Who was this talented and prolific artist? Well, we may never find out that much about Barbier’s personal life. Little, if any, personal correspondence or other archival material has been located to date. Six months after George Barbier’s death in 1932 at the age of 50, his entire library was auctioned off and his work was disseminated throughout the world to museums and private collections. Prior to his death he donated his erotic Japanese Shunga prints and a portion of his book collection to the Bibliothèque Nationale and a small collection of other work to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes.....

Barbier worked with a who’s who of modern art disciplines. In the fashion world, he illustrated the designs for Poiret, Paquin, Lanvin, Worth, and Vionnet, among others. Beginning in 1910, he worked very closely with the jeweler Louis Cartier (who also was a collector of Barbier’s work), a relationship that lasted for many years. Barbier illustrated the first black panther for Cartier and created jewelry designs for Cartier, as well. He also worked with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. He is most commonly associated with the fashion illustrations he executed for the Gazette du Bon Ton from 1912-1925. Barbier did not only illustrate other artists’ work, he created original designs for costumes and scenery for the theatre, and even film, such as Monsieur Beaucaire starring Rudolph Valentino in 1924. His love of fine books led him to create some of the most resplendent book illustrations of the period, many of which are displayed in the catalogue.

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