BERNARD BOUTET DE MONVEL MASTER OF ART DECO ILLUSTRATION
A glance behind us
Our forebears (God has their soul nevertheless ! ) were filled with prejudices. To begin with it took so long to root this out in our old humdrum France : Art, to remain worthy of this name, to remain Art with a big A, must be very wary of being utilitarian. There are some rich materials and some cheap materials, noble subjects and poor subjects. Art must devote itself to some and scorn the others.
However, among these 'others', fashion illustration obviously has a place. And for an age this was just as good for us to only see fashion from two aspects : the fashion sketches done at the races, at the Bois and at society meetings, which were only a basic indication of the visions of elegance on display, and the fashion illustrations themselves, which were done by designers of a low order, by simple design "labourers".
Fortunately this time has gone by. Between pure art and utilitarian art, there is no longer a barrier. Furthermore, in France these days there's a real host of young artists : Benito, Benigni, Henri Mercier and others, specialised in fashion illustration and created a fantastic boom in this once minor art.
I'll devote a few of my next studies to them, restricting myself here to speaking about an artist who opened the way for everyone, by not being averse, on occasion, to bringing his vast talent for simple fashion figurines to life.
Bernard Boutet de Monvel
He welcomed me across the doorstep with a big smile, his hand outstretched and his eyes very bright beneath hair of a silvery sheen. And in the studio with bright, wide picture windows, I immediately felt 'at ease' before so much simple cordiality.
At ease and very ill-at-ease at the same time, because Bernard Boutet de Monvel who, like all true artists, is a modest man and reluctant to speak about himself. "Fashion illustration ? But I just dabble ! And I do so little of it ! " he said straightaway.
And if I hadn't known full well that there were enough of his own fashion designs to make his name in and outside France, and if, certain of my facts, I hadn't insisted a little, who knows whether or not Bernard Boutet de Monvel would have decided to get the very beautiful designs which illustrate these pages out of his boxes ?
Decorative designs – Modern designs - "Sleek" designs
Bernard Boutet de Monvel's first artistic concern is to create a decorative work. Doesn't he himself confirm that it's visible in everything he creates – visible enough to put out your eyes ? Whether it's a woman, an animal or a house, Bernard Boutet de Monvel endeavours above all to seek out, among all the tangle of lines which blur the vision of ordinary mortals, just a few lines, a few basic lines : those which give the woman, the animal or the house, both their striking personality and their sculptural beauty. In short, more than a painter who loves colours and the contrast of shades, Bernard Boutet de Monvel is, opposite his paintings and drawings, an architect and a sculptor, a lover of lines, masses and their harmonious balance.
Highly decorative then, Bernard Boutet de Monvel's fashion drawings are moreover modern. They're modern first of all because you can find in them silhouettes which fashion has got us accustomed to : very long, very supple, very slender silhouettes, surmounted by a very tiny proud head, silhouettes of women who are both elegant and sporty, a bit "boy-like" and very "womanly" however.
These drawings are also modern because nearly all of them testify to an effort to simplify things. You just have to look at this golf player, who is simply dealt with using just a few simple lines, which also have this modern characteristic of going beyond their usual finishing point. Look especially at these two preliminary sketches giving an idea of Bernard Boutet de Monvel's working method, which involves him transferring his sketches onto five, six, or seven successive tracings, as many times as he deems necessary to strip them of all the superfluous details, all the needless strokes.
Finally, both decorative and modern, Bernard Boutet de Monvel's drawings are all "sleek". When, by chance, he forces himself to do a fashion illustration, he cannot renounce man from the world that he is in, and everything he touches, everything that he sees under his pencil or his feather : men, women, horses, greyhounds, cars, everything is aristocratic. These pictures, like all those that this artist signs are aristocratic without exaggeration, without eccentricity, without this snobbism which is solely an infringement of aristocracy. They are, like Bernard Boutet de Monvel himself, created with the utmost measure, simplicity and good grace - naturally.
A work which isn't all his work
Strangely it wouldn't be doing the talent of Bernard Boutet de Monvel justice to believe that his work is restricted to fashion illustration. This very broad work is also highly varied. It comprises numerous portraits, numerous landscapes with very gentle, highly pastelised tones. Moreover, Bernard Boutet de Monvel brought back from his last trip to Morocco, a number of studies, whose architectural lines were truly outstanding. Finally, even more recently, he put together a series of frescos designed for the octagonal panels in a vast room (1). The one reproduced here can only give a very poor idea of the decorative power of green cactus on a grey background, on which white shapes stand out in very pure figures.
And now I hope that Bernard Boutet de Monvel will excuse me for having said in so few words something which deserved so many pages. That he excuses me as he welcomes me, with his hand outstretched his eyes very bright beneath hair of a silvery sheen, and his big smile.
Article appeared in Gebrauchsgraphik IVth year No.8.
(1)The reader really should refer to the article "Decorator Bernard Boutet de Monvel" which appears on this site, and in particular to the passage relating to Mrs Jacques Edeline's Biarritz-based dining room.
Dernière modification par Stéphane-Jacques Addade, le 23/03/2015