Our next blog post is a pochoir print by French artist George Barbier. Entitled Pavane. Robe de Soir, de Worth., this richly colored print was published in La Gazette de Bon Ton, in Paris, 1921. Barbier was known for bestowing a sense of movement and life to the clothing he illustrated. Pavane is characteristic of Barbier’s fashion prints, in that it displays the clothing on a figure in an imagined setting, as opposed to on a manikin. Due to his precise eye for shapes and color, he was identified as one of the great French illustrators of the early 20th century.
Barbier drew his inspiration from 18th century art and the highly-stylized, flowing curvilinear forms of his fellow Art-Nouveau artists. He honed his color skills by observing the work of Leon Balst, and his work with outlines and shape definition was inspired by the work of Aubrey Beardsley. Born in Nantes, France in 1882, Barbier studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1908 to 1910. During his time there, he led a group of fellow artists, designers, and illustrators, in the exploration of new, graphic techniques. Nicknamed “The Knights of the Bracelet”, a name given to them by Vogue Magazine, this elite circle of artists, including Charles Martin, Paul Iribe, and Georges Lepape, were known for their flamboyant and extravagant mannerisms and style of dress. During this time, Barbier designed theater and ballet costumes, and illustrated novels and magazines. He also dabbled in jewelry making and glass and wallpaper design.
After 1915, Barbier focused his artistic talent on fashion illustration and design. He was frequently published in Gazette du Bon Ton, where he illustrated almost exclusively for the prestigious House of Worth. Barbier was also found in L’ Illustration magazine, and was one of a group of selected artists that illustrated the limited “editions de luxe”- intended as collectors’ items only. In 1920, he worked with Erte to design sets and costumes for Folies Bergere, an established music hall in Paris. Shortly thereafter, in 1924, he designed costumes for Monsieur Beaucaire, a silent film starring Rudolph Valentino that satirized the excesses of the court of Louis XV. Barbier was extremely talented in the printmaking method of pochoir, and he received high acclaim for it up until his untimely death in 1932.
Pochoir is a method of printmaking that utilizes stencils. Characterized by bold, geometric shapes and lush, vibrant color, this method was extremely suitable for fashion and architecture prints that needed to emphasize the interaction between color and pattern. Introduced to commercial publishing in France in the late 1880s, pochoir printmaking uses anywhere between 25- 250 different stencils for just one print. With so many stencils used, positioning of each stencil is extremely important, making pochoir a very exact and arduous process. The process begins with the creation of the stencils- usually made out of thin zinc or copper plates, cut by a straight-edge razor or knife. A black and white print often acts as the base, and offers an outline to the artist. Each color of the print is then applied separately, and a new stencil is used for each color. To add depth and clarity to the print, Barbier used a combination of gouache paint and watercolor on each print. The thickness of the gouache print results in a very defined and bold color block. Watercolor was utilized for the skin tone as well as the background- a delicate wash of color applied where needed. This gave the print its contrast- bringing attention to the fashion and making the design jump off the page.
In this print and in many others, Barbier applied small pops of bright color- the gold trim of the dress, the blue swipe of eyeliner, and the burnt orange and red feathers on the fan- to add visual interest. He added texture by varying the style of paint application. Sometimes he would dab or sponge paint onto the print to mimic the look of fur. To achieve the look of a smooth fabric (such as silk or satin), he would use a very thick and even application of paint, and then add a second color to mimic the sheen. Barbier was extremely talented and is credited with popularizing pochoir illustration in the 1920s. His prints are very rare and highly collectable.