LA BELLE EPOQUE
The poster revolution of the late 19th century transformed the city of Paris, created an obsession with colour lithography among leading artists and shaped the future of printmaking, poster design and advertising. More than a century later we are still captivated by these images.
The years between 1871 and 1914 represent one of the most fascinating periods in European history. it was an era characterized by optimism, peace at home and in Europe, new technology and scientific discoveries. The peace and prosperity in Paris allowed the arts to flourish, and many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition. A joy of life awoke in all social classes, and with that a desire for new, extraordinary, sensational things. People were seized by the feeling of a new start into better times and a sense of freedom and happiness prevailed.
History’s greatest transformation of art and poetry from traditional to modern occurred during the Belle Epoque. Art in every genre prospered like never before. In Paris, a recognizable artistic style emerged in numerous forms, most notably in posters advertising goods and entertainment. Food, beverages, bicycles, and theatrical performances were just some of the subjects of these now famous Parisian works. The cycle industry contracted to as well as benefitted from this Golden Age. With a boom in cycle sales, funds became available for advertising. In America and Great Britain, most of this revenue was channelled toward magazine adverts, while in France glorious – and somewhat racy – posters emerged.
Artists of the 1890s noted for designing bicycle posters include Henri Boulanger (pseudonym Henri Gray), Jean de Palealogue (known as ‘PAL’), Georges Massias, Franciso Tamango, Georges Favre, Fernand Fernel and Gaston Noury.
The Massias Gladiator poster (below) is one of the most famous of all the early designs, setting a style of naked women with flowing hair alongside gent’s bicycles.
1895 Gladiator de Route
30″ Front wheel
28″ Rear wheel
This model of Gladiator is not easy to find. What makes this one unique among the few survivors is its original transfer (decal) on the steering head. Gilt (gold leaf) transfers are very delicate and easy to polish off by mistake, so not many surviving bicycles from the 1890s retain this remarkable feature. I have had the bicycle sprayed with clear laquer to protect it.
GASTON NOURY: GLADIATOR POSTERS
Gaston Noury (born in 1866) was a French painter, poster artist, illustrator, cartoonist and theatrical costume designer, working in Le Havre and Paris, where he settled around 1889. His prolific output covered a wide variety of subjects and his images were used for posters, books, postcards, songbooks, genre scenes and fashion plates. He provided illustrations for magazines such as La Chronique parisienne, Saint-Nicolas, Gil Blas illustré, Journal amusant (1889-1890), and Les Hommes d’aujourd’hui, and designed the famous Galdiator poster (below).
Around 1910, Noury designed costumes for the Moulin Rouge and Ambassadeurs in the Montmartre district. The costumes are both childishly innocent and provocative – floral designs and fabrics with seductive cutouts showing legs, midriff, cleavage and sometimes bare breasts. The drawings combine pencil and watercolour washes, portraying young women with stylised faces and delicate hands and feet.
1895 GLADIATOR CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
Cycles Gladiator was formed by Alexandre Darracq and Jean Aucoc in 1891, and production started at a factory in the eastern outskirts of Paris at Pre-Saint-Gervais. Apparently their cheap prices caused problems for the British bicycle industry and, in 1896, Gladiator, Clement, Metropole, de Dion Bouton and the French branch of Humber merged and were purchased by an English financial syndicate. Humber of England subequently sold de Dion Bouton motor tricycles and Metropole’s Acatene chainless bicycles in Britain.