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In her excellent introduction to The Golden Age of Style (London: Orbis Publishing Ltd., 1976), Barbara Baines refers to pochoir art as having “slightly mellowed” (p.17) the stunning results of early twentieth century avant-garde art movements, on behalf of presentations of fashion design commensurate to the sophistication of its leisured and educated clientele. While artists like Georges Lepape, George Barbier, Eduardo Benito and Umberto Brunelleschi did indeed turn heads with innovative design strategies, the work of André Marty, though suffused with the exigencies of streamline, was far less concerned with spectacular challenges to conventional consumption than with substantial challenges to conventional needs. Though firmly ensconced in the hot designer clique known as “Knights of the Bracelet” (p.26), and, very typically working along the whole spectrum of graphic design profit centers, Marty also wrote reviews of modern dance (p.28). His pochoirs reveal a concern for bodies under stress quite unique within the hand-colored cuisine of pochoir illustration.

In contradistinction to overwrought power-political concerns with correct and promptly disseminated ideology, the profferment of women’s fashions by pochoir exponents would hardly resort to poisoning itself with the vision of policing every feature of public life. Pochoir art was a practice par excellence of recognizing the problematic subtleties of that private life entailing world history but fortuitously distanced from it and thus threatened only by its being faintly ridiculous and thereby intractable to the full circulation of individual sensibility. The work appeared in a handful of periodicals often sent gratis to spouses of aristocrats and tycoons. The most significant publication was Gazette du Bon Ton (Source of High Fashion/Source of Right Tone or Pitch or Style) (1913-1925), and its most engaging artist-designer was André Marty (1882-1974).

Marty was neither the most exciting illustrator nor the most fecund colorist among the Gazette’s stalwarts; but his understanding of the drama of the modern era was unsurpassed for depth and breadth. The plate, titled, “Brise du Large” (“Lost at Sea”) (1921) shows a couple on a headland with a large sailing vessel passing behind them, its white sails set in relief by the dark blue waters and cloudless sky. They both face away from the sea, she being held by him from behind, his arms locked around her neck, one hand at her throat, the other holding the back of her head. Each of her arms is slightly and stiffly lifted away from her sides. The expressions on their faces emit suspenseful discomfort. There she is, in a deep blue skirt and vest complemented by a pink blouse with an architectural motif, clearly with a view to making headway; and her confinement within that relationship is oceans apart from the clear sailing behind her. The spare shadow they cast in the noontime sun makes its own comment upon the future of love for her. As with all of Marty’s studies of failing love couched in retail priorities, lushness of appointments and setting along with brilliance of observation catalyze the vignette far beyond its domestic pretext. Some prospective buyers would look long and hard at that trouble transcending the blues, because its pain (and delight) would be their own.

We’ll consider a number of Marty’s variations on “rather have the blues,” (to the upshot of “rather not have the blues”) and suppose their having been raptly awaited by correspondents straight off the page. “La Glace” (“Mirror”) (1922) is subtitled “Un Coup d’Oeil en Passant” (“A Quick Check”). A woman impeccably gowned in red and grey arrests her progress at a floor-to-ceiling mirror before taking her seat in the orchestra section of a concert hall or opera house. The image, facing us, confirms that she has accomplished a very high level of styling and poise. A man in top hat, his back just visible as he moves beyond the range of vision, the “orchestre” sign’s arrow director seeming to have penetrated his right shoulder, may be her love-slave. But, as the moment captures it, this is about being strangers (“passing glances”) and “glace” (“ice”).It is also about sensual resources affording a remarkable self-sufficiency and, therefore, a buoyancy for dramas to come. Embarcation upon affairs fraught with unusual viscosity is essayed with less literalness by “La Douce Nuit” (1920). The keynote there is sounded by the complementarity of a woman’s light pink evening dress and the purple of the night sky, sea and countryside surrounding the patio from which she beholds it, her back to a chinless escort in tux dragging on a cigarette. He would seem to be checking out the real estate while she would be noticing the state of the real. The patio floor’s snappy gridwork strikes outward, toward the long-limbed trees in silhouette, from a low perspective stressing its launch function. The word, “Douce,” in the title cuts beyond the charmed qualities of their situation in a correspondingly “sweet” and “gentle” night, to remark the welcoming features of the nightness of her interpersonal entrapment. “Le Diner au Chateau” (1921) counts among its guests a lady reaching the top step of an estate’s entranceway to meet up with the full moon lending its silver to an indigo sky and darkened hills. The formidable current of her presence is transmitted by way of the placement of her arms and hands, her right hand being on the balustrade (and her right foot reaching the summit), her left hand over her heart and touching a collar with a jewel-like floral motif also on the sleeve of the outstretched right arm and offsetting a black-as-night ankle-length chemise. She is clearly not a mere beholder of the night but one of its divinities, there being no question of lagging back with her consort who, by way of her perspective at the top, has adopted child-like proportions. In “Voila le Printemps” (1922), a mother reaches the summit of a verdant hill, bringing behind her by the wrist her young daughter dressed for some kind of theatrics in a Greek tunic, and carrying a large bouquet of spring blossoms. The child looks impish and her mother in a smart afternoon ensemble looks skeptical about the situation’s rejuvenative potential. Countering that impression are the engaging look of her eyes, the no-nonsense set of her mouth and the elegance of her dark plum and navy blue attire, including two-inch heels, proof against being washed out by a bleaching sun. (In “Arrêtons-Nous Ici” [“Let’s Stop Here”][1913], we have a twilight stroll comprising mother [again in blue] and daughter [again in white]interrupted by the little girl’s imploring her mother to pause. The lady’s face shows she is light-years away, absorbed in difficult considerations. The surge of a radiant countryside and the intensity of the presence of the two figures would seem to offer some assurance for proceeding with loving joy. But a darkness looms for both of them, and the adult—at first glance seemingly cruel about that anxious little upturned face—reflects on how best to deploy such strengths.)On the other hand, there is “Après le Diner” (1924), a nocturnal assembly in which a woman receives a light at the end of a long cigarette holder, by a hand projecting from out of the scene. Looking pinched and miserable in a glare from the estate, in contrast to the other guests in commanding ease standing around in the becoming shadows of the extensive grounds, she falls almost ridiculously short of her dazzling golden ensemble. Thus armed, she remains defenceless against an unyielding clique whose company has left her in disarray.

Marty was intent upon signalizing the wide range of outcomes and prospects derivable from a fateful challenge of composure consisting of a testedness of primordial love. Maternal love is much to the fore in “Le Nid de Pinsons” (1922) which shows a mother and preadolescent daughter holding hands meaningfully while observing a mother finch in her nest. Both ladies wear stylish, audacious sun hats which accent the simple, endangered crudity of the nest, and both stand in some kind of awe at the direct functionality of the tiny beast. The mother’s full-length summer afternoon dress in a grape color purporting some alliance with wild nature, strangely undercut by two long strands of pearls, has been mismatched by her daughter’s white tunic, stockings and slippers, and a crucifix motif around her waist, notwithstanding a hopefully green cloche and large ribbon on one hip. The woman fastens the girl’s right arm to her waist, warmly clasping her hand there while the girl grasps her mother’s other arm placed across her shoulder. Neither is in a celebratory mood, evincing an instinctive sense that theirs cannot be a wholehearted experience. Similarly, “Les Voila!” (“There They Are!”) (1920), portrays two women on an open elevated walkway spotting an arrival in the distance with attentiveness but without elation. One waves half-heartedly, the other places her hand on her companion’s shoulder in a counsel of restraint and shields her searching eyes with the other hand. A low, concise wrought-iron grillwork in front of them acts as a metronome to cue the tight-lipped disappointment to come. Here the summer daytime dresses in assertive blues and venturesome detailing stand as gear to help weather inclement intrusions, and as a point of connection for their own interactive difficulties. There is no such close harmony between mother and daughter’s formal attire in “La Bonne Frimousse” (The Pretty Face) (1923), although some perfunctory circumspection has gone into the color motifs (the child’s dark pink, the mother’s light blue). The mother affectionately lifts her girl’s chin as if to assure her of her fair share of loveliness; but they cast pronounced shadows (vanishments) against the bleached-out wall. “La bonne frimousse” can also mean (putting on) an upbeat countenance, a manoeuvre not merely of domestic efficacy but also a keynote of the showtime the lady cannot but prolong. In the same vein, “La Caline” (1922) presents a young couple embracing in the extensive and impressively manicured grounds of their stately residence. Their eyes are closed, their faces exude repose, her head rests on his shoulder, they constitute a small, correctly positioned exclamation-mark to round off the tasteful opulence of their property. Of course their attire reaches perfection, to the point of upstaging the deracination of their finding each other and remaining at a preliminary, facile level of affection. The march of forms across their outfits—she with a cascade of salmon diamonds on white, he with houndstooth upon his tweed blazer—and the indigo of the sky prefigure great moments that would seem to be beyond their middling composure. (Over and above “caress,” la caline entails “persuasion” and “indulgence.”) The chromatic endearment of “A l”Oasis” (1921), regarding an open-air theater in the park, takes part in a different inflection toward an exigency of wholeheartedly embracing carnal powers largely squelched in the desert of normal history. While the rest of the audience locks into the action on stage—one of whose cast members appears to be swooning at the sight of someone receiving medical attention, perhaps after a dual—a couple in the foreground marvel at the gilded canopy protecting the audience. An interest in architecture is all to the good, perhaps, but their priorities come across as botched in this context, as not rising to the potential of “oasis.” Their predilection for the “voute pneumatique” of the subtitle (the vaulted roof sustained by pressurized air) would seem to call for a replenished survey of the resources at hand. That “vault” can refer to treasure and to a tomb, puts in play the daunting arena which such an oasis poses for would-be satisfied consumers. Thus the telling juxtaposition of Indochinese maid/seamstress and her mistress, in “La Soubrette Annamite” (1920), in which the servant applying the finishing touches to Madam’s silk evening gown generates far more electricity than the owner, holding an arm out of the way and looking entirely drained of any gusto for what lies ahead. And finally, in this avenue about weightiness of intent, there is “L’Invitation au Voyage” (1914), where a young wife tries to rouse a bored and depressed spouse to some gratification about globetrotting. In an endowment of subdued and splendid luxuriance of dining finery and home furnishings, she knows she’s got her hands full moving the lug who comes with the life, and threading her own way (a propos of the magnificent globe she dances her hand toward) through the forbiddingness of courses of action.

Within the assignment to show early modernist garments to optimal attraction as coinciding within Marty’s own modernist motives, there ensued a number of works investigating kinetic propensities along two trajectories, namely, that of special solitude and that of often zany and recoverable mishaps. The keynote for the latter eventuation of volatility is in the winter coat study, ”J’ai le But du Nez Rouge” (1920). We are confronted with that acme of order, a French garden, its borders blinking out from a fresh snow cover, rows of trees clipped in millimetrical repetition and latticework for vines sharpening the wall in the background. There is an accordingly elegant glow of browns and greys throughout, including the young patrician’s perfectly accessorized outfit. She has pulled out her rust-colored compact from an identically hued small purse to inspect what the subtitle calls, “a glitch quickly overcome” (“Un Malheur Vite Repare”), namely, a reddening at the tip of her nose. The taut expression on her face would suggest a medical crisis; but amidst the fun lies the reality that she’ll soon be noticing far less tractable “malheurs.” (The corpus of work fetched up for a constant clientele allows Marty to put into effect for a specific theme resonances from other aspects of the transaction.) Does this elementary control of an onerous gravity presage managing truly monstrous setbacks? “Un Peu d’Ombre, Enfin!” (1913) introduces a woman having attained to the refuge of shade amidst a sun-bleached countryside. The fatigue on her (considerably older) face (than that of the preceding heroine) broaches the matter of havens that don’t really settle things. She will find her way back to a comfortable home, but she will also find there another torrid zone to explore. There is a fashion preview (“Au Loup!” [1921]) showing the full-tilt and balletically aligned motion of two girls in summer frocks racing along a hillock to keep away from a wolf. As they proceed they look over their shoulder with expressions of palpable dread. The graceful harmony between them may imply only rumoured danger, but the visceralness of their interaction surely points to defensive resources for the sake of dealing with unequivocal murderousness. Thereby, an equally self-composed performer, in a sensuously tuned afternoon outfit with circular pink figures arrayed on a purple ground, at risk , on being caught in heavy and uninvitingly brown traffic on the Place Vendome, in the work, “Les Embarras de Paris” (1920), would display traces of self-sufficient equilibrium to make her way. This carnal spunkiness would seem to be entirely lacking in the rustic comedy, ”Les Plaisirs de la Campagne” (1921), in which a woman in a billowing summer dress with purple bands on sky-blue ground, has sought refuge on some fencing from a gaggle of bemused geese and chickens. That her presence reminds one of an excursion balloon primes a consideration of hyperdelicate dynamics with no future in the neglect of its earthy core.

Although Marty was an exuberant connoisseur of interpersonal action, by that very token he was an expert regarding the farthest reaches of solitary experience. “Printemps” (1920) shows a moment of rapture as a woman in the course of a morning walk encounters a tiny bird singing on a branch of blossoms. The bird’s open beak and her upstretched hand and fingers describe a strange confluence both easing and complicating her way. (Similarly, “Hop La!” [1921], whose jumping pup and Mistress’ extended arm and hand holding the beloved red ball establish a discharge of serious motion and, in view of her afternoon dance dress, pose the question of what kinetic purity her afternoon will provide; and “La Mare aux Biches” [“Doe Pond”][1913], where a woman admires from afar a young deer, and their eyes meet—both knowingly priming the situations of subscribers familiar with wildlife amongst their extensive properties.) “Vinaigre” (1924) presents a young woman in mid-flight skipping “pepper”-style and probing all the while the toll of gravity. Her summer frock, in sunshine yellow and spring green, is marked by enormous cuffs half covering her hands. The upshot of this emission is to aly the bouncing creature (coiffed with jet-black bobbed hair) with some fetching garden bug. As depicted, her cuffed arms, with hands barely showing, clinging to the skipping rope, recall some kind of web- or cocoon-spinning entity. There she is, more than just visiting the outdoors and yet facing a slate of indoor repellents germane to the dash of “vinegar” of the exertions seemingly so compelling. In light of this overtakeness, the tale of Cinderella (“Cendrillon” [1920]) would be noteworthy. Here those hands reach out for refuge as she lunges away from the dreaded closure at the witching-hour, her black evening dress and wing-lace overlay signalling a kind of death, as the slipper falls to the floor. The line, from her glance over the shoulder, through the hopeful outstretch of her arms, to her slippered foot on tiptoe, portends, while definitely not “happily ever after,” an ongoing bid for consummate love. “La Cendre de la Cigarette” (1922), in which a woman in evening gown pensively touches her cigarette to an ashtray, discloses a preference within a social setting for engaging intimate eventuation. A dark brown curtain foreshortens the depth of field and carries her shadow as if lost in a dead end. It is the quiet sensuousness of the stream of smoke which tellingly accessorizes the begownment of her lithe body and sets in play a most tentative historical progress. The baroness who asserts, “Mon Coeur Soupire” (1914), on the terrace of her estate draws upon vastness of earth and sky for her inspiration. Her vortex-like filmy gown gathers up the stone of the stairway over which she pauses and carries a surge toward creamy twilit clouds. She may be in one sense a trapped bird, but she knows of a mobility of the heart which is hers alone to maintain. The enflamement or sighing enclosed in “soupire” also covers “longing,” and the consummateness of this intent embraces not only interpersonal greatness nowhere to be found, but also a leeway for sheer, solitary, carnal rightness. That latter asset is fully to the fore in the two renditions of “La Parfum de la Rose”. In the strike of 1924, a woman in a gold cloche is seen close-up, eyes closed, in profile, savoring the beauteous sufficiencies of a red rose, particularly the inundation of its perfume. The somewhat peaked configuration of the hat as sheltering the blossom accentuates an exclusivity of the delight. The hat’s resembling a helmet implies that such a marshalling of powers includes a readiness for social warfare. In the work from 1920, a woman, again in profile, again savoring a single red rose, is shown, as it were, moving up to the front. She wears no enclosing headgear, her long auburn hair drawn back into two elegantly carefree buns bumper to bumper at the back of her head. The luxuriance of her full-bodied turquoise satin stole and dress leaves the impression of her progress—along a tightrope-like surface, void all around—as triumphal notwithstanding the odds.

There is a final gift of intentionality registered by work taking into account loving conjunctions risking what has to be risked. “Le Secret Joli” (1913) shows a woman facing us, held from behind by another woman who places her left hand on her companion’s left shoulder and brings her right arm across her chest to her right shoulder where it is clasped by the other’s right hand. Thus in dark orange and in complementary gray-blue dress, they share a lovely secret, the one behind whispering into the other’s ear. A crescent moon, in an early evening cloudless sky, oversees the verdant and hilly park where they stand. This is one of very few Marty pochoirs disclosing lucid correspondence as a staging point for imminent and immanent torrential problematicness. A coda to this thesis of promisingly confluential hearts is seen in “Les Soeurs de Lait” (“Foster Sisters”) (1914). On a promontory overlooking a vast territory, two women kiss good-bye. One is dressed in farm worker garb, including wooden clogs; the other is in a haute couture afternoon outfit, and she is awaited below by a spiffy red roadster and an attentive family. The city girl is svelt; the country girl is bovine. And across that gulf they express mutual affection. Their embrace comes as a moment of clear directionality as each proceeds to bring to fruition a daunting range of action. The “favoured” one would be no less constricted, in putting together a serious dynamic, than her apparently “disadvantaged” sister.

© James Clark 2008

There are two artists of the current era who have for years worked upon the same cares that drove Marty. To explore the efforts of Jacques Demy and Paul Auster, click here.