Masterpieces of a Century
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
Hamburg | Germany
19th December 2014 > 3 May 2015
I own a copy of Paris Vogue’s ‘Homáge a Paris’ June / July 1985 issue, the cover illustrated with a painting of a bare-shouldered, three-quarter length female model against a minimal evening backdrop of the city, unmistakable because of the small, blurred, floodlit silhouette of the The Arc de Triomphe in the distance, placing her, unmistakably on the sophisticated and romantic Champs-Élysées. Hands, clenched below her chin, she wears long black gloves, with diamond earrings and a diamond necklace. Her black hair is piled high on top of her head. Her black-mascara’d eyes closed in ecstasy, her full red-lipped mouth with even white teeth smiles wide with sheer delight. The perfect picture of Parisian glamour – a huge gold ribbon cinches the waist of her spangled black dress, and, extending off both sides of the cover, binds her image to the magazine. The message is unmistakable. The artist who created it was René Gruau (1909 > 2004).
Gruau, whose heyday was in the 1940s and 50s was one of the main attractions in the enormously successful, Drawing Fashion: 100 years of fashion illustrated exhibition in 2010 at London’s Design Museum. From today, and deservedly so, re-jigged and rearranged to suit the new venue, the same material is getting a fresh outing under the title Drawing Fashion. Masterpieces of a Century at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg. The new exhibition celebrates the genre as represented in 165 images, covering the whole of the 20th century period, with a few examples from the 21st, from the unique collection of original artworks of renowned Munich art dealer Joelle Chariau.
Split into seven sections – the first two representing a particular style or epoch – the extravagant art deco of the 1910s and twenties is followed by the more dignified fashions of the thirties and forties. Each subsequent decade is represented by its outstanding illustrators – the fifties by René Gruau (1909 > 2004), the sixties to eighties by the remarkable, prolific and highly-influential New Yorker, and close associate of Karl Lagerfeld, Antonio (Antonio Lopez, 1943 > 1987), who worked in Paris from 1969 to the mid 70s. Then come those who are still working today like, sensitive master of the watercolour wash, the Swede, Mats Gustafson (b 1951), the Swiss, François Berthoud (b 1961), of whom Anna Piaggi – Vogue Italia fashion contributor and style icon – wrote: ‘While François illustrates fashion in an apparently formal and decorative way, in reality he analyses his subject in depth and with an elegant sense of detachment before recreating it in his atelier-laboratory…. with a sharp sense of irony and a visual culture rooted in conceptual art!’ This section also includes Parisian Aurore de La Morinerie (b 1962), who spent two years studying the Chinese calligraphy that was to become a formative influence on her style.
The Fashion Illustration Gallery (Paris) website has examples of work by most, but not all of the big names from the 20th and 21st centuries. Their list is dived into two alphabetically-ordered groups – the younger illustrators, followed by the more mature or no longer living, or so it appears – which puts flavour of the moment, David Downton, whose slick, nostalgic style pays tribute to those who went before him – such as Gruau – right at the top. It’s interesting to see, however, some young people like Daisy De Villeneuve, with her own inimitable, primitive style, pushing the genre in a very personal and alternative direction. Former fashion designer, Richard Haines‘ matter-of-fact, laid-back watercolour sketches come close to caricature. Award-winning, Japanese fashion illustrator Hiroshi Tanabe, who quickly became established after leaving college in 1990, has an assured graphic hand that produces reduced, often minimal images with a whiff of the 1970s about them, which are at the same time bang up to date.
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