George Barbier (1882-1932) was one of the key artists of the “Art Deco” movement and one of the most prestigious French artist’s and fashion illustrators to emerge from post World War 1 in the early twentieth century.He produced the most exquisite, high-colour fashion plates for the couturier Paul Poiret, as well as contemporaries Lanvin, Paquin and Vionnet.His elegantly refined, graphic style was typical of the “Art Deco” school and the influences of Orientalism, antique vases, Indian miniatures, Aubrey Beardsley, the Ballet Russes (which inspired his lavish costume designs) and (not least) Parisian haute couture are evident in his work.His stylised, precisely-illustrated fashion vignettes seem to effortlessly capture and define the atmosphere of the 1920s and are so evocative of that by-gone era and a certain type of upper-class lifestyle.
George Barbier was born in Nantes in 1882 and went on to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under the tutelage of Jean Paul Laurens.He was an extremely versatile artist and a very fashionable and flamboyant man who would go on to design theatre and ballet costumes, fans, jewellery, glass, fabrics and wallpaper, but he will always be revered/remembered best as a sublimely talented illustrator of haute couture fashions and books.
He was part of an elite circle during the 1920’s nicknamed “The Knights Of The Bracelet” by Vogue magazine, whose membership included two of Barbier’s first-cousins – Bernard Boutet de Monvel and Pierre Brissaud, as well as such luminaries as Paul Iribe (one-time lover of Coco Chanel) , Georges Lepape, and Charles Martin.Barbier worked with some of the top writers and journalists of his day; after World War 1 he became an editor and journalist for the magazines “La Gazette du Bon Ton” (published between 1912-1925) and “La Vie Parisienne”, where he pioneered the use of “pochoirs” or stencils for the publication of his colour-plates (a hand-printing method inspired by the classical Japanese masters) to stunning effect (in spite of criticism from purists).Apart from his artwork, Barbier was also a skilled journalist, writing stories and society news for a variety of magazines under various pen-names as well as his own, birth name.He provided superb illustrations for the likes of P.Verlaine, P.Louÿs, C. Baudelaire, T. Gautier amongst others, but his finest illustrations were those which were interpreted by F.L. Schmied, in woodcuts form.
In 1923, Barbier designed costumes for the “Follies Bergère” through the costume house of Max Weldy and also collaborated with the legendary Erté, producing set designs and costumes for a string of American projects, including his renowned costumes for movie heart-throb Rudolph Valentino’s 1924 movie “Monsieur Beaucaire” (his work on this film earned him a stellar review from the New York Times, who commented that Barbier’s work was: “magnificent… such spectacular costumes and set design have never been seen before.”).
Barbier consolidated on his ascendancy by producing advertising artwork for such luminous trademarks as Cartier, Renault and Elizabeth Arden.He died at the age of fifty in 1932, at the very pinnacle of his success; six months later, his entire collection was auctioned off at Hotel Drouot in Paris.
In spite of slipping into undeserved obscurity for many years, he was rediscovered by new generations of fashion/art aficionados via the Fortuny Museum in Venice’s exhibition: “George Barbier The Birth Of Art Deco” in the autumn of 2008; ironically, in 1923, Barbier had written in “La Gazette du Bon Ton” in a rather enchanting manner that: “Venice is a city that is both absurd and enchanting. She reminds me of a small case covered with shells, a music box with her sounds, like the insides of a guitar, overflowing with the songs of birds that soar up from the windows, their languid voices quivering and singing over the canals,” – it seems perfectly fitting therefore, that his renaissance should have occured in “The City Of Love”.