a tour d’horizon
pochoir: “the most versatile and luxurious reproduction process in modern time.”
John Bidwell, curator of the Graphic Arts Collection at Firestone Library
Picasso, Braque, Van Dongen, Miro, Matisse, Dufy, Léger, Modigliani, Rouault and many other artists were working in Paris in the first half of the 20th century. They asked other people to make hand crafted illustrations of their work, the so-called pochoirs. The artists had rediscovered the technique of Japanese origin. In this way they added an unparralleled quality to the contemporary colour illustrations.
Pochoirs are manual reproductions of works of art which hit reality as closely as possible. But it was not the artist himself who made the pochoirs. The technique was far too complicated. In about 50 specialized workshops in Paris female colourists produced these gems, which are characterized by a marvellous vibrancy of colours. All kinds of templates, brushes and paint (water-gouache, silver or gold paint) were used in order to achieve this. .
For a simple pochoir some figures or texts are cut from thin metal foil or plastic. These negatives are then placed on paper or some other surface. Nowadays Street Art artists such as Banksy and Vhils frequently use this duplicate technique when creating their art.
In the Netherlands, on Queen’s Day, Dutch artist Herman Brood and a few friends used to cut 20 yards of vinyl into pieces somewhere in the street near his home. After that Herman showed up with a few sprays. First he squirted a Beatrix orange-crown, using a template that he had cut from the lid of a cigar box. Then, with a letter template, he applied the text “Respekt” and finally, holding various aerosols, he quickly finished the twenty works of art and thus delighted the audience with unique paintings by Herman Brood himself .
Herman Brood at work
To reproduce a work of art in all its hues, paint thicknesses, countless figures and shapes are needed to cut from thin metal (copper, zinc, or aluminum foil).
Hand movements with the pompom at the atelier Jacomet
Usually twenty or thirty of such moulds were needed for a simple reproduction and over a hundred (!) for a complex work of art. With these tools incredible results were achieved in a small number of specialized workshops under harsh working conditions, well below our modern standards. The trick of the trade, that each studio safeguarded, was in the specific hand movements with the “pompoms” (tassels), the correct order of operations, the types of paint used and the iron discipline that was needed. Later, photographic techniques (“collotype”) and traditional graphic techniques where used such as lithography and etching combined with the manual addition of color.
In this tour d’horizon we will discuss some applications of the pochoir technique:
Templates were first used to embellish the interior, that is for imitation marble, for wallpaper and murals etc. Jean Saudé, the pioneer of the Paris pochoir technique, already showed in 1910 that the decorative pochoir had possibilities. He gave out a portfolio, La Decoration Moderne au Pochoir, along with the painter-decorator Charayron. Based on 32 pochoirs manufactured by Saudé, he showed the many possibilities to decorate the interior of the bathroom, the dining room or the wallpaper.
Charayron, a wall decoration: La musique et la peinture
In the early 20th century Paris was the magical centre of the world. Numerous artists and writers, many from Eastern Europe, came to Paris. In particular, the arrival of the Ballets Russes, led by Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) caused quite a stir in the traditional Parisian art world. Diaghilev sought a form of total theater: choreographers, composers, painters and writers were employed in his design of visually stunning performances. There was a lot to be changed, dance should be based on a mixture of both modern and classical ballet. There was also a strong desire for innovation in the field of costume and set design. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro and André Derain designed the most fantastic scenery. In Décors de théâtre (1930), the book by Raymond Cogniat, thirteen pochoirs of these theatre designers are represented. The impresario Diaghilev saw his compatriot Léon Bakst (1866-1924) as his main costume designer for his Ballets Russes. In the book Leon Bakst by Carl Einstein (1927) nineteen colourful pochoirs are shown. One of them:
Leon Bakst Design for the opera Sadko
The pochoirs were produced by studio Daniel Jacomet (1894-1966) This workshop had become by far the most important, the most innovative and productive workshop of the pochoir period, which lasted from 1910 to 1965. Artists like Picasso, Chagall, Miro, Foujita, Braque, Dufy and many others asked Daniel Jacomet to make reproductions that were so real that they were often considered to be original watercolour, gouache, pastel or ink drawings.
In 1926 a two-standard work on the work of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901), written by Maurice Joyant, appeared. It is not only one of the best reference books on Lautrec, but also one of the most attractively illustrated. Publisher H.Floury decided how he could present the work of Lautrec best. For 106 drawings Floury chose engravings. Twice Floury decided for original etchings and as many as 22 times he preferred the pochoirs to represent Lautrec’s famous posters.
Pochoir Toulouse Lautrec (Affiche Aristide Bruant)
To bring works from earlier centuries to the attention of a wide audience, the pochoir was often chosen as a medium. A good example is the portfolio Dix Oeuvres de maîtres français, published in 1928 by l’Art Vivant. The ten pochoirs in this folder were also manufactured by Daniel Jacomet. Displaying works of art from ancient times in large format and colour as really as possible, allowed many more people to enjoy. e.g. the horses of Géricault (1791- 1824)
Jean-Louis-André Théodore Géricault : Cheveaux attachés au piquet
or the famous self-portrait of Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779) from 1771. The original of this manufactured pastel portrait is hanging in the Louvre now. A well copied version of Jacomet with pastels (!) can be admired in this portfolio.
Jean-Baptiste Chardin: pastel drawing (self-portrait)
In the first half of last century various artistic experiments were captured in the term “modern art”. This concept was then subdivided into numerous “isms” such as Fauvism and Cubism. Publishers responded to this trend by creating books and portfolios which gave more content to these movements. In meetings between Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Cubism was born. Many years later two standard works with pochoirs were issued about Cubism: L’Art cubiste (by Guillaume Janneau, 1929) with twelve pochoirs including Braque, Picasso, Herbin and Marcoussis and Témoignages pour l’art abstrait (by Alvard Julien and R.Gindertael, 1952) with thirty «planches au pochoir” of such Magnelli, Arp, Delaunay, Herbin, Poliakoff and Vasarely.
Louis Marcoussis (1883-1941) pochoir, after a painting of 1926
The successful art dealer Pierre Matisse, the youngest son of Henri Matisse, introduced America to European modern art, by organizing dozens of exhibitions . Thus in 1959 and 1967 the Pierre Matisse Gallery organized exhibitions of the work of Joan Miro (1893-1983) in New York. These exhibitions were supplemented by two beautiful catalogues, each with six pochoirs of Miro’s paintings. Remarkable is a pochoir of the colour palette used by Miro himself, cut in the form of his palette.
pochoir from the palette of Miro
These pochoirs, which are counted among the finest ever made, were produced by Daniel Jacomet.In 1962 the Parisian gallery “Le Point Cardinal” organized a survey exhibition of the work of the French-Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely (1908-1992). Vasarely is considered to be the founder of Geometric art, also known as Op Art. For the occasion Jacomet produced a very special catalogue, only 12x 13 cm, with nine (!) pochoirs, a small masterpiece.