Friday, March 9, 2012

Two Additions

Part of the fun of collecting are the stories that accompany both things found, and, the agonizing stories of things that got away. I’ve heard countless tales about a wonderful item missed, often by a matter of a few minutes or even seconds at a flea market, an antique show and, these days, on ebay. Most collector have regrets about passing on something because the price was too high or can recall something missed because a dealer who said he would hold an item did not.  Then there are stories about things a collector would love to have in his or her collection but never had an opportunity to buy. I have heard all these stories and have plenty of my own. It is a great pleasure that two striking images, one a print, the other a poster that I have long wanted and which have somehow avoided me, have recently come into my collection.

A few years after I began collecting, more than thirty years ago, I was visiting Clignancourt, the huge Paris flea market, with my friend and fellow collector, Jean-Philippe Salier and I remember first seeing Jules Chéret’s terrific poster of the Musée Grevin (the wax museum), where Emile Reynaud in 1888 first showed his Pantomimes Lumineuses -animated sequences.  Animated sequences is hardly an adequate term to describe these wonderful shows during which his hand-painted images would flicker and move on a screen for up to fifteen minutes.  This was seven years before the Lumière brothers would show their first movies. Reynaud employed something he called the Théâtre Optique to create the projection. Hidden from the audience behind the screen, this bulky equipment employed among other things both a very large praxinoscope and a magic lantern and served Reynaud well as he created his magic.

I thought the poster was quite beautiful but priced at $1,500, it was well beyond my budget. Over the next ten years I visited Clignancourt many times on “hunting trips” with Jean-Phillipe and occasionally we saw a copy of the Chéret poster. I kept repeating that if I ever saw it for $1,000 I would buy it, but that never happened and when I was prepared to pay a little more the price had gone up further. A few years ago a French dealer offered me a copy for the incredible price of 6,000 euros. I offered 3,000 and he laughed. I figured I probably would never own a copy and yet a few months ago I was amazed to have finally bought a copy at auction for $1,000. Sadly Jean-Philippe is no longer alive yet he remains the first person with whom I wanted to share the story of finally landing the elusive poster.
It is a wonderful piece. Jules Chéret, was one of France’s master poster designers and a mentor to Toulouse-Lautrec and others. He produced a series of stunning posters. I have no idea why the price for this particular poster was so much more reasonable. It could be because right on the woman’s dress there is a stamp. It is a tax stamp and in Paris at the time such posters were made, a stamp tax had to be paid before the poster could be put up.  Some buyers might have found the stamp’s placement aesthetically unattractive. It didn’t bother me. In fact, I liked it because it showed this was a poster that was actually used. 

If the Chéret poster was an object I didn’t own because I thought I couldn’t afford it, then the print of The Bartholomew Fair Fan was a print I had long wanted but had never had seen for sale and had never been offered. I long knew of it and had seen copies in many collections. I was envious that my friend, Ricky Jay, had two versions and the image graces the cover of his book Jay's Journal of Anomalies. When I was preparing my book on peepshow images I used a picture of the print from a book. I bought this print recently and wasn’t at all bothered by its overall condition-not great- or the fact that part of one of the fair’s visitor’s faces was now a small hole.

Bartholomew Fair, like Southwick Fair, was one of many London annual fairs that were particularly popular in the 18th century.  In 1824 the London firm of J. F Setchel produced a print of a view of Bartholomew Fair in 1721. The British Museum not only has three versions of the print, both black and white and hand colored, but also the original study drawing made by an unknown source around 1730. The original design was intended to produce a fan that would be given away as a souvenir to those who the fair. 

The fan is chocker block with people, food sellers and booths. For me the fan is particularly interesting because of the large-scale peepshow depicted in the lower left had corner showing the Siege of Gibraltar.  Gibraltar was under siege several times in the 18th century and this could represent the Spanish attack on the British garrison in 1727.  This print is also sought after by magic collectors, for whom the primary interest is the depiction of Isaac Fawkes’ booth. Fawkes was probably the most famous conjurer of the 18th century. However Fawkes had already stopped working the Bartholomew Fair by 1721. Possibly it could be a depiction of his son, but more likely it is the elder Fawkes who was far more celebrated. Take a look. There’s a lot to see in the print.