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When Art Becomes Advertising

French version

This article has been published exclusively by the  Courrier Australien and the Alliance Française de Melbourne.

From the 5th of October to the 4th of November, the Alliance Française de Melbourne is welcoming an exceptional exhibition of advertising posters created by some of the biggest French artists of the 20th century. Brett Ross, collector and owner of the Letitia Morris Gallery – partner of the event – shares with us his passion for these colourful and creative graphic works.

I scoured Paris for years to find treasures for the auction houses that I was working for. And then… I realised that if funds were lacking (for paintings in particular) we could also find superb posters. In 1993, when I opened my gallery, it seemed only natural for me to offer some

In Australia, Brett Ross is also making the most of an increasing interest in post-war works which are being purchased more and more to decorate the interiors of wealthy home owners. Posters from the 1900s-1930s are magnificent, but with the advertising boom in the 50s, you can now find more recent gems that combine sophisticated graphic design with a great sense of humour. Here, they are becoming more and more popular.

Shopping centre Parly 2 in Paris, Bernard Villemot, 1967, 120x150cm

In a week’s time, the Alliance Française will exhibit 20 of them in their gallery, including some very sizeable ones. Brett Ross set the tone by choosing artists whose works have made history in advertising. Bernard Villemot, responsible for the recognisable campaigns for Bally or Orangina, and who considered himself an artist in his own right, produced a number of prints that were signed and numbered. He believed in the power of art, as opposed to marketing. Raymond Savignac, synonymous with his famous ad for Monsavon (showing a cow producing a bar of soap directly from the milk coming out of its udder) is perhaps Brett’s favourite. “He had a great sense of humour and his use of words is brilliant.” The Japanese, who love employing short phrases, are, they too, very fond of this poster designer. And finally, need we point out to what extent René Gruau made his mark? Aside from his posters, the man is known for his fashion illustrations and his collaboration with his friend Christian Dior. His sketches for Harper’s Bazaar or Vogue have made their way around the world. Even today, his watercolours go for up to 50,000€.

We will also see posters by Hervé Morvan, but alas, no female artists” explains Brett. In fact, women were practically absent from advertising at that time. When they did happen to create posters, they were usually for exhibitions and rarely for commercial products such as shoes or cigarettes. Brett gladly recalls Jacqueline Marval, ‘fauve artist’ who, in 1928, created a poster for the 6th annual dance for the ‘Aide Amicale aux Artistes’.  

Pot-au-feu Maggi, Raymond Savignac, 1959, 240 x 160cm

Is graphic design in advertising a lesser-art? Not for Brett Ross!

Indeed, certain painters such as Picasso or Chagall created their own posters to advertise their exhibitions, refusing to restrict themselves to reproducing one of their paintings. The golden age of these types of posters seems to have nevertheless long passed. Brett Ross still reassures us, recalling Andy Warhol as well as the work of Michel Quarez (also presented at the Alliance Française). In any case, he continues to rummage through old French warehouses in search of rare pieces, which weren’t widely circulated, but are still intact. “In Australia, we throw out a lot. Whereas in France, there is a policy around conservation – even if that means conserved in dust!”. So even in years to come, incredible posters could suddenly reappear from the past.

Perrier Fou De Soleil, Bernard Villemot, 1980, 120x160cm

Until then the gallery owner invites all those who love France to come and see the exhibition, “it’s a country that is very sophisticated, graphically, artistically, and culturally” he says. Even if the posters on display diffuse an undeniable scent of nostalgia, they also radiate politically incorrect humour, which does us all some good, and is undoubtedly one of the big drawcards of this beautiful cultural event.

Affiches Exhibition 5 oct  4 nov 2017

Alliance Française, Eildon Gallery, 51 Grey Street, St Kilda, 3182 – Free Entry.


Written by Valentine Sabouraud
Translated by Ilaria O’Brien


This article has been published exclusively by the Courrier Australien and the Alliance Française de Melbourne.