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Postwar postscripts

Artists' posters created for exhibits in Paris after World War II display an awareness of a new era and a willingness to leave the past behind.

Published May 20, 2004

TARPON SPRINGS - Archives are like a stack of wrapped presents. Researchers who sift through them often have no idea what's inside, so when they start opening the boxes, they can get some wonderful surprises.

Such has been the case at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, which holds a trove of papers, books and ephemera included in the large collection of art by the late Abraham Rattner that was donated, along with $2-million for construction of the museum, by his stepson Alan Leepa in 1996.

In the course of cataloging the holdings since the museum opened in 2001, the staff has come across a number of interesting finds. One discovery is now on view: a collection of posters made between 1947 and 1950 to announce gallery shows in Paris. The original collection was much larger, assembled for a 1950 exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).

The exhibit toured to a number of museums, then the posters were put up for sale in 1951. Rattner, who lived and worked in Paris for decades and died in 1978, purchased 32 of them, probably for sentimental value. They were "discovered" at the museum about a year ago.

"Vintage Paris Exhibition Posters: 1947-1950" is a small show, occupying only half of the special exhibitions gallery, but it's a telling glimpse into the immediate years after the end of World War II, when Paris, weary from the deprivations of war, was ready to come alive again.

Though many of the names are unfamiliar today, the artists represented were, in their time, prominent members of the arts community in France. Most examples here were designed by them for their own gallery shows. They were working from a tradition established in the 19th century by artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, who pioneered bold graphics and strong, minimal color in his lithographic poster prints. Because they were meant to be posted on the streets, they share a take-it-in-at-a-glance quality. Sometimes the artists incorporated an existing work into the design, sometimes they created a new one. The divergent personal styles, from the artwork to the lettering, give this gathering its richness.

Pablo Picasso is the biggest name in the group. By 1947, he was in his 60s and probably the best-known living artist in the world. A nude woman graces his straightforward poster, taken from a collection of his drawings being shown at Galerie Denise Rene. The subject's curves and features are rendered realistically and look more Renaissance than cubist. She's a jolly, buoyant figure, utterly different from many of the tortured images that emerged from Picasso's years in the occupied city.

Stella Merten's nude for her poster is more oblique. For her exhibition of paintings at the Galerie de Seine, Merten chose the dark background of a nighttime water scene, a woman outlined in white below its surface. Her own name is printed in reverse letters over a wash of red. She even gave it a title: Voyage to the Eternal Land.

Even though Kurt Seligmann, a Swiss-born artist, immigrated to New York in 1939, he continued to show his work in Paris. The poster he designed for his prints show in 1948 at Galerie Maeght uses hand lettering - very Toulouse-Lautrec - over one of the fantastical creatures the surrealist was known for. It's very dramatic.

So, too, is Roger Chastel's more formal design, using elongated art deco type to complement the cubist print he selected for the poster that advertised his exhibition, also at Galerie Maeght.

Among those not designed by the showcased artist is a poster for a posthumous exhibition in 1948 at the Musee d'Art Moderne of work by Albert Marquet, who died the year before. It features a lovely watercolor of a Parisian street scene with Marquet's signature enlarged in white. The painting, a realistic landscape with horse-drawn carriages and broad boulevards, is printed in monotones, probably for economy, without the fauvist colors the artist favored. Just as bridges span the river, this poster and the others on display act as bridges between the unrecoverable, prewar past and the future that artists such as Marquet and his friend Henri Matisse presaged.

The posters give a sense of how artists, like everyone else, had to move forward into a new world. They also demonstrate that the painters were helping to create at least a new artistic world.

-- Lennie Bennett can be reached at 727 893-8293 or


"Vintage Paris Exhibition Posters: 1947-1950" is at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs, through May 30. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students, free for children 12 and younger. (727) 712-5762.

[Last modified May 19, 2004, 15:42:14]

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