THE PICTORIAL POSTER IN ENGLAND: THE WORK OF DUDLEY HARDY, AUBREY BEARDSLEY, AND MAURICE GREIFFENHAGEN.
DESIGN BY DUDLEY HARDY (FOR "TO-DAY ").
DESIGN BY DUDLEY HARDY (FOR "A GAIETY GIRL").
or at least improbable, if France had not paved the way, is scarcely to discount their immediate and unequivocal success: even the greatest artist is unwise if he does not condescend to make use of the work of the past.
It is, I think, Mr. Dudley Hardy who, of the three artists named, owes most to France. He has made a variation, a very personal and alluring variation, be it said, of a theme essentially Gallic in its unrestrained gaiety, its reckless joyousness. There is something of Chéret, and there is even more of Jan Van Beers, in the end-of the-century girl, elegant as she is impudent, whom Mr. Hardy depicts with such amazing verve and abandon. She is too light-hearted, too irresponsible, to be a daughter of this land of grey and rainy skies; she takes nothing seriously, save perchance a detail of her costume. And yet she is stamped with Mr. Hardy's personality as thoroughly as are the charming parisiennes of Chéret with the individuality of their inventor. Mr. Hardy began, and began wisely, by trusting for his effect to a single bold figure. Elaborate composition implies detail, and detail is one of the pitfalls of the designer of posters. Take, for example, the vast sheets which were employed to advertise one of the spectacles at Olympia. The overcrowding of small figures and closely-realized views either produced no impression whatsoever on the spectator, or at the most an impression due entirely to the immensity of the sheets. Mr. Hardy's series of posters commenced most auspiciously with that audacious young lady in a yellow dress, saucy hat, and flying black boa, who, not deigning to entreat, compelled the passer-by to rush to the nearest bookstall for a copy of Mr. Jerome's weekly "To-Day." Later, in similar vein, came the dashing girl in red, used by the manager of the Prince of Wales's Theatre to insist on the merits of "A Gaiety Girl." It may be doubted whether any more effective mural advertisement has ever been seen in London than that formed by half-a-dozen copies of this poster, arranged in the manner of a frieze in front of the theatre during the run of the piece. If the idea was that of the bill-sticker, the man was a genius of his kind: I cannot help suspecting, however, that the striking arrangement was due to Mr. Hardy himself. Or perhaps it was the happy thought of an outsider. In addition to the large "Gaiety Girl" poster, the two smaller bills which this artist designed to advertise the same play, full as they were of dash and go, must not be overlooked. To the collector they have a merit which he will not fail to appreciate. They are of manageable size, and this is more than can be said of most of Mr. Hardy's productions.It must not be thought, however, that
DESIGN BY DUDLEY HARDY (FROM SKETCH).
Mr. Hardy can do no more than repeat with slight variety of detail the chic girl to whom he first introduced us; already, notwithstanding the comparatively small number of his designs, he has shown a very commendable versatility. The proprietors of "St. Paul's," in the days when that journal regaled its readers on the portraits, not of dancing girls, but of right reverend prelates, commissioned Mr. Hardy for a large design appropriate to the semi-ecclesiastical character of their journal. The choice, in view of the "Yellow Girl," was a somewhat curious one; but the experiment justified itself. The artist rose to the occasion; on the hoardings of London there appeared a woman of austere, even saintly, demeanour, clad in sombre robes, and armed with a spike of the Madonna lily. In spite of the low scheme of colour, the design was very telling as an advertisement. It has become very rare; indeed, notwithstanding the fact; that the dealers quote it at various prices in their catalogues, it may be questioned whether it is to be procured at all. When the policy of "St. Paul's" was changed—when it stepped down from its shrine to join the multitude and be of the world, worldly—the art of Mr. Hardy was once more called in to introduce the paper in its new guise. For the first time, so far as I know, he attempted composition. His idea was a happy one. The poster represented a young lady, evidently light-hearted and of unquestionably fantastic costume, see-sawing on a quarter of the moon with a gentleman of slight intellect, but exceedingly smart clothes. Seen under certain conditions the composition is distinctly effective, but from a long distance it fails to assert itself as do Mr. Hardy's simpler designs. In his most recent effort he has returned to the single figure, and he has done nothing more striking than his bill for "The Chieftain," at the Savoy Theatre, which represents a man in picturesque costume on a red ground. The lettering of nearly all Mr. Hardy's posters is admirable. It is invented by the artist himself, and forms an essential part of the design. For the rest, it should be remembered that the poster is a mere incident in Mr. Hardy's art career. As an illustrator he is with us everywhere; as a painter he is held in deserved esteem. It is to be hoped, for the sake of the artistic poster in England, that he will continue to devote some of his time to a branch of art in which, in comparatively a short time, he has so greatly succeeded.The art of Mr. Aubrey Beardsley has been so enthusiastically received, on the one hand, as a new revelation, and so passionately condemned, on the other, as the mere glorification of a hideous and putrescent aspect of modern life, that it is difficult to consider his work with calmness. One thing, however, is certain: an impression
DESIGN BY DUDLEY HARDY.
DESIGN BY DUDLEY HARDY.
of some kind, whether agreeable or the reverse, it has undoubtedly left upon all who have seen it. It cannot be dismissed by stating that it is derivative rather than original; that to a large extent it is the outcome of Japan, and in a less degree of the old English school of caricaturists. Whether it be good or bad, the extraordinary impression it has made cannot be gainsaid. It is probable that the work of no young designer of recent times has called forth so much homage of imitation, so great an amount of that kind of caricature which is among the sincerest forms of flattery. Mr. Beardsley's eccentricities are so pronounced, that to parody his work was simply to do the obvious. From "Punch," august by reason of its fifty years of tradition, to the poorest comic rag produced to catch the errand-boy's spare halfpenny, is a far cry; and yet the former, no less than the latter, has treated its readers to a series of pictorial Beardsleyisms. It would have been wonderful, indeed, if Mr. Beardsley, who is nothing if not modern, had not attempted the artistic poster. His opportunity came when the Avenue Theatre was taken by an enthusiastic and courageous young actress for the production of plays by living English writers, which, whatever their fate from the commercial point of view, were at least to possess definite merits as pieces of literature. In order to advertise Dr. Todhunter's "Comedy of Sighs," and Mr. G. Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man;" Mr. Beardsley excelled himself, and designed perhaps the most remarkable poster ever seen, up to that time, in London.Nothing so compelling, so irresistible, had ever been posted on the hoardings of the metropolis before. Some gazed at it with awe, as if it were the final achievement of modern art; others jeered at it as a palpable piece of buffoonery: everybody, however, from the labourer hurrying in the dim light of the morning to his work, to the prosperous stockbroker on his way to the "House," was forced to stop and look at it. Hence, it fulfilled its primary purpose to admiration; it was a most excellent advertisement. The old theatrical poster represented, in glaring colours, the hero in a supreme moment of exaltation, or the heroine in the depths of despair. Mr. Beardsley did not condescend to illustrate, but produced a design, irrelevant and tantalizing to the average man, though doubtless full of significance to himself. In many respects the Avenue bill must be considered the best poster which so far has come from this artist's hands. The very graceful figure on a small poster for "The Yellow Book" speaks for itself. It is more vivid, more curious, than either of the two done for a London publisher. Most collectors, however, will treasure even more highly
DESIGN BY AUBREY BEARDSLEY (FOR THE AVENUE THEATRE).
DESIGN BY AUBREY BEARDSLEY (FOR "THE YELLOW BOOK").
the charming design done by Mr. Beardsley to advertise the Pseudonym series of short stories. In it we meet with the artist in his less mordant mood. The sketch of the
DESIGN BY MABEL DEARMER.
old bookshop in the background is quite delightful, and the whole design is less grotesque than most of Mr. Beardsley's productions. The arrangement in purple and white, which he did for the same firm, is a very striking performance in his later manner. Its importance as a poster is, however, seriously discounted by the fact that the design has nothing whatsoever to do with the text, which has been added in a manner almost inconceivably clumsy.The success of Mr. Beardsley in the production of artistic posters has encouraged a host of imitators, so that it is quite within the bounds of possibility that he will found something in the nature of a school. Already, on the other side of the Atlantic, more than one artist has been inspired by him. The posters of Mr. Bradley, for example, with which I shall deal later, are unquestionably adaptations, at once skilful and intelligent, of Mr. Beardsley's decorative manner. Again, to return to England, the pleasant arrangement in red and white, designed by Mrs. Dearmer to advertise a recital recently given by her in London, proves that she has been affected by the simplicity and directness which are so conspicuous among the merits of Mr. Beardsley in his essays in the art of the hoarding. Of his many parodists only one, I think, has actually attempted the poster. The essay in question was made by Mr. J. Hearn, under the signature of "Weirdsly Daubery," and the result was very fantastic and amusing. The design was done for some amateur theatricals at Oxford, and it was curious to
DESIGN BY J. HEARN (WEIRDSLY DAUBERY).
DESIGN BY MAURICE GRIEFFENHAGEN.
meet this atom of the so-called decadence flaunting itself, with strange incongruity, in every nook and corner of "the sweet city of the dreaming spires."
The case of Mr. Maurice Grieffenhagen is similar to that of Mr. Dudley Hardy, insomuch as both have been well known for some time to the public as painters and as the producers of very accomplished work in black and white. At present Mr. Grieffenhagen, as a designer of posters, can only be judged by a single production. It may be said at once that nothing more distinguished, nothing which is less imitative or derivative, has come from English hands than Mr. Grieffenhagen's advertisement for the "Pall Mall Budget." Admirable alike in colour and in pattern, the poster is entirely appropriate to its purpose of keeping before the eyes of the public a publication which escaped frivolity on the one hand and dulness on the other. All who watch the development of the artistic poster in England with interest, cannot but hope that the "Pall Mall Budget" poster will be the first of a series by the same artist equally delightful and original.
It is interesting to note that while we are still a long way behind the French in the matter of the artistic poster, the productions of the three artists with whom I have just dealt have received a cordial welcome at the hands of Parisian collectors. In the dealers' shops you may see Mr. Hardy's "Gaiety Girl" side by side with Lautrec's "Reine de Joie," while Mr. Grieffenhagen's young lady in red looks with demure surprise at the antics of her more frivolous sisters, as depicted by Jules Chéret. There is, again, a steady demand for anything by Mr. Beardsley, who, it would seem, has already become an established favourite with French connoisseurs. As we shall see in another chapter, the prices put in Paris upon English posters compare very favourably with those at which the works of the ablest French designers are valued. In matters of art, few cities are more insular and intolerant than the French metropolis; and those English artists who are devoting themselves to the poster, should be encouraged by enthusiastic recognition where enthusiasm was least to be expected.