On 1 June 2018, the exhibition “Art Deco. Books from the Collection of Mark Bashmakov” opened in the State Hermitage, presenting around 100 rare publications illustrated by outstanding artists.
The concept of Art Deco as the chief tendency in art in the period between the First and Second World Wars formed half a century ago. Since then, the range of phenomena embraced by the term has steadily expanded. The numerous publications devoted to Art Deco deal above all with applied art, fashion and costume, architecture, posters, painting and sculpture. Illustrated books as a rule occupy a fairly modest place within them. This would seem surprising when one considers that at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925, from the title of which the term “Art Deco” originated, a separate pavilion was devoted to book art.
The exhibition in the Hermitage is the first attempt in Russia (and a rare one anywhere in the world) to show a broad range of publications representing Art Deco in the sphere of French books. It continues a series of exhibitions begun in 2013 from the collection of the St Petersburg scholar and collector Mark Ivanovich Bashmakov. As on previous occasions, books from that extremely rich collection form the core of the display and are supplemented by publications from the Hermitage’s own stocks.
The perceived task of the exhibition was, on the one hand, to stress the variety of individual approaches and principles employed in the design of Art Deco books and, on the other, to put the phenomenon into a broader context, presenting its pre-history, surroundings and the continuation of its traditions.
The exhibits divide into five main groups. The introductory section contains books with designs that demonstrated the principles of Art Nouveau (the forerunner of Art Deco) – works by Eugène Grasset, Maurice Denis and Auguste-Louis Lepère. The second part comprises magazines, albums and almanacs illustrated in the 1910s and early 1920s by exponents of the nascent Art Deco – the Gazette du Bon Ton, Feuillets d’art and Modes et manières d’aujourd’hui. The main block of exhibits includes both generally acknowledged examples of Art Deco and works by artists who do not belong quite so obviously to this tendency. The chief place is occupied by the books of George Barbier, François-Louis Schmied, Sylvain Sauvage and Jean-Emile Laboureur. One more group is formed by 1920s publications closely related to Art Deco. This includes books by around a dozen artists, among which it is possible to single out works by Fernand Leger, Juan Gris, André Lhote, Kees van Dongen and Antoine Bourdelle. The final section brings together several publications from the 1930–50s (books by Henri Matisse, André Derain, Raoul Dufy and Antoni Clavé) and raises the question of the extent to which the legacy of the Art Deco book manifested itself in the livre d’artiste of the mid-20th century.