Fernand Mourlot, lithographe

Les Maîtres de l'affiche 1

Les 3 premières affiches originales de Picasso, 1948

" Les Murs ont des oreilles
Ils ont même des bouches;
Les Affiches Mourlot
vous présentent quelques-unes
de leurs chansons,
quelques-uns de leurs cris."

So wrote Jean Cocteau with customary elegance in 1955 on a poster print, frontispiece for a portfolio of posters published by Fernand Mourlot.

Dozens of colored triangles which seem to float in the night-blue space of a sheet of paper cut out by Matisse, the graceful intertwinings of one of Braque's birds flying on a background sky-blue or printed newspaper, Picasso's three horned faunes, Léger's Worker's head drawn on stone, the stars and colored hieroglyphs of MiróÉ We owe all of these little masterpieces to Fernand Mourlot, his passion for his work, his knowledge of lithographic technique, his respect for great masters, his efforts to draw artists to the poster and make each printa work of art in its own right. One could say that it's thanks to him that Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Chagall, Dubuffet or Miró made their first original poster prints.

In 1937, at the occasion of the Exposition des Maitres de l'Art Indépendant, Mourlot's services were requested by the Musées de France, and on this occasion he met Henri Matisse for the first time. Matisse had an active interest in printed text and fine typography, and he formulated and corrected all his texts. We learn from various sources of the exactitude with which he oversaw the reproductions, books, and page compositions. Matisse maintained that there was nodifference between the construction of a painting and that of a book. We might also add theposter to this assertion. In truth, Matisse had always sought a very close contact with poster production, even composing mock-ups with every detail outlined, as he did for Jazz or Nice, Travail et Joie; sometimes he wrote the text by hand under the image, as in the case of La Pompadour or the beautiful poster for La Maison de la Pensée Française (1950) - a cut-paper composition where all the letters were drawn, set, and painted by Matisse himself.

After Picasso's arrival at the rue de Chabrol studio and the consequent "déluge"of lithographs, the artist decided three years later in 1948 to create his first original poster. The handwritten text of this poster (Poteries, Fleurs, Parfums, Vallauris) has since become lithographic catch-phrase, much like Matisse's Nice, Travail et Joie (1949) or Chagall's Nice Fleurs Parfums (1962). Rather than envisioning a poster and then composing it, Picasso's process was wide andmetamorphic; in the end he settled on three faun heads, a lithographic adaptation of his ceramic plates. They were each printed in series of 300, on a special paper whose mere name reads like a novel: "vélin Crèvecoeur du Marais".300 hundred copies of a poster - it seems impossible, and even more so considering that they were all snatched up within the day.

The Mourlot poster is born; a subtle blend of artistic spontaneity and technical know-how of the best printers.

Posters are simple forms of expression, public works pasted on the walls of large cities, in the streets, in museums or in gallery windows. They have to be striking and convey their message immediately. They bear the trademark signs of the artist who, let it be noted, is not a publicist or advertisor; with an art poster, the artist overthrows the conventions of advertising and refuses to obey its laws - the artist has total liberty. Many galleries and museums might prefer a virtuoso examination of a chosen painting, easily interpreted, handled by a crackerjack colorist (Deschamps or Sorlier, for example) to Picasso's improvisations with their hand-written texts, or one of Dubuffet's jumbled compositions: another installment in the endless debate between the original print and the print as subject of interpretation, applied now to the poster. We will state here very plainly that, in our opinion, both types are fully justified - theexperimental works of Dubuffet, who had the temerity to create black and white posters on stone in series of only a handful of print runs (three different projects for a single lithography exposition at the gallery André in 1945!) as well as the Matisse's marvelous multicolored "placards", executed with attention to the finest details and printed by the best press operators available.

Without a doubt, Mourlot preserved fond childhood memories of lithography's golden age, when Chéret, Lautrec, Bonnard and others "made the walls of Paris sing" (in the words of Claude-Roger Marx), and wanted to pay homage to those times. Fernand Mourlot was proud of those posters which bore his name and were seen in all the cities of France, in all the major European centers, and all over the world, in London, Zurich, Basel, Vienna, Budapest, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Dakar, or Jerusalem... When Jazz of Matisse appeared in Paris for example, it could also be seen at the Pierre Bérès gallery in Paris and in Rio de Janeiro.

For the hundred-year anniversary of the Imprimerie Mourlot in 1952, the gallery Kléber in Paris hosted an exhibition of the most appreciated posters. Matisse created a new poster especially for this occasion: an astonishing cut-paper composition, now famous in the history of art posters. It could be called, as Mourlot described it, "the first abstract poster ever to be posted on the walls of Paris." The exhibition was an enormous success, the Parisian art world came out in force: Picasso, Miró, Braque, Chagall, and also Aragon, Cocteau, Skira, Tériade, Arletty. They came not only to admire the beautiful compositions, the original creations, but also the special charm of the poster medium, this curious marriage of text and image. The message printed on a poster, and the typefaced used, reflect an entire epoque; for instance this text printed on a Picasso poster for an exhibition in the amphitheater of the Sorbonne:

"Conference with projections by Abbé Morel
Homage to the artist and poetry reading by Paul Eduard
Picasso will attend"

Or this, on another Picasso poster:

" For the abolishment of atomic weapons
Your most beautiful summer holidays
Will work toward saving Peace. "

Hervé Bordas
Bibliographie : Affiches originales des maîtres de l'Ecole de Paris, par Fernand Mourlot, André Sauret éditeur