Category Archives: Illustrators

Remarks and info about artists

Keep smiling: Marie Laurencin, Apollinaire and the Mona Lisa

‘Pour endormir l’Enfant’ by Marguerite Canal & Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, published by Laboratoires de La Passiflorine (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Marie Laurencin.

This gentle cover of two dreamy young girls in typical pastel colouring and soft shading is the only one in our collection illustrated by Marie Laurencin (1883-1956). She was a painter and got acquainted with the artists who took up residence in the Bateau-Lavoir, amongst them Max Jacob, Picasso and Bracque.

Marie Laurencin, ca 1912. Source: Wikipedia

In 1907 Picasso introduced Marie Laurencin to his friend the poet Guillaume Apollinaire and they became romantically involved. Their passionate affair was burdened by Apollinaire’s alcohol abuse, his jealousy and violence. It lasted until 1912 and had already started to crumble the year before when Apollinaire was wrongly suspected of having had a hand in the theft of the Mona Lisa.

Groupe d’artistes’ oil painting by Marie Laurencin (1908) – From left: Pablo Picasso, Marie Laurencin herself, Apollinaire and Fernande Olivier (Picasso’s lover). Source: Trivium Art History.

Just like Marie Laurencin, Apollinaire had been raised by a single mother. His father disappeared very early on and his mother travelled with her children from hotel to hotel, frequenting the European casinos. The cosmopolitan Apollinaire spoke five languages and was exceptionally cultivated. The poet scraped a living as a clerk in different places. While working for an investor’s chronicle Guide du Rentier he befriended Honoré-Joseph Géry Pieret a scoundrel born in Belgium who was sacked from the chronicle for attempted blackmail and would at some time work as Apollinaire’s personal secretary. In 1907 Géry Pieret stole two prehistoric Iberian sculptures from the Louvre and sold them to Picasso.

Ancient Iberian bust, stolen from the Louvre (3rd century BC). Now in the French Musée d’Archéologie nationale. Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Archéologie nationale).

Making light of it Géry Pieret allegedly once said to Marie Laurencin: “I am going to the Louvre, Madam, do you need anything?” Picasso, who may have commissioned the theft himself, used the sculptures for his famous masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).

In May 1911, after some adventures abroad about which he entertained Apollinaire through letters, Géry Pieret returned to Paris. The poet lodged him in his kitchen in exchange for some menial and secretarial jobs. In June, Géry Pieret told Apollinaire that he had stolen a third statuette from the Louvre and kept it in his host’s lodgings. In August came the shocking news: the Mona Lisa had been stolen from the Louvre.

Sheet music cover of a song about the theft of the Mona Lisa. (for copyright reasons,click on this link to see a picture of a street vendor selling this sheet music)

Géry Pieret smelling profit, or hoping for his 15 minutes of fame, presented himself as Baron Ignace d’Ormesan at the headquarters of the newspaper Paris-Journal. He bragged about how easy it was to steal from museums and as a proof of his audacity he handed over the recently stolen statuette.

While reading the article published by the newspaper, Apollinaire suddenly remembered the two other stolen statuettes bought by Picasso who kept them hidden in his sock drawer. In panic Picasso and Apollinaire ran out to throw the statuettes in the Seine but soon changed plans and decided Apollinaire would bring them to the offices of Paris-Journal. He tried to do this anonymously, but was arrested and put in jail. He was accused of involvement not only in the theft of the statuettes but also in that of the Mona Lisa.

‘Le Jocond’ by Pierre Arezzo, Ch. Thuillier & Will, published by Marcel Labbé (Paris, sd) and illustrated by Pousthomis.

Apollinaire informed the police that the thief of the three statuettes was Géry Pieret and that Picasso had bought two of them. By then Géry Pieret had left France, but Picasso was questioned by the police. Picasso was so scared he even denied knowing his friend Apollinaire. He was not jailed by lack of evidence. After six days in custody and after pressure from the Parisian art world Apollinaire was released and neither the painter nor the poet were charged with receiving stolen goods.

Apollinaire was devastated by the whole affair and the way he had been treated. Moreover, after leaving prison he was expelled from his apartment. Marie Laurencin and her mother had to shelter him in their house. A year later their turbulent liaison was over.

The real thief of the Mona Lisa, Vincenzo Peruggia, was caught in December 1913 when he tried to sell the painting in Firenze.

Frontpage of the ‘Journal Illustré Quotidien Excelsior’, December, 14th 1913.

A newspaper illustration after his arrest illustrates that stealing from the Louvre was indeed not difficult at all. There were no alarms and the artworks were not firmly secured. The thief only had to unhook the painting, take it out of the frame, hide the canvas under his blouse and use a small staircase to leave the museum. Et voilà, as simple as that.

In 1931 the theft of the Mona Lisa was romanticised in a German film Der Raub der Mona Lisa. The same year Henri Sullivan composed his foxtrot Mona Lisa which has nothing to do with the film but the French sheet music has a wonderful cover illustrated by Kramer.

‘Der Raub der Mona Lisa’ by Robert Stolz & Walter Reisch published by Alrobi (Berlin, 1931) and illustrated by Herzig. Right: ‘Mona Lisa’ by Henry Sullivan & Desmond Carter, published by Chappell (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Kramer.

Our finale is also unconnected to the story of the great robbery. But Nat King Cole’s soft baritone voice will probably steal your heart if not your ear.

Why We Wonder at Woyty-Wimmer’s Work

Wunder Bar (Come rosa sboccia amore)’, an operetta by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Edizioni Suvini Zerboni (EVZ) in Milano, 1930. Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

The cover of a cocktail-sipping flapper for the song Wunder Bar is signed HWW. We already had stumbled upon permutations of the letters W, T and/or H, forming a variety of remarkable monograms. But we couldn’t make heads nor tails of these signatures. What a hard life we have!

Variations of the W H W monogram, signature of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

About a hundred clicks later we came across an obituary telling us more about our illustrator. The information came from the world of stamp collectors. The signatures proved to be those of Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. He was the son of a rittmeister (cavalry officer) and born in Romania (1901), in the Bukovina region which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When the empire fell apart at the end of WWI, Woyty-Wimmer moved to Vienna, where he studied graphic design, and became an illustrator and excellent engraver. In 1925 he started his own studio and worked for book publishers and publicity agencies. You can still find his work for sale on eBay, especially post cards and bookplates (ex-libris). Here are a few to illustrate his craftsmanship.

A postcard (1938) and an Ex Libris for A. Kaufmann, designed by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex Libris for Dr. Richard Donin, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer.
Ex libris for Franz Slatner, designed by H. Woyty-Wimmer (1936).

From the Woyty-Wimmer sheet music covers in our collection, we know that his professional path in Vienna during the Thirties must have crossed the grim story of the Jewish publisher Franz Sobotka and his nemesis, the Wiener Lied composer and publisher Heinrich Strecker (read our post ‘Heinrich Strecker vs Franz Sobotka’). Woyty-Wimmer worked for both of them. His designs decorate the sheet music for the publishers Wiener Excelsior Verlag, Edition Bristol and later Strecker’s rather infamous Musikverlag am Schubertring.

‘Ich bin ein kleiner, armer Strassensänger’ by Bruno Uher, Paul Reif & Beda. Published by Bristol (Vienna, 1933) and illustrated by Woyty-Wimmer.

There must also have been a link during that period with the Milanese publisher Suvini-Zerboni (EVZ), but we haven’t found out which. The illustrations are rather sweet though.

Anuscka tu m’hai rubato il cuore…‘ by Jerzy Petersburski and P. M. Arese (published by Edizioni Suvini-Zerboni, Milano, s.d.).
Rosen blühen wieder‘ by Emil Berté and Alfred Steinberg-Frank. Tango published by Edition Scala (Wien, 1930).

In contrast to the Jewish authors of the Wunder Bar operette (Katscher, Farkas and Herczeg) who all three had to flee Austria after the Anschluss, Hubert Woyty-Wimmer continued to work in Vienna. In 1941 Woyty-Wimmer even became member of the Wiener Künstlerhaus. The Künstlerhaus was one of the two Austrian artists’ associations approved by the National Socialists. A year later Woyty-Wimmer compiled an exhibition for it.

In 1950 Woyty-Wimmer found employment in London as an engraver for a famous security paper manufacturer, working on banknotes and stamps.

Postage Stamps engraved by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer. Thanks to Jon Eboy (source: www.stampboards.com)
King George II and Constantine I of Greece, postage stamps engraved by Woyty-Wimmer, 1956. (source: Michael Chambers on the Stamp Magazine Forum)

The decorative value of postages stamps was very well known by sheet music designers, especially to put some spirit into a Polka, Walz or Galop.

Postage Polka‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
Postage-Valse‘ by Brainard (published by Comptoir de Musique Moderne, Bruxelles, s.d.)
The Stamp Galop‘ by Arthur O’Leary. Published by Oliver Ditson & Co., Boston, 1864. (Courtesy of the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University)

Hubert Woyty-Wimmer returned to Vienna around 1965. His bad health together with harsh family disputes troubled the end of his life. He died in 1972 and was buried in Graz.

Back in 1930, Woyty-Wimmer made another clever Wunder Bar cover, this one for the Viennese publisher Doblinger.

Die Wunder Bar, ein Spiel im Nachtleben‘ by Robert Katscher, Karl Farkas and Géza Herczeg. Sheet music published by Ludwig Doblinger (Wien, 1930). Cover illustration by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer.

We apologize for the slight chance to have bored you with our philatelic digression. To make good, we offer you a peek at the 1934 Wonder Bar film, based on the operetta, featuring Al Jolson, Kay Francis, Dick Powell, Dolores del Rio and 250 of the world’s most beautiful girls.

Interestingly, Wonder Bar was one of the last pre-Code movies. And so, although the Code office asked Warners to get rid of the gay sequence, they refused and this wunderbarliche scene survived: “Boys will be boys! Woo!”


Edgar Lewy’s 1972 Woyty-Wimmer obituary (source: stamp magazine).

The Ephemeral Sculptures of Domenico Mastroianni

Chaconne‘ by Eugène Météhen, published by Album Lyrique Français (Marseille, s.d.) and illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni.

This cover shows a rare and original form of illustration. It bears no title nor composer’s name. Both (‘Chaconne‘ by Eugène Météhen) are printed on the inside together with the piano notation. The sheet music was commissioned by the Robinson d’Anjou, the retail store of a large umbrella factory in Angers, France. We admit that it is a rather campy collection item. But the storyline behind this unusual design deserves to be explored.  As per usual, we cheerfully oblige.

We discovered that the cover was created by Domenico Mastroianni, an Italian sculptor living in Paris. He became famous for his sculpture éphémère also known as sculptobromure or sculptogravure. Thanks to an advertising postcard from the prolific Parisian publisher Armand Noyer, we can have a glimpse of Mastroianni’s amazing technique.

Publicity Postcard published by Armand Noyer (Paris, s.d.).

Firstly, and with astonishing speed and skill, Mastroianni modelled realistic reliefs on clay plates of about 50 cm x 70 cm. Then the plates where photographed, and these clichés were reproduced as postcards. As soon as a plate had been photographed, it was destroyed to prepare for the next scenes. Alas, not one of his plates survived.

The creation of the world‘ postcard published by Armand Noyer and illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni.

With this method Domenico Mastroianni was incredibly productive. His printed kitsch makings flooded the French and international postcard market. Often his creations illustrated the lives of the most famous historical, literary, religious and mythological characters. But he didn’t shrink from fabricating risqué scenes in Art Nouveau style, sometimes taking bad taste to the limit.

Vision Fantastique‘ published by Armand Noyer and illustrated by Armand Noyer.

Just before the first World War Mastroianni returned to Italy where he continued his production of postcards. In 1935 our sculptor illustrated a propaganda postcard against the sanctions imposed upon Italy by the League of Nations. These sanctions targeted Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in that same year, when Mussolini was in search of a new Roman Empire.

Postcard illustrated by Domenico Mastroianni, 1935.

At that time a famous marching song accompanied Italy’s colonial adventure: Faccetta Nera (Little Black Face). The catching quickstep became very popular with the Italian armed Fascist militia, the Camicie Nere (Blackshirts) fighting in Ethiopia. The song describes an Ethiopian girl taken back to Rome by Italian troops after their invasion of Ethiopia. The young woman is paraded in front of Mussolini, herself also wearing the black shirt.

Although the song was written as a liberation song supporting the abolishment of slavery in Ethiopia (Mussolini’s explanation for his territorial expansion), it was without doubt a sexist and racist song and still is. In Italy, singing it today invokes controversy and its name is sometimes used as the N-word, to insult black women or girls. Even now on Youtube, there are Italian fascist aficionado’s who advocate their love for the song. It was beautifully illustrated by Gino Gonni though.

Faccetta nera‘ by  Mario Ruccione and Renato Micheli published by La Canzona di Roma (Roma, 1935) and illustrated by Gino Gonni.

Mussolini despised the jovial tone of the text which called for a swift and painless integration of a young Ethiopian woman in Italian fascist society: “you will be Roman, your flag will be the Italian one”.

Chromo illustrated by Aurelio Bertiglia (1936). Aurelio Bertiglia made a set of war propaganda postcards from the Italian perspective depicting an extremely bloody war as a children’s game.

And Mussolini abhorred even more the implicit reference to interracial sex. However, to forbid the song would have been too drastic in view of its immense popularity among the colonial legionnaires.

Left a booklet cover: ‘Faccetta nera. Soldati italiani alla conquista dell’Impero’ (1954). Right, a picture of Italian soldiers showing a magazine to Ethiopian women.

Instead, publisher Bixio came up with a more appropriate cover design, boasting suitable flags and the emblematic Roman fasces.

Faccetta nera‘ by Renato Mario and Ruccione Micheli published by Bixio (Milano, s.d.). Unknown illustrator.

If the song could not completely be banished, at least it could be conveniently redacted. The initial text of Faccetta nera made a reference to the First Italo-Ethiopian War in 1896, a year when the Italian forces suffered great losses and Italy had to accept Ethiopian independence. This passage in the lyrics was censured because Mussolini didn’t want any reminders of defeat.

On the other hand, the reference to that humiliating year is very explicit on the cover of the song Macallè (published somewhat later than Faccetta nera). The central inscription ‘1896’ is carved on the door lintel. The explanation is that in 1935 on November 8th the Italian forces captured Mek’ele (Macallè): the previous defeat was now revenged.

Macallè’ by Dino Olivieri & Capitano Azzuro published by Edizioni Leonardi (Milano, 1935) and illustrated by Bacchetta.

With these fascist songs we’re a bit off topic now. So back to Domenico Mastroianni with a last lingering question: was he related to the great Marcello? Yes indeed! He was Marcello’s uncle’s uncle. Finally an excuse to slip Marcello Mastroianni in our blog.