Category Archives: Illustrators

Remarks and info about artists

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.

For a Friend

'Bandoneon' (partition illustrée par Raymond Erny, 1927)
‘Bandoneon’, tango by André Sab. Published by Sam Fox (1927, Paris) and illustrated by Raymond Erny.

A one minute silence. Is there a worthy substitute for written blogs?
This short post is dedicated to our friend Bram Huijser who passed away last week at the age of 94. He was a follower of these pages and an enthusiastic collector of books. Bram, born and raised in Amsterdam, was gentle and broad-minded. He kept his wonderful library, especially of children’s literature, in his house in Musselkanaal in the province of Groningen, The Netherlands. Wherever you looked: books and books and books!

Bram Huyser (1922-2016)
Bram Huijser (1922-2016) and part of his collection of children’s books published by Kluitman (Alkmaar).

suusBram particularly liked —and fervently told us about— the illustrations of Fré Cohen, a Dutch female designer and member of the Workers’ Youth Association. She became one of the favourite designers of the socialist movement. Her life ended tragically in 1943 when she took a lethal pill escaping imprisonment by the Dutch SS who had tracked her down when in hiding.

Two Dutch book covers designed by Fré Cohen (1932).
Two Dutch book covers designed by Fré Cohen (publisher Em. Querido, Amsterdam, 1931 & 1932). [source Bram Huijser collection]
Bram revealed us he met his wife during the war while he secretly delivered the resistance newspaper of the Communist Party De Waarheid (literally The Truth). One of the subscribers was her brother, and that’s how he met Mies. They fell in love and got married after the Liberation.

We traded a few sheet music. One of them was a song about children collecting colourful cigar bands, which Bram promptly started to sing with a clear voice.

sigarenbandje
‘Heeft u een sigarenbandje?’ by Eddy Noorddijk & Kovacs Lajos (Louis Schmidt). Published by Cor B. Smit’s Muziekhandel, Amsterdam (sd).

I remember that Bram liked cats, the bandoneon and traditional music. I thought it a bit odd that he so admired the Flemish television crime drama series Witse. Apart from our love for well-done illustration work, we shared a long-time closeness to the music of The Dubliners and the melancholic folk songs of Wannes Van de Velde, a hippy bard who is world famous in Antwerp.

This one is for you Bram!

The Great Sousa

Sheet Music cover (The Washington Post, J. P. Sousa) ill. by J. Bahr
Washington Post‘ by John Philipp Sousa. Digitally retouched (IM-stories). Published by Tessaro Verlag (Berlin, s.d.) and illustrated by Johann Bahr.

I am not a lover of national hymns, military music or marches. They might hearten the troops but they seldom encourage the creation of attractive covers. At least one exception is this winsome image for John Philip Sousa’s The Washington Post. It inspires gallant courteousness and good manners, not blaring heroism. And indeed Sousa’s fierce marching music suitably accompanied the stylish ballroom two-step. At one point the two-step was so much identified with Sousa’s melody that it was often called The Washington Post. Nevertheless we find distinct entries for the two dances in a tiny ‘dance class’ notebook of that time.

Carnet de cours de danse, +/- 1900.
Two separate entries for The Washington Post and the Two-Step dance (Nouvelle Danse Anglaise) in a dance class notebook, ca. 1900. (source Images Musicales archives).

The two-step dance had been introduced in about 1890: a quick-quick-slow slide instead of the half-jump Polka step or an ein-zwei martial stride. The civilised dance definitely called for a more sophisticated music. Don’t take my word for it — listen to the delicate rendition of The Washington Post by the United States Army Field Band.

The creator of the dancing couple on the cover above is Johann Bahr (1859–1910), a German painter and caricaturist for the satirical magazine Lustige Blätter. We found one of his drawings for that magazine (a mocking self-portrait?) and also a merry carnivalesque aquarelle.

traum-eines-caricaturen-zeichners, Johann Bahr
Traum eines Caricaturen-Zeichners‘ (Dream of a caricaturist), illustration by Johann Bahr for the Lustige Blätter. [ © Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg; source: Deutschen Digitalen Bibliothek ]
Lustiger Karneval. Aquarelle by Johann Bahr.
Lustiger Karneval‘. Aquarelle by Johann Bahr (source: eBay)

Bahr was not a prolific sheet music illustrator, still we count seven of his creations in our collection. One of them is again for a Sousa composition, the Kadetten-Marsch.

Sheet music cover (partition musicale) illustrated by Johann Bahr.
Kadetten-Marsch‘ (The High School Cadets March), by John Philipp Sousa. Published by Alfred Michow (Charlottenburg, s.d.) and illustrated by Johann Bahr.

Now John Philip Sousa, he was famous! Born in Washington, D.C. in 1854 he would forever be esteemed as the American ‘March King’. His father was a Spanish trombonist with Portuguese roots, his mother was German. Sousa started as an apprentice musician at the Marine Corps. He would become a member and later the youngest conductor of the United States Marine Band. At the end of that career, in 1892 he founded his own Sousa Band. With it he conquered the US and the world, touring multiple times.
Sousa made his mark on music history. Being a perfectionist —and also having a perfect pitch— he attracted the finest musicians in his band. He educated audiences by playing classics to perfection, and proved that America had quality music.

Photograph of John Philip Sousa standing with Camille Saint-Saëns
John Philip Sousa standing with Camille Saint-Saëns, ca 1915. [ source: Library of Congress ]
Apart from his noble musical career Sousa helped the development of the sousaphone, strongly defended the rights of musical authors, and was in his spare time an expert trap shooter.

Sousa at his favourite sport, trapshooting in 1916. { source: Pennsylvania State Sportsmen's Association ]
Sousa engaged in his favourite sport, trap shooting in 1916 [ source: Pennsylvania State Sportsmen’s Association ]
Sousa was not only a wildly popular director, a meticulous conductor, or an ingenious composer. He was also a shrewd entertainer, cleverly adapting his program to the sensitivity of the local audiences. European critics were surprised to hear him launch encores before the end of the concert, often in the middle of the enthusiastic applause that followed a piece. Sousa also introduced jazz sections, ragtime, cakewalks and coon songs in his gigs as early as 1900 at the Paris Exposition, giving some ideas to Claude Debussy.

John Philip Sousa, the Sousa, the "March King". [ ]
John Philip Sousa, the “March King”, ca 1915. [ source: Library of Congress ]
Sousa’s demeanour was always disciplined and his uniforms were meticulous (a valet accompanied him everywhere on tour). There were rumours that to direct he never wore his white gloves twice…

In 1876, as a young lad of 22, Sousa toured as the orchestra leader for the Living Pictures. For that show he also composed short descriptive pieces as accompaniment to scenes with barely-covered girls. The Living Pictures was a series of tableaux vivants that enlivened scenes of classical art and literature. Beautiful women in gauze scarves and flesh-coloured tights took artful poses in painted decors. In the shows announcement, the public was reassured: “The management begs to state that the entertainment will be strictly first-class in every respect, and nothing will be said or done that will offend the most fastidious.

'Cleopatra before Caesar' by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866.
Cleopatra before Caesar‘ by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866 [ source: wikipedia ]
‘Cleopatra before Caesar’, ‘The First Sin’, ‘Diana and her Nymphs Surprised’… Say no more!
The show was an entertaining enterprise of Matt Morgan. He was a British caricaturist, scene painter and theatre personality who defied the authorities and moral standards. It is said that his cartoons ‘… attacked the impropriety —actual or rumoured— of the Prince of Wales; and most shockingly, of Queen Victoria herself.‘

Photograph of Matt Morgan (1837-1890) [ source : Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. ]. On the right an article
Photograph of Matt Morgan (1837-1890) [ source : Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. ]. On the right an announcement in the Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 2, Number 107, 26 June 1876.
The risqué Living Pictures spectacle might have been classy in Washington, it definitely was less welcome in Pittsburgh: Sousa and other staff members were called to court on charges of obscenity.

We close this small tribute to Sousa with an impromptu duel between the sousaphone and the Dodge.


Readings on Matt Morgan:

  • ‘Sex, Art, and the Victorian Cartoonist: Matthew Somerville Morgan in Victorian Britain and America’, Richard Scully, IJOCA, 2011 (www.academia.eu)
  • Matt Morgan on Broadway, blog
  • Matt Morgan of FUN – Yesterday’s Papers (blog)