Songs about light

Arlita‘ (Chanson Lumineuse – Het Lied van het Licht) by Daniel J. A. Van de Vyver, published by Le Reveil Artistique (s.d. Brussels). Illustration attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet.

This superb geometrical cover suggests the song is about a beautiful girl named Arlita. Far from it though, it prosaically sings the technological praise of a light bulb! The glass lamp is represented here by large discs in shades of purple around the fleshy rose face of a girl. The design is attributed to Marcel-Louis Baugniet (1896-1995) a Belgian painter, furniture designer and decorator. The drawing certainly reflects his style which was influenced by Bauhaus, cubism, De Stijl and Russian constructivism.
In the girl’s 
traits many like to recognise the portrait of the Brussels dancer and artist Akarova (born Marguerite Acarin, 1904-1999). 

Portrait of Akarova, in A-Z Hebdomadaire Illustré (No 16, 9 Juillet 1933).

Akarova was an emancipated garçonne. Her fame as a dancer earned her the unofficial title ‘the Belgian Isadora Duncan’.  In 1922 she married Marcel-Louis Baugniet. Both designed the avant-garde costumes and decors for her stage performances and continued to do so after their rather brief marriage. They stayed friends though, and both lived well into their nineties.

Left: ‘Lettres Dansantes’ costume design for Akarova by Marcel Baugniet, 1923. Right: ‘Akarova dansant’ by Marcel Baugniet, 1924.

Philips, the producer of the Arlita light bulb, is a Dutch company founded at the end of the 19th century. Immediately after WWI a Belgian branch was established. From there the Arlita lamp was manufactured and launched in 1929. A massive advertising campaign —including press articles, brochures, publicity folders, albums and posters— heralded the birth of the frosted lamp. 

Adverts for the Philips Arlita light bulb (Source: Kunst in de Philips Reclame)

It is in this marketing storm that one has to situate the sheet music above. The song and the publicity celebrated Arlita as a wonder of technology and cost cutting. To deliver this last message the marketeers even introduced a nasty Gollum-like figure: the current devourer (or stroomvreter in Dutch).

The current devourer or ‘stroomvreter’ in Philips’ campaign for the Arlita light bulb.

The marketing strategy led to a commercial success. The Arlita sales soon accounted for 80% of the turnover. The Arlita bulb was  followed by the super Arlita, and then came the bi-Arlita with a double filament. One man was at the heart of the marketing operations: Jacques Vink. He had been involved with the international advertising department of the Philips house in the Netherlands, before becoming head of the Belgian branch. From his beginnings in 1907 Vink regularly gave artists assignments to create publicity. And once in Belgium it was but a further step to ask avant-garde Belgian artists to design merchandising in order to promote the Philips light bulbs. In this way he ordered this silverware salt shaker from Oskar Wiskemann…

Oscar Wiskemann: silver-ware salt shaker for Philips.

… and a set of playing cards with various instances of the lamp, hidden in the pictures.

Advertising playing cards in art deco style, manufactured by Etabl. Mesmaekers Frères S.A., Turnhout, Belgium. (Source: The World of Playing Cards)

The Arlita campaign coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison. To anticipate this event Philips supported a series of school lectures throughout Belgium. Moreover, Jacques Vink also devised a delicate attention for the parents who’s baby was born on October 29, 1929. They received a luxury box with an Arlita lamp. He even sent one to Edison himself who replied with a friendly letter.

Edison‘ (Grande Valse Electrique) by Albert de la Gravelière, published by Léopold Cerf (s.d. Paris) and illustrated by Buval.

We discovered in our collection another publicity for light bulbs. It is more than a decade older and is for Osram, the German competitor of Philips. The name of the light bulb holds an oriental flavour: Osram Pacha.

Osram Pacha‘ by Emile Doloire, published by Delormel (Paris, 1913) and illustrated by Pousthomis.

The illustration is by Pousthomis who got his inspiration from a 1911 poster by D. Vasquez Dial. The composer fantasised about the brand name Osram, which is derived from osmium and wolfram (German for tungsten). Both these elements were commonly used for lighting filaments. Maybe the name Osram, in its resemblance to Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman empire, inspired Pousthomis to draw this oriental dance setting for the German light bulb. This consonance can also explain why the lamp was christened Pacha, ‘pasha’ being an honorary title in the Ottoman empire.

Osram publicity poster by D. Vasquez Dial, 1911.

We will end with a documentary as a tribute to Thomas Edison, who is granted the invention of the incandescent bulb although it is the work of many inventors, rather than his lone genius. A pity he didn’t invent a hearing aid.


One thought on “Songs about light”

  1. THE ELECTRIC LIGHT GALOP

    This wonderful illustration by Alfred Concanen is an idealised version of Siemen’s arc-lamp trial in the City Of London circa 1881. Each arc lamp was fitted with a clear glass globe and the masts were constructed from light iron trellis work. Here, they are mounted in front of the Bank of England.

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