The Postcard Age At The Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston

 Memory and desire, pleasure and persuasion are all rolled up into one in “The Postcard Age: Selection from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection” on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). The exhibition comprises 700 postcards drawn from the promised gift of 100,000 examples to the museum by cosmetics giant Leonard A. Lauder.

The exhibition, on view through April 14, is the first to be drawn from Lauder’s promised gift and it spans the years from the last decade of the Nineteenth Century until 1939. What is particularly compelling is that every postcard on view holds its own: as a stunning work of art, a sizzling graphic, a historic document or technological innovation. Artists, prominent and obscure, created images for the form in a range of styles. Each merits careful scrutiny. That exhibition curators were able to select and organize only 700 cards from such a vast horde is remarkable.

The collection was gathered over seven decades by a deltiologist whose odyssey began as a keen-eyed 6-year-old along Miami Beach. Lauder’s parents allowed him to walk freely along Collins Avenue. Enthralled with the Art Deco hotels along the beach, he visited their lobbies where picture postcards of the buildings were free for the taking at the front desk. He would help himself to two or three. Another favored subject was the Empire State Building; he used his allowance to purchase those cards.

Since childhood he has acquired postcards mostly one by one, sometimes in groups — but never more than six at a time. Once offered the chance to acquire a collection of 20,000 postcards, Lauder declined. As a true collector he would not want to forego the pleasure of the hunt; he collects to conserve, not to possess. For this collector, the postcard appeals to his aesthetic blend of art, design and history. One of his many other youthful interests was photojournalism, a pursuit that only sharpened his eye. As a boy he stored his collection of Life magazine photogravures in a bathtub and had to bathe elsewhere in the house. Later he made use of the bathtub to house the World War II propaganda posters he got from the Office of War — truly a dedicated collector, who must have had very patient parents.

Lauder’s original passion remains a lifelong pursuit; his collections are extraordinary. In addition to the recent promised gift, Lauder has, through the American Art Foundation, endowed the position of Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Visual Culture at the MFA. In 2004, Lauder donated more than 20,000 Japanese postcards to the museum. Other museums around the country have also benefited from his generosity with his postcards.

The postcard mania swept across Europe and the United States around the turn of the Twentieth Century. In Germany alone, more than a billion cards passed through the postal system in the year 1903; 60 factories employed 30,000 people to meet the demand for postcards.

They were embraced for their easy availability and as a new and inexpensive means of communicating. They represented and played to the societal shifts deriving from the Industrial Revolution: urbanization, immigration, women’s rights and class structure. They offered handheld perspectives and communicated messages from country to country on the latest in fashion and fads, social trends, art and design, photography, commerce, sport, transport architecture, politics, propaganda and war. One French example on view urges the reader, “Send me postcards, and you will always bring me pleasure.” The card, with an image by Georges Morinet, dates from 1900 and was published in Nancy, France, by Bergeret et Cie.

So popular were postcards that exhibitions and expositions were well attended and postcard clubs that sprung up in the late 1890s in many American and European cities persisted through the first part of the Twentieth Century. Albums of postcards were proud possessions and displayed accordingly.

The idea of the postcard germinated in several countries in the Nineteenth Century, but in 1869 the Austrian post office produced the first, with one side reserved for a message and the other for an address. A German proposal had been made even earlier but not acted upon. In England, uniform penny postage, adopted in 1840, paved the way for the eventual mailing of postcards. Most European nations had introduced postcards in 1870 and Canada began making them in 1871. The United States did not issue postcards until 1873, although stamped cards had been permitted in the US mail since 1861.

Soon enough pictures were added, and by 1902 the divided back was devised, allowing for a message and the address on one side and a complete image on the other. Early postcards were printed directly from the negative onto paper with a postcard back; color lithography was in even wider use. The quality of the images and the color of these early cards is stunning. It is easy to see how they became “the people’s art.” Described as “little masterpieces,” they are everybody’s art. Major artists of the day created designs and images specifically for postcards.

Art Nouveau was a strong influence in the early decades of the Twentieth Century and the imagery of the postcards demonstrates the varying interpretations of that style from country to country. Some cards were decorated with glitter, embossed or printed on silk, leather and thinly sliced wood. Still others took the form of puzzles. Three examples on view were made before 1903, a frog from Walter Wirths Art Co., in New York; a stork example and a cat puzzle, also produced prior to 1903, were printed in Germany.

Later examples exemplify Art Deco.

“The Postcard Age” is organized thematically, in groups of six or eight postcards. The newness of the century and the newness of growing cities are visible through these postcards. Such views provide a little bit of time travel.

Paris at the turn of the century was viewed as the essence of sophistication and modernity; it comprises an entire section. Views of the City of Light captured its boulevards and avenues, its entertainments and its commercial offerings. The brand new Eiffel Tower, built as the entrance of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, features prominently in postcards of the time. Images of the tower and the attractions of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris were wildly popular postcard subjects. Looking at them today is an exquisite pleasure, a view of Paris, clean and sparkling.

A group of “hold to light” postcards made with translucent colored paper sandwiched between die cut card stock on which lithographed images were printed was published in Paris in 1900. They are displayed against a light so that when a button is pushed the card is illuminated. The effect is magical.

Views of Paris merchants and tradesmen, hair salons with dressed busts in the window, shop fronts, the flood of 1910 when the citizenry got about the streets in long boats, Les Halles, even the races and night life, are detailed and fine. Under the heading of “The Things One Sees!” is an ostrich-drawn carriage and scenes from the Grand Guignol. French advertising postcards proclaimed the benefits of Suchard chocolate, wines and champagne.

Women featured as a universal subject; they were depicted as fashion plates, objects of fantasy or ribald humor. Images of demure, alluring or saucy women were used to sell an amazing array of products. Styles and products may have varied from time to time and place to place, but the ladies’ seductive smiles were universally clear. Color lithographed postcards published around 1900 by Continental-Caoutchouc und Gutta Percha Compagnie depicted women riding bicycles, wearing trousers, drinking and smoking in public. Such images were rather daring, considering the barely emerging position of women at the time.

Even more risqué were cards with suggestive images of city monuments with can-can dancers and prostitutes. There are Austrian and French cards with women modeling high fashion, women with small dogs. A German color lithographed postcard depicts unattractive women wearing muzzles — an allusion to some reactions to suffrage and women’s rights, a sentiment that appeared on both sides of the Atlantic.

The cities and towns of Europe and North America represent another section of the exhibition. Cities were exploding in population in the late Nineteenth Century and by the turn of the Twentieth, people who had come to the cities to work looked for ways to enjoy their leisure time. New housing and entertainments for their amusement were built.

Some leisure time was given over to the cultivation of the healthy body though fitness and sport; the Olympic Games were reinstituted in 1896. Gymnasts, tennis players, swimmers and skiers were among the athletes featured in sleek designs printed in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Russia and the United States. Sporting postcards run the gamut from lithographs of women in sportswear in the height of fashion to an undated photograph on card stock depicting the Nebraska State Penitentiary Black Diamonds baseball team. Participants in the Olympics were depicted in idealized stances and in arresting settings.

The worldwide political situations were fecund sources for postcard artists. A 1905 hand colored lithograph poses “The Cuba question” in a cartoon as Uncle Sam is pictured stuffing Cuba into a sack. Other cards on view allude to the unrest in Russia.

Postcards reflected emerging technologies; electricity, the automobile and airplanes were mere dreams when the first ones appeared.

Industrialization led the way to mechanized travel. A section devoted to the latest in transport includes images of streamlined aircraft, railroad trains and the glamorous transatlantic ships of the 1920s and 1930s.

Glamour and sophistication screeches to a halt in the section given over to the so-called “Great War” and the atrocities it spawned.

The handsomely illustrated catalog, The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection, accompanies the exhibition. Written by curators Lynda Klich and Benjamin Weiss, with an introduction by Lauder, the book is dedicated to his late wife Evelyn, as is the exhibition. The book is published by the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is at 465 Huntington Avenue. For information, www.mfa.org or 617-267-9300.

The Postcard Age At The Museum Of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Memory and desire, pleasure and persuasion are all rolled up into one in “The Postcard Age: Selection from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection” on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). The exhibition comprises 700 postcards drawn from the promised gift of 100,000 examples to the museum by cosmetics giant Leonard A. Lauder.

The exhibition, on view through April 14, is the first to be drawn from Lauder’s promised gift and it spans the years from the last decade of the Nineteenth Century until 1939. What is particularly compelling is that every postcard on view holds its own: as a stunning work of art, a sizzling graphic, a historic document or technological innovation. Artists, prominent and obscure, created images for the form in a range of styles. Each merits careful scrutiny. That exhibition curators were able to select and organize only 700 cards from such a vast horde is remarkable.

The collection was gathered over seven decades by a deltiologist whose odyssey began as a keen-eyed 6-year-old along Miami Beach. Lauder’s parents allowed him to walk freely along Collins Avenue. Enthralled with the Art Deco hotels along the beach, he visited their lobbies where picture postcards of the buildings were free for the taking at the front desk. He would help himself to two or three. Another favored subject was the Empire State Building; he used his allowance to purchase those cards.

Since childhood he has acquired postcards mostly one by one, sometimes in groups — but never more than six at a time. Once offered the chance to acquire a collection of 20,000 postcards, Lauder declined. As a true collector he would not want to forego the pleasure of the hunt; he collects to conserve, not to possess. For this collector, the postcard appeals to his aesthetic blend of art, design and history. One of his many other youthful interests was photojournalism, a pursuit that only sharpened his eye. As a boy he stored his collection of Life magazine photogravures in a bathtub and had to bathe elsewhere in the house. Later he made use of the bathtub to house the World War II propaganda posters he got from the Office of War — truly a dedicated collector, who must have had very patient parents.

Lauder’s original passion remains a lifelong pursuit; his collections are extraordinary. In addition to the recent promised gift, Lauder has, through the American Art Foundation, endowed the position of Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Visual Culture at the MFA. In 2004, Lauder donated more than 20,000 Japanese postcards to the museum. Other museums around the country have also benefited from his generosity with his postcards.

The postcard mania swept across Europe and the United States around the turn of the Twentieth Century. In Germany alone, more than a billion cards passed through the postal system in the year 1903; 60 factories employed 30,000 people to meet the demand for postcards.

They were embraced for their easy availability and as a new and inexpensive means of communicating. They represented and played to the societal shifts deriving from the Industrial Revolution: urbanization, immigration, women’s rights and class structure. They offered handheld perspectives and communicated messages from country to country on the latest in fashion and fads, social trends, art and design, photography, commerce, sport, transport architecture, politics, propaganda and war. One French example on view urges the reader, “Send me postcards, and you will always bring me pleasure.” The card, with an image by Georges Morinet, dates from 1900 and was published in Nancy, France, by Bergeret et Cie.

So popular were postcards that exhibitions and expositions were well attended and postcard clubs that sprung up in the late 1890s in many American and European cities persisted through the first part of the Twentieth Century. Albums of postcards were proud possessions and displayed accordingly.

The idea of the postcard germinated in several countries in the Nineteenth Century, but in 1869 the Austrian post office produced the first, with one side reserved for a message and the other for an address. A German proposal had been made even earlier but not acted upon. In England, uniform penny postage, adopted in 1840, paved the way for the eventual mailing of postcards. Most European nations had introduced postcards in 1870 and Canada began making them in 1871. The United States did not issue postcards until 1873, although stamped cards had been permitted in the US mail since 1861.

Soon enough pictures were added, and by 1902 the divided back was devised, allowing for a message and the address on one side and a complete image on the other. Early postcards were printed directly from the negative onto paper with a postcard back; color lithography was in even wider use. The quality of the images and the color of these early cards is stunning. It is easy to see how they became “the people’s art.” Described as “little masterpieces,” they are everybody’s art. Major artists of the day created designs and images specifically for postcards.

Art Nouveau was a strong influence in the early decades of the Twentieth Century and the imagery of the postcards demonstrates the varying interpretations of that style from country to country. Some cards were decorated with glitter, embossed or printed on silk, leather and thinly sliced wood. Still others took the form of puzzles. Three examples on view were made before 1903, a frog from Walter Wirths Art Co., in New York; a stork example and a cat puzzle, also produced prior to 1903, were printed in Germany.

Later examples exemplify Art Deco.

“The Postcard Age” is organized thematically, in groups of six or eight postcards. The newness of the century and the newness of growing cities are visible through these postcards. Such views provide a little bit of time travel.

Paris at the turn of the century was viewed as the essence of sophistication and modernity; it comprises an entire section. Views of the City of Light captured its boulevards and avenues, its entertainments and its commercial offerings. The brand new Eiffel Tower, built as the entrance of the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, features prominently in postcards of the time. Images of the tower and the attractions of the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris were wildly popular postcard subjects. Looking at them today is an exquisite pleasure, a view of Paris, clean and sparkling.

A group of “hold to light” postcards made with translucent colored paper sandwiched between die cut card stock on which lithographed images were printed was published in Paris in 1900. They are displayed against a light so that when a button is pushed the card is illuminated. The effect is magical.

Views of Paris merchants and tradesmen, hair salons with dressed busts in the window, shop fronts, the flood of 1910 when the citizenry got about the streets in long boats, Les Halles, even the races and night life, are detailed and fine. Under the heading of “The Things One Sees!” is an ostrich-drawn carriage and scenes from the Grand Guignol. French advertising postcards proclaimed the benefits of Suchard chocolate, wines and champagne.

Women featured as a universal subject; they were depicted as fashion plates, objects of fantasy or ribald humor. Images of demure, alluring or saucy women were used to sell an amazing array of products. Styles and products may have varied from time to time and place to place, but the ladies’ seductive smiles were universally clear. Color lithographed postcards published around 1900 by Continental-Caoutchouc und Gutta Percha Compagnie depicted women riding bicycles, wearing trousers, drinking and smoking in public. Such images were rather daring, considering the barely emerging position of women at the time.

Even more risqué were cards with suggestive images of city monuments with can-can dancers and prostitutes. There are Austrian and French cards with women modeling high fashion, women with small dogs. A German color lithographed postcard depicts unattractive women wearing muzzles — an allusion to some reactions to suffrage and women’s rights, a sentiment that appeared on both sides of the Atlantic.

The cities and towns of Europe and North America represent another section of the exhibition. Cities were exploding in population in the late Nineteenth Century and by the turn of the Twentieth, people who had come to the cities to work looked for ways to enjoy their leisure time. New housing and entertainments for their amusement were built.

Some leisure time was given over to the cultivation of the healthy body though fitness and sport; the Olympic Games were reinstituted in 1896. Gymnasts, tennis players, swimmers and skiers were among the athletes featured in sleek designs printed in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Russia and the United States. Sporting postcards run the gamut from lithographs of women in sportswear in the height of fashion to an undated photograph on card stock depicting the Nebraska State Penitentiary Black Diamonds baseball team. Participants in the Olympics were depicted in idealized stances and in arresting settings.

The worldwide political situations were fecund sources for postcard artists. A 1905 hand colored lithograph poses “The Cuba question” in a cartoon as Uncle Sam is pictured stuffing Cuba into a sack. Other cards on view allude to the unrest in Russia.

Postcards reflected emerging technologies; electricity, the automobile and airplanes were mere dreams when the first ones appeared.

Industrialization led the way to mechanized travel. A section devoted to the latest in transport includes images of streamlined aircraft, railroad trains and the glamorous transatlantic ships of the 1920s and 1930s.

Glamour and sophistication screeches to a halt in the section given over to the so-called “Great War” and the atrocities it spawned.

The handsomely illustrated catalog, The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection, accompanies the exhibition. Written by curators Lynda Klich and Benjamin Weiss, with an introduction by Lauder, the book is dedicated to his late wife Evelyn, as is the exhibition. The book is published by the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is at 465 Huntington Avenue. For information, www.mfa.org or 617-267-9300.

A circa 1900 postcard advertising Mele department stores in Milan features an image that is assumed to have been created by Aleardo Villa. It was published by Officine G. Ricordi & Company, also of Milan. All Images from the Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive — Promised gift of Leonard A. Lauder. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

From the 1898 series “The Elements” by Belgian artist Gilbert Combaz, “Water” exemplifies Art Nouveau and its Japanese inspirations. There is no straight line in Combaz’s deeply colored design.

“The Electric Light, cheaper than petroleum,” a color lithograph from about 1910, was published in Berlin by Geschäftsstelle für Elektrizitätsverwertung.

“Oncoming Car” from the series “Car Racing” dates from about 1903 and was the work of Belgian artist Fernand Fernel.

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Comments

Re:

I cannot express the feelings that rush to my mind when I enter the Arts museum in Boston. The exhibition was held in the month of April in which the collection, which we saw there, was gathered around years ago.
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Post card seems to be

Post card seems to be actually exclusive, well in earlier days you do get such exclusive collection of post cards and now days you hardly get them.
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