What you see: Vers le Mont – Blanc, a group of three posters dating from 1928 and designed by Georges Dorival. Swann Auction Galleries is offering them as a single lot, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.
Who was Georges Dorival? Justin Marie Georges Dorival was born in Paris in 1879 and died in Louveciennes in 1968 and… that’s about all we know about him. “He was a very prolific artist who wasn’t remembered by history,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “The poster world is littered with artists who don’t amount to much outside their world.”
Were the Vers le Mont – Blanc posters his crowning achievement? “This is his most famous image,” he says. “If you type Dorival’s name into the search engine on the Swann web site, you’ll see his others are beautiful, but not remarkable in any way. These three are remarkable. What’s special and unique about this is it’s done as a tryptic.”
Do we know why Dorival did Vers le Mont – Blanc as a tryptic? “I just think it was an inspired idea,” he says. “The three separate posters can work individually, or as a tryptic.”
Do I see the mountain depicted in daylight, dusk, and night? “Yes. It’s like a time-lapse, graphic photo,” he says. “One clearly has stars in the sky. Day, dusk, night. Everything below the black V of the mountain is identical. The top third changes.”
How often were these posters displayed together, as a tryptic? “There’s no record of that. I’ve never seen any actual photo documentation of these three up,” he says. “I assume if they could put all three up together, they would, just because it makes a powerful statement.”
Do they tend to come to auction as a tryptic as well? Generally, yes. Six sets have appeared at auction as a single lot since 2008; this will be the seventh. Sometimes, however, they appear in the same sale as three individual lots. Swann set the auction record for a set of three in November 2010 that sold as one lot for $18,000 against an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.
What makes the poster image so strong? “There’s a conceptual reason and an actual reason,” he says. “The actual reason is the way he lays out the art. It’s almost as if someone is unzipping the scene. Your eye is quite literally drawn to the center of the poster. It’s simple and it’s genius. And the concept of the same poster at different times of day–it’s astonishingly simple and had never been done before. In a way, it’s like watching the sun set over the mountains. Each of these is like a color still.”
These posters come from the estate of Gail Chisholm, a Manhattan poster dealer who died in 2017. Was she a friend? “I’ve known her since 1996. She had a gallery seven blocks away from Swann,” he says. “She was an early adopter in the world of posters, and she had a very European attitude. I knew I had to visit her between noon and three, when she’d be having her three-hour lunch. She became a friend and colleague. It’s a small community. We all know each other. … She was very creative. She knew how to market posters. I think I picked that up from her, too. She lived her life according to her own rules. She unabashedly did what she wanted.”
About 130 posters are in the Chisholm sale, and the proceeds will benefit Planned Parenthood of New York. What’s the total presale estimate? Between $166,000 and $241,000, so as much as a quarter-million dollars could go to Chisholm’s favorite charity thanks to this auction.
What else makes this trio of Dorival posters stand out? “In the world of posters, which are, by definition, a visual medium, these stand out for their unique cinematic quality,” he says. “They’re strong individually and stronger as a tryptic. These are really outliers, so different from the rest of his work.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.
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