At the birth of the consumer society

Caen, Paris. “Industry and commerce, drawn into a frantic race for competition, were the first to get their hands on everything that could attract attention. They admirably felt that a window display, that a department store should be a spectacle. »In Caen, the exhibition opens with this quote from Fernand Léger taken from a conference given at the Sorbonne and published by The Bulletin of Modern Effort (Paris, July 1, 1924). In the introductory panel, the curators, Anne-Sophie Aguilar, Éléonore Challine and Emmanuelle Delapierre show how, after 1850, Paris became for the stroller ” an area […] where the call of a saleswoman arises […], the letter of an advertisement. A cascade of visual artifices assail him, from the display of goods to commercial signs and posters. »

Painters and photographers are witnesses to the changes in the city. In 1898, Camille Pissarro appears in a bird's eye view Avenue de l'Opéra, breakthrough from 1864. Nicolas Alexandrovitch Tarkhoff adopted the same point of view for the Boulevard des Italians at night (1900). Around 1911, it was at human height that Pierre Bonnard represented the teeming and popular Boulevard de Clichy. A new architecture appeared, that of Haussmannian buildings but also palaces intended for Universal Exhibitions, market halls and department stores. The oldest, called Au Tapis rouge and founded in 1784 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin, was praised in the 1870s by a series of color lithographic posters.

Advertising adorns promotional fans, adorns sandwich men and kiosks, climbs the blind gables of buildings. The painters of modern life, when they are not representing the windows in front of which women stop while shopping – Jacques Émile Blanche sketches elegant London women in Regent Street: Robinson & Cleaver (no date) –, willingly endeavor to represent these colorful walls that catch the eye. Maximilien Luce painted Rue Mouffetard (1889-1890, [voir ill.]), Raoul Dufy is amused by the crowd parading in front Posters in Trouville (1906) and, in New York, Jean Émile Laboureur captured in The posters Or The Billboard, New York (1908) a couple under black umbrellas in front of a poster depicting a couple under a white umbrella.

Jules Chéret, Aux Buttes Chaumont, advertising poster from 1888.

© Decorative Arts / Christophe Dellière

The population attends and participates at their level in the spectacle of the merchandise. Lithography Lust (1898) by Alexandre Steinlen depicts two children dreaming in front of a jeweler's window, while housewives crowd into neighborhood shops: At the butcher shop (around 1900) by Laboureur; Rue des Abbesses, the grocery store (1896) by Luce and The Market in Marseille (1903) by Dufy tell of this simple and lively life. However, Luce captures in his lithograph Interior scene (undated) a worker slumped on the sidewalk against the facade of a cafe full of customers. Paul Sérusier represents The Candy Seller (lithograph, 1894) at his poor stall in the rain and Fernand Pelez paints The Lemon Seller (1895-1897), sad little boy covered with a too-big hat. Behind the scenes also live the “invisible”, as Anne-Sophie Aguilar calls them in the catalog, who, behind the scenes or represented on the shelves, are the cogs in the department stores. We see them in promotional photographs of La Samaritaine revealing the gigantism of these businesses, a thousand miles away and yet very close to the shops in front of which the artisans pose for the photographer Eugène Atget.

In Paris, a summary of department stores

It is also with department store employees that the journey to the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris ends. The curators, Amélie Gastaut, Anne Monier and Marie-Pierre Ribère, drew on the archives of Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps to show these microcosms: the dozens of men busy with mail or shipping (the growth of mail order sales is the subject of a specific space in the rest of the tour) and, on the floors where the “store ladies” reign, the galleries displaying dresses or furnishings. The museum's collections provided most of the 700 works and objects on display – the catalog is an Ali Baba's cave. The public observes the rise of the bourgeoisie under the Second Empire, accompanied by the sanitation and gentrification operations of Paris. Consumption is growing strongly, encouraged by the Universal Exhibitions which prepare customers to move around in large spaces where the goods they covet are presented. All conditions are met for the expansion of department stores, these “Babylonian palaces” described by Émile Zola that the advertising posters highlight.

Fashion opens the presentation of “wonders” that one could admire and, if possible, acquire. Jules Chéret’s posters [voir ill.] or Jean Gabriel Domergue attracted women, for whom each brand had more or less expensive outfits made. Rooms are devoted to accessories: underwear, lace, hats, gloves, stockings, shoes, feathers and artificial flowers, parasols are reviewed before the large clientele of children is approached. This new commercial segment gave rise to a flourishing industry of clothing, toys and games and even nursery outfits – that of Bon Marché was decorated with embroidered braid. In 1917, Le Printemps published an occasional toy, “Trench of the front line”, comprising more than 200 painted wooden figurines, designed by André Hellé and Charles Émile Carlègle.

Finally, department stores are taking over the decorative arts market. Primavera, the Printemps creative workshop founded in 1912 by Pierre Laguionie and René Guilleré, produces objects, tableware and furniture, while the designer Maurice Dufrène has directed the applied arts workshops of Galeries Lafayette since 1921, Mastery. A name that sounds like a slip of the tongue: one of the major factors in the success of department stores was vertical integration which, through control of the entire chain, from production to sale, made it possible to create the need and the possibility of satisfy him.

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