Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Paris Métro 1931

Every decade in the first half of the 20th. century one or other of Europe’s colonial powers would mount an exhibition to celebrate and legitimise their imperial dominions and plunder.  The principle audience was a domestic one but it also offered an opportunity to remind rival powers of France’s global reach.  Years of planning and a purpose built exhibition building was essential to do justice to the scale of the colonial project and L’Exposition Coloniale opened in May 1931. A subsidiary aim of the exhibition was to portray the French colonial presence as enlightened and benign as if colonial subjects were almost equal partners in a global French nation.  We may look back and see a shaming exercise in imperial condescension and national self-aggrandisement but that’s not how the French public would have seen it.  For them it was a powerful reminder of France’s high standing as an international player.  Reinforcing patriotic values at a time when a gathering economic crisis was threatening the stability of a nation rapidly fracturing into political extremes of Right and Left.  Outdoor exhibits were displayed in the Bois de Vincennes and a more scholarly presentation of indigenous arts and crafts was housed in the newly constructed Palais de la Porte Dorée, about which we posted in February 2015.

The public relations staff at the Paris Métro got swept along in the general fervour and marked the occasion with a lavish presentation book proclaiming the wonders and achievements of Parisian public transport, expensively packaged within a metallic finish board cover.  Inside were tipped-in reproductions of specially commissioned paintings of Métro-related subjects and tables of statistics demonstrating the superiority of the Métro over its international rivals. The endpapers were graced with air-brushed Art Deco-styled imagery of the Métro in action that added to the air of luxury the publishers were striving for.  It was not something to be casually handed out to the general public but almost certainly reserved for honoured guests, foreign diplomats and senior officials as a corporate souvenir gift.


Wednesday, 10 February 2021

1959 Ford Galaxie

Throughout the 1950s, car designers in Detroit stretched and expanded their vehicles in all dimensions while applying ever more extravagant chrome decoration.  Every piece of trim and every bodywork moulding was designed to emphasise the sense of horizontality. This brochure depended on the talents of illustrators to bring the car to life and inspire some excitement in the reader.  Photography still had its limitations - an accomplished illustrator could subtly glamourise the product with discreet exaggeration and an imaginative way with colour.  A wedding theme runs through the imagery and we see the menfolk drool over the external finish while the women are swooning over the spacious interior.  There’s a touch of Hollywood about the wide-screen visualisation that places the viewer inside the vehicle while the ethereal bridesmaids dance in attendance.  Detroit was a city of ad agencies that specialised in serving the auto industry and the illustrators they engaged would often go on to stellar careers elsewhere, armed with the depth of their experience in keeping one step ahead of the camera with their transcendent visions of automobile perfection. By launching the car as the Galaxie, Ford was capitalising on public interest in the space race - galactic space is the infinity of space. The name survived for 15 years until it was retired in 1974. 1959 Ford models would go on to win a gold medal at the Brussels World Fair for styling elegance - an unusual accolade for Detroit industry.