The modern resurgence of interest in Art Nouveau and poster collecting can be traced to the 1960s. From the end of the nineteenth century until that time, the market for posters was inconsistent. Interest solidified with the organization a 1963 exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, titled Art Nouveau and Alphonse Mucha. Prominent books on the topic were written: Jane Abdy’s The French Poster, 1969, and Bevis Hillier’s Posters, 1974.
Lot 75: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Babylone d’Allemagne, 1894. Estimate $30,000 to $40,000.
Intellectual interest turned into collecting interest, and in 1978 the Musee de l’Affiche opened in Paris and auctions of posters began to appear both in France and the United States. In 1978 Maitre Savot started organizing specialized poster auctions in France with Florence Cammard as his expert. In November 1979, Jack Rennert organized the first auction exclusively of posters at Phillips in New York. A new generation of collectors discovered Michel Romand’s Galerie Documents in Paris and Philip Granville’s Lords Gallery in London, and dealers around the world came to prominence as they began to specialize in posters.
Harry C. Meyerhoff jumped into this young market. He started buying contemporary art in the 1960s, and shifted his focus to fin de siècle art in the 1970s: his first acquisitions were prints by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, before turning to the art of Alphonse Mucha.
Meyerhoff was a pioneer when it came to collecting posters and Art Nouveau. He focused as much on rarities as he did on more common masterworks. His collection is surprising in that many of Mucha’s classic images of Sarah Bernhardt and other recognizable images are not present. On the other hand, Meyerhoff acquired some posters that were so scarce they have never been seen at auction before. He largely shied away from such signature, ubiquitous artists as Jules Chéret, whose oeuvre is represented by a single large maquette and one of the artist’s late posters, but was not afraid of such challenging pieces as Eugène Grasset’s La Vitrioleuse.
Meyerhoff built a practical collection, buying art he could live with—images he liked, as opposed to images that others thought he should have. His walls were full, from the stairwells and the bathrooms to the study, living room and guesthouse. They were all framed and he could admire them on a day-to-day basis. He focused on posters and graphics that appealed to him personally and professionally: horses and Art Nouveau, specifically the work of Alphonse Mucha. While he may have been restrained by the practical considerations of his abode, he went about assembling the collection with a very personal eye. The main advisor for the collection was William J. Tomlinson, the highly regarded Baltimore art dealer and appraiser. Eventually his collection, which hung salon-style throughout his homes, became one of the largest in the world.
Panorama of the living room, showing Lygie, La Trappistine, and a number of other works by Mucha.
Harry C. Meyerhoff amassed a collection remarkable not only for its beauty but also for its depth and variety. He was clearly attracted to the aesthetic beauty of these posters and sought out timeless and unique pieces that celebrated the artistic achievements of Alphonse Mucha and the poster as a medium. We are proud to be able to bring his extraordinary collection to market, in the hope that perhaps another generation will be influenced by this timeless work.
To see more of the Meyerhoff Collection, browse our catalogue.