In the aftermath of the First World War, one Frenchman created his own vision of woman. Art Deco eye candy manufacturer & self proclaimed “creator of the pin-up”, Jean-Gabriel Domergue (1889 – 1962).
When the French painter, Jean-Gabriel Domergue claimed he was “the creator of the pin-up,” he wasn’t lying. His Parisian women are unmistakably, idiosyncratically his. They were also way ahead of their time. Oozing with a sultry, wide-eyed, slender-necked, unpretentious sensuality and something more vital than simply elegance, Domergue’s 1920s eye candy expressed the Art Deco era (and it’s women) like no-one else.
Domergue ’s imagery sauntered into the French psyche like a welcome gatecrasher at end of World War I. It arrived at just the right time. The twilight of the 1920s heralded an era of liberation for women. Women were now empowered to enter the spheres of commerce, fashion and entertainment, freeing themselves from the confines of their submissive roles in all facets of society. This energy found it’s core in Paris, and Domergue held up his stylised, hedonistic canvas mirror to the capital’s women and it bounced their newfound energy back at them.
In this post war context, Domergue was able to stylise and redefine feminine beauty and hit that sweet spot where art meets commerce. His “la belle Parisienne”, the cocksure and independent woman with the elongated swan-like postures infused with air of unbridled longing, would be Domergue’s signature oeuvre for the rest of his life. The cream of high society wanted part of the world that Domergue created and he received endless commissions from the elite; famous actresses, dancers and models of the day: and the rich, including Nadine L’hopitalier, the then-future Baroness de Rothschild. He also organised major Parisian gala events like the Bal du Grand Prix in 1922. His name drew Parisian high-society guests in their hundreds.
Born on March 4, 1889 in Bordeaux, Domergue studied at Paris’s École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. He was mercurial. No other word for it. By the age of 17, he was exhibiting his work at the Salon des Artistes Français and, in 1920, he was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome. He started as a landscape painter, but by the 1920s he found his true calling. He devoted himself entirely to portraits of women, ultimately painting over 3,000 images over the course of his life. He was a sought-after portraitist in aristocratic circles and also worked as a fashion designer for notable couturiers, including Paul Poiret and Henry Marque. In 1955, Domergue was appointed curator at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris, where he curated shows featuring the works of art gods like Van Gogh, da Vinci, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec and Goya.
in 1950, Domergue was elected to the Acadamie des Beaux-Arts. Since the time of Napoléon, the award had been accompanied by the presentation of a custom made sword to commemorate the occasion. Domergue’ wife Odette, a renowned sculptor, designed the sword. He was later named a Knight of the Legion of Honor and Fellow of the Academy of Fine Arts.
He died on a Paris sidewalk on November 16, 1962.
The women, the woman, he created lives on. She looks out longingly without a care in the world. We still want her, or we want to be her.