Le flirt?

This article examines a scene of the book Sports & Divertissements by Lucien Vogel (see fig.1), combining the work of the composer Erik Satie and the illustrator Charles Martin called “Le Flirt”.

Lucien Vogel and the creation of Sports & Divertissements

Lucien Vogel was a very well known illustrator whose body of work ranged from positions of editor in chief to art director, as well as illustrator for a significant variety of famous fashion and art publications such as Femina, Art and Decoration, The French Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts, and French Vogue (Beaton 49). He also created three fashion magazines which were highly important in the French cultural sphere called Style Parisien, L’Illustration des Modes and La Gazette du Bon Ton (Beaton 49). His work for La Gazette du Bon Ton is significantly important to begin the following analysis since it is through the creation of this publication that Vogel’s intention to elevate fashion as a respectable form of art in french society was first manifested (Beaton 62). It is in fact within this spirit of trying to portray visual representations of fashion in magazines on the same level as visual arts that Vogel got inspired for the creation of Sports & Divertissements, unless this time, it integrated a whole new aspect than the well known combination of images and texts (Beaton 62). For this unique publication, Vogel decided to bring together in dialogue two different types of art forms to create a new association of fashion with music for which he hired Erik Satie, at the time recently graduated from La Schola Cantorum de Paris, a well reputed private music and drama school (Beaton 63). The final book resulted in a series of twenty playful assemblages of brief musical compositions on high Parisian society pastimes beautifully illustrated by Charles Martin (see fig. 1).

Figure 1. Charles Martin, Cover page of the Sports & Divertissements, Publications Lucien Vogel, 1923, Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.

A little bit more on Erik Satie

Before being known as a famous composer, Satie at his debut, was highly critiqued by the French art community, especially for his unusual humorous style of writing, which was not always well perceived (Poueigh quoted in E. Davis 431). His career really took a significant shift when he received a positive critique on his work Parade from Guillaume Apollinaire, a very influential French poet and writer describing him as an “innovative musician”, a composer of “astonishingly expressive music, so clear and simple that it seems to reflect the marvelously lucid spirit of France.” (quoted in E. Davis 431). Indeed, Satie’s work was very particular and innovative at that particular time in French culture and his compositions integrating music and text were unlike any other composer, allowing him to establish his own style and to be recognized for it (E. Davis 431). His work was mostly perceived as a symbol of modernity while still being strongly representative of French heritage (E.Davis 431). Overall, Sports & divertissements is one of the most important pieces that Satie created in his career and one of the first associations of music writing and fashion illustration at that time (E. Davis 432).

One-of-a-kind piece

There are certainly many ways in which this publication was innovative at the time it was created, such as the fact that it showed a new type of representation of the connection between art, writing and music while being inspired by the culture of its time and expressing an ironic yet graceful representation of fashion through the different spheres of French society (E. Davis 432). Sports & divertissements is a combination of twenty piano short compositions juxtaposed with lyric-like texts written by Satie illustrated by colourful illustrations of Parisian scenes by Charles Martin (see fig. 2). The presentation of the book itself is quite unusual and appears very precious and elevated, sort of like a collector’s item. What first caught my attention, despite the beautiful visual composition of the music sheets and the drawings, was the style of the illustrations. Coloured by hand, multiplying layers of paint applied using a “pochoir” technique, these illustrations, on their own, really succeed at giving the tone of each scene explored in the book (see figure 2). Even the music and typographic content follow the very particular and stylized approach inspired by cubism (E. Davis 57) taken by Charles Martin while designing these images (see figure 2). The cohesive composition created by the combination of all of these elements of music, words and images really succeeds at bringing the reader into the different moods of each of the scenes of Parisian’s elite society and what it might have felt like to be there at the time.

A closer look at “Le flirt”

For this analysis, I have chosen to focus on one particular scene of the book which is called “Le flirt” (see figure 2). Before I start discussing and analyzing this scene, I think it is important to situate it in relation to the content of this publication. Sports & Divertissements, by its title bring readers to think that it contains a variety of commonly practiced and publicized disciplines like tennis and golf when it instead, present a mixture of both sportive and social activities such as the flirt (Beaton 65). This integration of rather more private scenes of Parisian life supports the humorous approach taken by Vogel, enhanced of course with Satie’s tone and Martin’s taste expressed through his illustrations.

Figure 2. Charles Martin, Illustration of “Le flirt”, Publications Lucien Vogel, 1923, Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.

The scene revolves around a woman and two men fighting for her attention. In a way, it illustrates the action of flirting as a sort of game which in this case involves the seduction of a woman, but also expressing an element of challenge represented by the presence of the second man, trying to disturb and get in the way of the first without succeeding in grabbing the woman’s attention (see figure 2). What is very interesting about this book is that it allows for a more complex analysis of its content since both the illustrations and the musical pieces inform one another. One obvious way to apply a theoretical lens to this analysis would be to see it from Barthe’s semiological approach. In fact, this scene, as well as the rest of the book are great examples of the concept that he calls “written-clothing” which in this case represents the supplementary knowledge given by Satie’s composition associated with the illustrated scene (Barthes quoted in Jobling 138).

Figure 3. Erik Satie, Composition for “Le flirt”, Publications Lucien Vogel, 1923, Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.

The scene (see fig. 3) translates as follow:

Agitated, they are telling each other lovely things, modern things.

-How are you doing?

-Aren’t I pleasant

-Let me?

-You have big eyes 

-I would want to have my head in the clouds

-He sighs

-He nods his head.

Satie’s writing, especially in this book, is filled with references to popular culture that is very true to Parisian society at the time (E. Davis 432). These elements that he likes to integrate in his composition helped to emphasize the humorous tone that he employs and also probably made his work accessible to a wide audience. For example, in this particular piece, he integrates the quote “J’aimerais être dans la lune” which is taken from a well known french song called  “Au Clair de la lune” which here, is used to express that the woman would rather be elsewhere and is not very interested by the man’s compliments (E. Davis 454). To emphasize the reference, Satie used the original melody associated with this expression, written by Jean-Baptiste Lully which he inserts to his own composition click here to listen. Supporting Barthes’ theory, it is only by looking closely at the text written by Satie and by listening to the song, in association with the illustration that it is possible to come to this conclusion, since the representation of the woman in Martin’s illustration could most likely be interpreted as her being charmed by the man she is facing (quoted in Jobling 139).  The integration of other cultural material by Satie to support the visual content of this scene can also be analyzed under Bourdieu’s theory of the field (Rocamora 234). In fact, the insertion of well known folk lyrics in his composition reenforces the relation between his work and the culture in which it is produced, in this case, the Parisian’s society (Bourdieu quoted in Rocamora 235). These elements add a symbolic dimension to the piece and increase the level to which people can relate to the content as well as adding value for the readers who can understand the meaning of these references while also helping them to situate the narrative of the illustration (Bourdieu quoted in Rocamora 235).

The relevance of this piece

I think that what this short analysis helped to reveal not only the uniqueness of Sports & Divertissements, but also its relevance at the time it was published, positioning fashion among other respectable art disciplines and displaying it as a central element in a publication that succeeded to distinguish itself from traditional representations in magazines. I also believe that further research on the context of Parisian upper class society could help to make a more accurate and deeper reading of this piece. As mentioned by Bourdieu, a piece of art cannot be understood by looking at it outside of the social and cultural reality in which it was produced (30). What is the most interesting about this book is certainly its many references to elements of French pop culture, making it a significant representation of the fashion of this period, which contrary to other type of publications, portray it through various scenes of these people’s everyday lives.

Works cited 

Bourdieu, Pierre, and Randal Johnson. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Columbia University Press, 1993.

Davis, Mary E.. (2008). Classic Chic: Music, Fashion and Modernism. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. (pp. 48-92).

Davis, Mary E. “Modernity à La Mode: Popular Culture and Avant-Gardism in Erik Satie’s “Sports Et Divertissements”.” The Musical Quarterly, vol. 83, no. 3, 1999, pp. 430-473.

Paul Jobling, “Roland Barthes: Semiology and the Rhetorical Codes of Fashion,” in Thinking Through Fashion, pp. 132-148

Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik. Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists. I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Satie, Erik. Sports et divertissement. Dessins de Ch. Martin. Gravés sur cuivres et rehaussés de pochoir par Jules Saudé. Paris: Publications Lucien Vogel, [1923]. Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives. Rare Oversize M25 S27 S7 1923. ROM copy is numbered 159

3 thoughts on “Le flirt?”

  1. This publication was incredible in its integration of French culture, art, music, poetry, and fashion. I am glad you and others looked at different aspects of it. The whole collection truly is a wonderful art piece.
    With this specific illustration, I cannot help but think of Fragonard’s famous Rococo painting—The Swing. The narrative in both images is strikingly similar in that a young female is presented accompanied by a man but distracting her is “the flirt.” I think other comparisons can be made here on the social context of each piece as well. They are both celebrating such frivolous French activities of the elite. Obviously different aesthetics were used in each image, but both utilize similar colour palettes of romantic pastels to capture each image. Since The Swing is such a well-known painting, I am curious to know if it was an inspiration at all for Vogel in creating this publication or at least this particular page.

      1. Definitely! Once again celebrating the frivolity of French aristocratic life! Does French culture/art/imagery always have this same image?

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