The Definitive Dwiggins no. 18—L’Afficheur
W.A. Dwiggins was not always an original illustrator or ornamentalist. He copied the work of Pillement, Flaxman, Choffard, Callot and Bouchardon among others. Not only did his clients—most notably Daniel Berkeley Updike—ask him to copy the work of these artists and illustrators of the past, but sometimes he did so on his own initiative. One such instance is a paper sample insert designed for International Covers*, a Chemical Paper Company brand.
The insert, titled “Old Fashioned Advertising & International Covers,” appeared in Direct Advertising X:2 (1924). The paper is a kraft brown. Above the title is a pen-and-ink illustration of an afficheur (bill-sticker or sign poster) at work in the streets of Paris. It is a direct steal from Edmé Bouchardon (1698–1762), an acclaimed French sculptor who also executed drawings of Paris street merchants and workers, including an afficheur. The drawings, subsequently etched by Anne-Claude Philippe, comte de Caylus (1692–1757) and engraved by Etienne Fessard (1714–1777), were compiled as Etudes priser dans le bas Peuple ou Les cris de Paris (1742). The bill-sticker appears as plate 37 in the copy at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Dwiggins clearly acknowledged his “theft,” signing the illustration “D.” in the lower left corner and labeling it, outside the border at the lower right, “Bouchardon.” By reverting to his early “D.” signature instead of his by-then customary “WAD” mark, he indicated that he was the creator of the illustration reproduced in Direct Advertising but that it was not an original design of his. He was following the precedent established by engravers and etchers. In essence what we have with the International Covers insert is a Dwiggins drawing based on an engraving by Fessard following an etching by Philippe copying a drawing by Bouchardon.
Where did Dwiggins find this image by Bouchardon? The copy at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was not acquired until over a decade later. And it is not included in the biography of Bouchardon by Alphonse Roserot published in 1894 and reissued in 1910. Perhaps he came across it in The XVIIIth Century: Its Institutions, Customs and Costumes: France, 1700–1789 by Paul Lacroix (London: Chapman and Hall, 1876) where a bill-sticker based on Bouchardon’s afficheur is reproduced on p. 331. However, the poster in this illustration is blank while Dwiggins’ version includes a detailed copy of Bouchardon’s text. Maybe Dwiggins somehow acquired a copy of Les Affiches Illustrées by Ernest Maindron (Paris: Launette & Cie, 1886) which includes Bouchardon’s afficheur, complete with poster text, on p. 35.
The difficulty of acquiring Bouchardon’s illustration, even in a second-hand manner, is surely part of the reason that Dwiggins made his own version for the International Covers insert. Simply reproducing Bouchardon’s image directly was out of the question. Dwiggins had to redraw it. And he did so in a grossly, but deliberately, simplified manner in order to make it stand out on the brown kraft paper and hold its own in a cacophonous advertising milieu. For instance, the background of vertical lines reinforces the verticality of the ladder and the solid black of the hat provides a focal point for the viewer. In other words, Dwiggins adapted Bouchardon’s afficheur—the perfect subject for a paper sample promoting its worth as an advertising vehicle—to fit the circumstances of Direct Advertising.
Dwiggins was usually very scrupulous about parceling out credit when he created designs based on the work of other artists. For instance, earlier in his career he signed an illustration drawn for an advertisement for Howes Cleanser, a Cambridge laundry, as “WAD after Choffard”. (See The Definitive Dwiggins no. 10.) And in the colophon to Java Head (1946) he explicitly stated his debt to Jean Pillement for his ornament designs. For Dwiggins, originality was not an overriding goal; appropriateness was.
*The job was commissioned by Brad Stephens, publisher of Direct Advertising, on March 25, 1924.