Apga (France) / c. 1909

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Design: In the late 1890s the movement called 'Art Nouveau' burst onto the art scene, which brought 'commercial' graphic art into the category of being 'fine' art for the masses; often, as the sexual conventions of the Victorian era were thrust aside, its imagery depicted sinuous flowers twining around the semi-naked female form.

The erotically loaded scene above follows in the same vein. It shows the Palais Garnier, home of the National Opera of Paris in the background (right), in front of which a comely young maiden reclines, dressed in a flowing gown which hardly disguises her spreading thighs. Her long curling hair, decorated with a large flower, flows provocatively down to the nipples of her fully exposed breasts. She seems about to kiss the stone statue of a winged cherub against which she is pressing (or more likely, this is Cupid in the flesh, providing yet another example of the contemporary fascination with pagan mythology), while her left hand caresses the phallic-like 'morning-glory' horn of the phonograph at her other side.

In the foreground sits a wooden box with an open lid, suggestive of the delights of phonograph records yet to be played. The designer seems to have indeed fully grasped the modern advertising dictum that 'sex sells.'

The long label name follows the usual treatment of the time in that it follows the outer border, but is unusual in that it travels practically the entire circumference. The hand-scripted logo is a fine early example of an underlining swash, which was to become widely popular in the 1920s.

History: The Association Phonique des Grands Artistes was founded in 1906 by a group of popular French singers to return to the performing artists the sales percentages which heretofore had been retained by record companies. Because of cash flow problems, it lasted only until 1910, then being absorbed by the Pathé organization. Scan courtesy of collector Helmut Janisch of Germany.

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