Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mad Man

May, 1945. Fifteen years before "Mad Men". The Second World War (not yet given a capital "S") is drawing to a close. Those outside of Germany, hitherto not prepared to believe the stories that had been dribbling out from that country about the concentration camps, are suddenly forced to believe it, as the evidence, in the form of emaciated, destroyed humans returning to Paris from the camps as they are liberated, is laid out before them. In amongst these stories, of a combination we are unable to comprehend of exhilaration, exhaustion, and foreboding (the horror is not yet over, not that many people at this particular time would have been aware of its magnitude), there is this advertisement, occupying page 9 of the issue of the New Yorker cover-dated 19 May 1945.

(Open it in a new window to get a better view, then click to enlarge. It's worth it.)

One can only imagine the extra weight this ad would have carried in May 1945. Paris, and French perfume, had been lost to the rest of the world since 1940. Nobody knew what state it, or what was left of its residents, would be in until it was liberated. So, there's that. But there's also the drawings themselves, by Saul Steinberg. I always associate Steinberg with Picasso, both because of the extraordinary number of pictures they were able to create, and because of their ability to do magical things with a few lines on a page. (They also both were able to create art out of things the rest of us would never see as the basis of art.) Picasso, though, hangs in museums, while Steinberg is known, if he is known at all, as a New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator of advertisements. (At least there are now Steinberg books that you can buy.)

But take a closer look at this ad. It simply oozes Paris, from the Arc de Triomphe in the centre to the policeman (or is it M. Hulot?) on a bicycle in the bottom right corner. And there, over on the far right, nearer the top: is that Steinberg himself, in his garret, working on his next picture? I would like to think so.