FEATURING ARTWORK BY MARCELLIN AUZOLLE, THIS 1895 BEAUTY PROMOTING A LUMIÈRE BROTHERS SHORT FILM MARKED THE BIRTH OF THE MOVIE BUSINESS
By Christina Rees
Often the Most Wanted Thing in the collecting world is the first of its kind: the first edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Mickey Mantle’s rookie card, a leather logbook from the first moon landing, Issue No. 1 of the Superman comic book.
Ever popular as collectibles, vintage original movie posters have been a bit cursed with the problem that the first is so elusive. The first real public narrative movie screening took place in Paris in 1895 and featured the Lumière brothers’ comedy short L’Arroseur Arrosé (The Waterer Watered). True to this golden age of Belle Époque illustration and advertising art, the event was promoted by a massive, drop-dead gorgeous poster that featured an enthusiastic audience enjoying this particular movie and this startling new kind of entertainment.
The prolific ad artist Marcellin Auzolle was its creator. As noted by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA): “Auzolle’s poster depicts an audience watching the comedy L’Arroseur Arrosé and evokes the lively energy associated with the first public screening of Lumière films on December 28, 1895, at the Grand Café in Paris. The program featured ten short films, projected at a scale of around 6½×9 feet. The audience appears just as animated as the filmed performers, gesturing, laughing, and enjoying the collective experience.”
In a first of firsts, on September 30, Heritage Auctions will be the first auction house to offer this example of that first poster to the public, as it leads a sweeping Movie Posters Signature® Auction packed with other remarkable pieces of cinema history.
There were two posters designed for the Lumière event: The other design, by Henri Brispot, features a crowd of people waiting to enter the screening. A copy of that poster sold at Sotheby’s in 2018 for six figures. That one has its charms, but for his design, the canny Auzolle instead chose to depict the thrill of the movie-watching experience – men and women, boys and girls (and an amused theater attendant) laughing heartily at a screen flickering with the image of a wayward kid playing a simple prank on a gardener (who happened to be played by the Lumières’ actual gardener François Clerc).
Auguste and Louis Lumière were, of course, cinema pioneers. This was the first time film was used to portray a fictional story, and the first comedy – the 49-second short is model slapstick. This original Auzolle poster, 128 years old and more than 5 feet wide, is in remarkable condition. Its colors are rich, autumnal and gemlike. Its lines are clean, and its smartly dressed audience figures are alive with raucous appreciation for what’s unfolding in front of them in contrasting black and white. This is, in other words, the first movie poster to show the film it’s promoting. It comes to Heritage via Dominique Besson of Paris, a collector and dealer.
“This poster is one of the first I bought over 40 years ago and is therefore from my personal collection,” Besson says. “It was folded in the archives of a person whose grandfather had worked with the Lumière brothers. As you could see, it had remained folded since the origin, nearly 130 years.”
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Prior to this moment in motion-picture history, any promotional material for an event to show off the new film technology depicted the technology rather than any individual film, or ads for the non-narrative titles were often simply text. Our very definition of what makes a movie a real movie, and a poster a real movie poster, is here in this remarkably preserved Lumière-Auzolle moment – this uniquely beautiful artifact of the modern movie-going experience.
“We are privileged to handle such an important piece of cultural history,” says Zach Pogemiller, Heritage’s Associate Director of Movie Posters. “This poster represents the birth of an entirely new genre of public art, one that continues to captivate and inspire the public worldwide. The Cinématographe Lumière French grande marks both the birth of the movie industry and poster collecting.”
CHRISTINA REES is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.