Framed lithographic exhibition poster of an American colonial portrait of Margaret Gibbs of Boston (1670) for the Museum of Modern Art's 1938 exhibition, Trois Siècles D'Art aux Etats-Unis (Three Centuries of American Art), at Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris. Printed in Paris by Atelier Mourlot. Custom framed (wood) using archival materials and UV glass. Unframed measurements: 29.13 H X 18.5 in. W; framed measurements: 33.32 in. H X 22.32 in. W.
This sale marks the first time a Three Centuries of American Art poster has been on the market and we have both extant posters created for the exhibition available for sale. This example, without tears or stains is in Fine condition. 500 copies were printed and given the ephemeral nature of posters meant for advertising and display, most of the posters were destroyed.
In May of 1938, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) curators installed the museum’s first international exhibition, Three Centuries of American Art, at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris. The exhibition, assembled at the request of the French Government, included not only paintings and sculpture, but also drawings, photographs, prints, films, and architectural models––a total of over five hundred artworks. The exhibition operated as a representational proxy for the United States, promoting cultural exceptionalism and international cooperation with Europe through a shared history of art.
MoMA defined American art for a French audience by creating the most comprehensive examination of American art outside of the United States to date, displaying artwork from 1609 though 1938. The display enabled two governments to build an artistic and political alliance at a time of international uncertainty and with World War II on the horizon, these artworks took on new meaning as the embodiment of the United States. By relabeling genres and creating a new periodization, Three Centuries provided Americans and Europeans with an opportunity to redefine themselves and their values as part of a global Community in 1938. These definitions remained integral to MoMA’s overlapping constructs of modernism and American art for the next thirty years, influencing the disciplinary codification of both.
The second of two posters printed to promote the exhibition featured the image of a 1670 painting of Margaret Gibbs of Boston. The poster was printed by well-known Parisian firm Atelier Mourlot, famed for working with avant-garde artists including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The firm created an image of American art, embodied in a wealthy seven-year-old Caucasian girl that was chronologically comparable to the seventeenth-century English art on view at the Louvre, within eyeshot of visitors to the Musée du Jeu de Paume. The choice of a child would have reaffirmed the still-developing status of the United States as a nation. Instead of reaffirming an American artwork with the choice of red, white, and blue, Mourlot Printers attempted to tie the exhibition to European art by its choice of cream paper, russet, gold, and black typeset—all intent on aging the image and thus giving the exhibition authority.